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Yin on Confucian Feminism

Yin on Confucian Feminism

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China Media Research, 2(3), 2006, Yin, Toward Confucian Feminism: Critique of Eurocentric Feminist Discoursehttp://www.chinamediaresearch.net editor@chinamediaresearch.net
Toward a Confucian Feminism: A Critique of Eurocentric FeministDiscourse
Jing Yin, Clemson University
Feminist movements in the United States and Western Europe have called attention to the oppressionof women worldwide. However, as Western feminisms are gaining more and more currency, it is vital for non-Western women to be cautious of the pitfall of replacing one form of oppression with another. This article exploresan alternative framework for non-Western feminism. The article offers a critique of the hegemony of Eurocentricdiscourse in feminist movements around the world. It problematizes three characteristics of Eurocentric feministdiscourse: universalism, individualism, and right-based ethics. The article also proposes a Confucian feminism based on the principle of 
(humanness), the notion of rights as
(share), and duty-based ethics. [China MediaResearch. 2006;2(3):9-18].
Feminism; Eurocentrism, individualism; Confucianism;
(share); duty-basedethicsFeminism is one of the most powerful struggles for social justice in the world (hooks, 2000). Feministmovements in the United States and Western Europehave called attention to womens oppression andexploitation worldwide. However, just as white malesdominate Eurocentric humanist discourse, Westernfeminist discourse is also a dominant discourse thatdisplaces non-Western cultural values. Westernfeminisms,
to differing extents, have been accepted bymany across the world as an inseparable part of modernization and development (e.g., Fung, 2000). Inthe same manner as Eurocentric modernization, Westernfeminisms are also forms of colonization that codifynon-Western cultures as Others (Mohanty, 2002).In the case of Chinese women, with few exceptions,Western studies present a homogeneous picture of gender oppression in traditional Chinese society or under the socialist regime (Chow, 1991; Gilmartin,Hershatter, Rofel & White, 1994; Mann, 1994). Thistype of research concentrated on how Chinese womenwere victimized and marginalized by the traditional patriarchal kinship system or the contemporarysocialism (Mann, 1994). According to this view,Chinese women were victims of oppression, or werecomplicit in their victimization, or were their ownoppressors. These analyses essentially reduced Chinesewomen to a monolithic Other by subjecting their experiences to Western measures and frameworks.Rather than advancing a vision of real equality, thesediscourses subjugate Chinese women to the hegemonyof Western feminisms.Chandra Talpade Mohanty (2002) contends that theconceptualization of non-Western feminisms ought to be a political project that simultaneously involves theinternal critique of hegemonic Western feminisms,and the formulation of autonomous, geographically,historically, and culturally grounded feminist concernsand strategies (p. 159). In order to achieve this dualgoal, the present article first offers a critique of Eurocentric feminism. By
 Eurocentric feminism
I meandifferent forms of feminism that are rooted in theexperiences of European and European-Americanwomen and are relevant only to the understanding of such experiences. Second, this article explores the possibility of a form of Confucian feminism thatresonates with the sociocultural experiences of womenin China and other parts of Asia, such as South Korea,Japan, and Vietnam. Specifically, the present discussionwill turn to the Confucian principle of 
(humanness),the conception of rights as
(share), and duty-basedethics for cultivating feminist consciousness in Chinaand beyond.
