The global dimension in questions about gender, including questions about masculinities, is now recognized. There’s a longstanding debate about gender in development, and a newer debate about the impacts of global neoliberalism on the employment of men and women, not to mention gender identities. The international links of feminism have been contentious, and increasingly a subject of research.
There has been less recognition that gender theories also have a global dimension. Most of the concepts that circulate internationally - in academic research, public policy, and the NGO world - come from the global North, i.e. western Europe and North America. This includes concepts like gender identity, gender socialization, patriarchy, performativity, even masculinity and femininity. It is not surprising that these concepts carry with them the social and cultural experience of the global North.
But this is now becoming an issue. The social sciences and humanities are acknowledging the global economy of knowledge and its politics. Discussions have arisen about the coloniality of gender, the multiplicity of feminist perspectives, and the gender dynamics of imperialism, colonialism and corporate globalization. Increasingly it is recognized that theory does come from the colonized world and continues to come from the postcolonial “periphery” of the world economy.
I have been concerned with these issues for some time, in work that led to the book Southern Theory. Gender issues were present in that book, but were not central. Since it was published I have been trying to bring southern-theory, de-colonial perspectives to the debates in gender studies.
Two papers from this work have recently been published. One is about masculinities, called “Margin becoming centre: for a world-centred rethinking of masculinities”, in the Nordic journal NORMA: International Journal for Masculinity Studies, which has recently re-designed itself as a global journal. This discusses the global archive on masculinities and the way Southern perspectives could re-shape this domain of knowledge.
The second paper is about theories of gender, called “Rethinking gender from the South”, published in the pioneering US journal Feminist Studies (see the picture to the left). This discusses the work of a range of gender theorists in the postcolonial world, and the social conditions of their work. The editors of this journal had the really good idea of accompanying the paper with some translations of theoretical classics from the global South. There are three to start with, extracts from texts by He-Yin Zhen, Heleieth Saffioti, and Teresita de Barbieri. If you don’t know these amazing feminist thinkers, you can find samples of their work here (scroll to bottom of page).
And while we are thinking about texts from the South, here is a remarkable online collection of South American work on sexuality, from the Brasilian sexuality research centre CLAM.