Transatlantic Feminisms: Women and Gender Studies in Africa and the Diaspora

Cheryl R. Rodriguez, Dzodzi Tsikata, and Akosua Adomako Ampofo, eds.

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015, 327 pp.

Reviewed by Christa Craven

 

Transatlantic Feminisms: Women and Gender Studies in Africa and the Diaspora is a much-needed and long-awaited contribution to feminist anthropology and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies. The collection foregrounds the power of collaborative and transcontinental work, and offers a wide-reaching overview of the roots, legacies, and possibilities for transatlantic feminisms. The comprehensive introduction by the editors and 15 chapters based on original feminist research demonstrate the necessity for renewed focus on this topic by offering interdisciplinary insights into women’s lives in Africa and the African diaspora.

To begin, Rodriguez, Tsikata, and Ampofo chart the collaborative tradition that “honors subaltern (and often unrecognized) contributions” (vii), sustains the exchange of knowledge among contributors, and often includes the participants in their research (see especially the chapters by Bolles, Mbilinyi and Shechambo, Quinn, and Rodriguez).  Contributors include a rich blend of scholars and activists: social scientists in psychology, sociology, anthropology (many of whom are long-time members of the Association for Feminist Anthropology, such as Cheryl Rodriguez, A. Lynn Bolles, and Erica L. Williams), humanities scholars in comparative literature and English, and researchers in interdisciplinary fields, such as Africana Studies, American Studies, Education Studies, Ethnic Studies, Gender and Development, and Women’s/Gender/Sexuality Studies.  Through their different disciplinary perspectives and methodologies, authors are attentive to intersectionality in their analyses and many write candidly and productively about their positionality, especially in relation to class, race, nation, and urban-rural differences (see especially Mbilinyi and Shechambo, Rodriguez, and Shoaff).

Embodying Chandra Mohanty’s call for “feminism without borders,”[i] the collection offers insights about feminism that not only extend Western and U.S. Black feminist thought, but integrate a range of transatlantic African diasporic perspectives from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, and North America. The chapters offer compelling interventions and evidence of multiple, polyvocal, and sometimes divergent definitions of feminism, including black Brazilian feminism (Williams), black feminist/womanist perspectives in the U.S. (Alexis), women of color feminism and black lesbian feminism in the Dominican Republic (Quinn), and transformative feminism in Tanzania (Mbilinyi and Shechambo).

Section I, “Feminist Politics and the Politics of ‘Black’ Feminisms,” addresses black feminist histories, political representation, and movement building. Chapters map the complex trajectories of feminist movements through technology and black lesbian activism in the Dominican Republic (Quinn) and grassroots networking and movement building in Tanzania (Mbilinyi and Shechambo). Other chapters highlight the importance of political representation for black feminists through activism to transform voter consciousness in Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana (Ossome) and in the legacy of the late Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress (Alexis). A. Lynn Bolles’ retrospective on her work with two women’s projects in the Anglophone Caribbean offers a compelling argument for exploring the intersections of feminist thought, scholarship, activism, and policy, which proved central to the formation of Caribbean feminisms.

Section II, “Women and the Multi-Layed Textures of Representation,” offers much that will interest students (and faculty alike) on the often racialized and sexualized representation of black women in literature, popular culture, and contemporary photography. Chapters theorize the political, cultural, and economic contexts of the superstardom of Beyoncé Knowles (Celeste), popular novels by Nigerian authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Sefi Atta (Sackeyfio), and the photographic imagery of two African diasporic women photographers in Miami, Florida (Pardo).  Erica L. Williams’ chapter on her ethnographic research with mucamas, black domestic workers, in Brazil offers a sharp analysis of the sexualized images of Black women in Brazilian tourist advertisements and erotic novels.

The final section, “Transcending Borders: Survival, Resistance, and Making a Living” highlights various border-crossings—including trade, migration, and displacement—in the contexts of labor and educational institutions. Chapters emphasize intersectional analyses of survival strategies among Haitian and Dominican women working in the second-hand clothing sector (Shoaf), the regulation of domestic work in Ghana (Tsikata), and the changes for Ghanaian women engaged in bank work during economic liberalization (Anyidoho and Ampofo). Authors also emphasize the power of social networks and positive support for integration into French society among sub-Saharan African immigrants (Bass) and for young women to achieve educational success in post-war Uganda (McBrian, Ezati, and Stewart).  Cheryl Rodriguez’s chapter on the demolition of low-income housing in Tampa, Florida through the federal HOPE XI program makes a strong case for intersectional analyses that include place (and displacement) as a central facet of women’s identity and experiences.

As a whole, this collection delivers an important intervention in the current feminist literature that frequently emphasizes the scholarship and experiences of Western feminists. It provides an astute transnational and interdisciplinary approach to documenting the lives of women in Africa and the Diaspora.  As a professor who teaches in both Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies and Anthropology, this text will undoubtedly become a mainstay in my courses on transnational feminisms and the anthropology of gender, and it will also make important contributions to both teaching and research in the African Studies, Feminist Anthropology, and Women’s and Gender Studies.

 

Christa Craven is the Chair of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies (WGSS) and Associate Professor of WGSS and Anthropology at the College of Wooster. Her research interests include women’s health & reproductive justice, lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer reproduction, transnational feminisms, feminist ethnography, activist scholarship, and feminist pedagogy.

 

[i] Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham: Duke University Press, 2003.

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