A Critique of Eurocentric Feminism
Asante (1980) avers that humanism itself wasfrequently nothing more than a Eurocentric concept of what was good for the world (p. 2). By the same token,feminism itself is often nothing more than a Eurocentricconcept of what is good for all women. Just likeEurocentric humanism, the first and foremostcharacteristic of Eurocentric feminist discourse is itsassumed universality.Although Western feminist discourses or practicesare by no means monolithic or homogenous, they are allrooted in the experiences of European and European-American women. However, this Eurocentric vision of womanhood is projected as the universal or naturaldefinition for all women of different cultures andclasses. From the outset, Eurocentric feminist discourseappropriated the notion of common oppression to build solidarity (hooks, 2000). The employment of arhetoric of commonality or sameness by middle-classEuropean (American) women constructed women as ahomogenous powerless group. Nonetheless, Westernfeminists emphasis on commonality or sameness didnot in fact lead to an inclusion of women of different
China Media Research, 2(3), 2006, Yin, Toward Confucian Feminism: Critique of Eurocentric Feminist Discoursehttp://www.chinamediaresearch.net editor@chinamediaresearch.net
10cultures and classes. Working-class women and non-Western women often experience exclusion andalienation in feminist gatherings and college classrooms(e.g., hooks, 2000).The discursive construction of commonality isessentially a self-representation of Western feminismsthat signified the needs and desires of middle-classEuropean (American) women as a unitary standard for all women in the world. The universalist feministdiscourse imposes the Eurocentric definition of womanhood on non-Western women. Placed in thecontext of Eurocentric feminism, non-Western womenare often viewed as Others, whereas the West remainsthe unquestionable standard against which non-Westerncultures are measured and evaluated (Gilmartin,Hershatter, Rofel & White, 1994; Yin, 2005). The claimof common oppression in Eurocentric feminist discourseobscures asymmetrical power relationships amongcultures and disguises racism, colonialism, andimperialism.Moharty (2002) asserts that through the discursiveconstruction of the third world women, Westernfeminists appropriate and colonize the complexexperiences of women in non-Western countries. Theconstruction of the homogenous third world womenrobs non-Western women of their political andhistorical agency and thus renders them objects. Justlike white male dominated Western humanism,Eurocentric feminism defines non-Western cultures asOthers or the peripheral. Only through the designationof non-Western women as the peripheral can theWestern women represent themselves as the center. Thecenter can be sustained only when it is placed againstthe peripheral that represents the lack of values (Jandt &Tanno, 2001; Said, 1978; Zhang, 2002).Eurocentric feminist discourse, despite the rhetoricof sameness and common oppression, is in fact a formof hierarchal discourse. According to Asante (1998),hierarchal discourse has three characteristics: controlover the rhetorical territory through definition,establishment of self-perpetuating initiation or 
rite de passage
, and the stifling of opposing discourse (p. 34).Here I am not suggesting that Western feministdiscourse has the same authority or status as Eurocentrichumanist discourse. However, in the context of Westernhegemony in the production of knowledge, Westernfeminists definition of womanhood is a manifestationof the political, economic, and cultural colonization of non-Western cultures (Moharty, 2002). The power of this hierarchal discourse is to impose one vision of theworld while suppressing others (Asante, 1998). While protesting against the androcentricism in white-maledominated humanist discourse, the writings of Westernfeminists impose an authoritative construction of normswhich privilege the experiences and practices of European (American) women at the expense of those of non-Western women.Eurocentric feminist discourse also created a self- perpetuating ritual that reserves the real or truedefinition of womanhood only for Western feministswho initiated such a definition. The self-perpetuatingcharacteristic of hierarchical discourse makes itdifficult, if not impossible, for the colonized, non-Western women, to question Western feminismsfundamental assumptions, such as Eurocentrism andindividualism. Furthermore, Eurocentric feministdiscourse is intolerant toward other feminist discourses. Non-Western womens resistance to the Eurocentricstandard is dismissed as not progressive, backward,ignorant, or irrelevant. hooks (1981, 2000) and non-Western women report being ostracized and silenced byWestern feminists who suppose that their issues and problems are not qualified for feminist discussion.Despite the fact that the critique of theuniversalistic feminist discourse can be dated back tothe mid-1980s, Eurocentric feminism remains as theunmarked standard against which all other forms of feminism are measured. For example, Fung (2000)evaluates the success of feminist movements in Asiancountries according to womens employmentopportunities and involvement in politics. Wang (1999)challenges the communist domination of feminism inChina because the liberalist feminism movement wasnot allowed to flourish as an independent movement inChina. Even in the writings of post-colonialist feminists(e.g, Moharty, 2002; Shohat, 2003), which initiated thechallenge to the universality of Eurocentric feministdiscourse and argued for specific forms of resistance inrelation to diverse forms of oppression, the conceptionof womens rights is still rooted in Eurocentricindividualism.This issue brings us to the second characteristic of Eurocentric feminist discourse: the unambiguousassumption of individualism. Eisenstein (1981)maintains that feminism in North America is rooted inthe competitive, atomistic ideology of liberalindividualism. It is my contention that not only liberalfeminism but also other forms of Western feminism such as radical feminism, Marxist feminism, socialistfeminism, post-modernist and post-colonialistfeminismconceive womens rights and freedomwithin the realm of individualism.The Eurocentric individualist tradition viewswomen as individuals endowed with inalienable rightsagainst the competing claims of different socialrelations (Woo, 2002). The individualistic idea of rightsis expressed in terms of individual choices of employment, political participation, identity, andcultural recognition. Those Western feminists whoadvocate social equality call for the establishment of either a gender-blind society with equal opportunities
China Media Research, 2(3), 2006, Yin, Toward Confucian Feminism: Critique of Eurocentric Feminist Discoursehttp://www.chinamediaresearch.net editor@chinamediaresearch.net
11for both men and women as individuals or a mode of  production that does not exploit or discriminate againstindividuals in terms of class or gender (Campbell,2002). Those Western feminists who championrepresentational egalitarianism demand a new culturalformation that provides womenas individualswithopportunities to be heard with the same respect given totheir male counterparts.Even though post-modernist, especially post-colonialist, feminists are often from non-Westerncultures, many of them reside in the United States andEurope. Undoubtedly, their emphasis on differencesamong women and anti-essentialism marks a major advance in challenging the Eurocentric universalisticdefinition of womanhood and in conceptualizingidentity and difference. Nevertheless, their theorizing isa continuation of, rather than a rupture with, theindividualist tradition. In the post-colonialistconception, no collective identity is innocent, and theyall need to be unmasked or deconstructed (Fraser,1997). They assume that female individuals should not be reduced to any kind of group or category, and thatthey should have sovereignty over their own bodies.Following this logic, the only innocent political project is deconstruction. However, deconstruction doesnot necessarily lead to the emancipation andempowerment of women. Deconstruction strips womenof certain sociocultural relations. Indeed, at the end of deconstructing every collective identity, when all formsof social relations have been cast away, we will find thewoman as an atomistic individuala biological object, prior to entering any social relations. It is preciselythrough social relations that persons becomecultural/ideological subjects and gain a sense of agency.Hence, indiscriminate deconstruction eventually notonly reduces women to biological objects but alsodeprives them of a sense of political and historicalagency. Ironically, this is exactly what post-colonialistfeminists are fighting against. Asante (2005) articulatesthe destructive nature of deconstructionist research:The forms of deconstruction often suggested by many postmodernist [and post-colonialist]thinkers leave nothing in the process butunadulterated individualistic narcissism thatundermines the human capacity to feel solidaritywith others. . . . Life as a random collage or freeassociation of images may invoke an isolationistindividuality, but it is never cohesive enough todeal with the reality of community andcommunities, that is, groups of people who are bound together by similar historical experiencesand who are developed by common phenomenological responses. (p. 11)Regardless of the means, whether through thereorganization of socioeconomic structure or throughthe transformation of cultural representation,Eurocentric feminism attempts to restore to femaleindividuals the rights that have been robbed fromwomen by unjust sociocultural relations. Here thenotion of the rights of women is no different than JohnLockes (1967) Eurocentric philosophy that privilegeswhite men. Rights are defined as natural, absolute, andinalienable to the autonomous individual (Rosemont,1998). From this perspective, rights are expressed asnegative liberties, i.e., free from external oppressiveforces (Twiss, 1998). The negative form of freedomdoes not allow a conceptualization of positiveempowerment that serves as an equally valid form of human flourishing (Yin, in press).The Eurocentric ontology based on individualism prevents a non-anthropocentric theorization of rights inwhich the individual is not the center of the world, andin which human beings embrace interdependentrelationships with other beings and nature (Chen &Starosta, 2003; Ishii, 2001; Miike, 2003a, 2003b). Theindividualistic assumption also does not allow aconception of rights as a collective good that requiresdifferent kinds of rights and restrictions of individualfreedom for greater social goods such as harmony, peace, and ecological sustainability (Parekh, 2002).Still another characteristic of Eurocentric feminismis rights-based ethics. In Western traditions, rights areabsolutely central for many theorists, especially for Kantian scholars (Rosemont, 1998; Tu, 2001). Rightstalk is especially ubiquitous in the moral and politicaldiscourse of the United States. Western feministssubversion of androcentrism places an exclusiveemphasis on the rights of women (in a very limitedsense). In this respect, Eurocentric feminist discourse isagain similar to the Western humanist project largelysponsored by white males.Right-based ethics or morality obscures inequality,discrimination, and other wrongs in todays world.Fingarette observes that the doctrine of individual rightshas profound potentials as socially disruptive and anti-human forces (cited in Rosemont, 1998, p. 56).Western feminists, while challenging men asoppressive, often refuse to confront the impact of their own privileges and prejudices. hooks (2000) believesthat by identifying themselves as victims of gender oppression, white feminists could abdicateresponsibility for their role in the maintenance and perpetuation of sexism, racism, and classism, whichthey did by insisting that only men were the enemy (p.46).Here the underlying assumption is that nurturingand peace-loving women are morally superior tocompetitive and militaristic men (Fraser, 1997). ManyWestern feminists sincerely believe that because womenare different from men and would exercise power differently, they would not endorse domination or 

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