What is imperial feminism? While the latter part of the term is familiar, the imperial attachment to the name changes its meaning. “Colonial feminism is based on the appropriation of women’s rights in the service of empire,” author Deepa Kumar in a 2014 article in Open Democracy. In other words, imperial feminism is using feminism as a weapon to protect the corporate establishment and empire and acquire political immunity from criticism towards elites.
Colonial is used interchangeably with imperial in this case. Kumar further stated it began in the 19th century as a justification for western invasion. The trend has gained traction once again and is used heavily by liberal politicians and governments, Kumar asserted. She wrote:
“As several Third World Feminists have argued, a historical weakness of liberal feminism in the West has been its racist, patronizing attitude towards women of color who have been seen less as allies/agents and more as victims in need of rescue. This attitude prevails both in relation to women of color within Western nation states, as well as women in the global South. This is what allows figures such as Madeline Albright and Hillary Clinton to be viewed as feminist saviors even while both, in their roles as Secretary of State, have advanced US imperialism. It is liberalisms understanding of the state as a neutral body, rather than as a coercive apparatus used to advance capitalism and empire, which is at the root of such perspectives.”
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Careful to note imperial feminism isn’t limited to white Western elites, Kumar said some women of color have also furthered its agenda. She shores up her argument in a follow-up article on the subject in International Socialist Review (ISR).
Questioning why certain countries, and note the U.S., are the ones where violence against women are highlighted the most, Kumar again states its due to imperial feminism. She highlights the absence of violence against women from the “India’s Daughter” campaign as an example.
“Instead the message is that rape, sexual violence, and other forms of female oppression take place elsewhere: in the Global South, in cultures that the West considers backward and barbaric, and not only is it not a problem here, but it the responsibility of women in the West to wage a moral crusade to rescue their Brown and Black sisters. This then is the logic of imperialist feminism in the twenty-first century, shaped by the deeply racist framework of the “clash of civilizations,” which is based on the idea that the West is a superior culture because it believes in democracy, human rights, secularism, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, and a whole host of other liberal values, whereas the Global South is barbaric, misogynistic, driven by religion, and illiberal. From this follows the “white man’s burden” and the “white woman’s burden” to intervene through any means necessary, including wars of colonization, to “liberate” less fortunate women in other parts of the world,” Kumar continues.
Kumar calls imperial feminism “liberation at gunpoint.” She also names powerful white women as seeing themselves as liberating saviors of a movement that harms and kills more women across the world than it saves.
Journalist Rhania Khalek echoed Kumar’s sentiment when she posted a video on Twitter of her sarcastic commentary on how happy she was that many of the companies that built the bombs which kill countless women and girls in countries the West sough to “civilize” were run by women.
“This is empire’s attempt to try and co-opt feminism. So to them I say, stop trying to get “woke”, by putting women in charge of corrupt and oppressive institutions that steal and kill. It’s the most superficial brand of feminism imaginable. It’s called imperial feminism. This is the kind of feminism that says, ‘OMG it’s so feminist and advances women’s rights when a woman is in charge, as opposed to being concerned about the policies those boss women are enacting like bombing campaigns and military interventions that kill a shit load of women,” Khalek said.
“It’s the kind of feminism that says having a woman in charge of a company that pays women less than men and doesn’t offer maternity leave is something to be celebrated, because hello! The person in charge has a vagina! Yay! It’s the kind of feminism that’s devoid of any class analysis whatsoever, the kind of feminism that celebrates exploitation so long as a woman is in the drivers seat. It’s the kind of feminism that’s super narcissistic and fake because it’s about putting women in charge of enforcing patriarchy, of enforcing capitalism, of forcing empire,” Khalek continued. “It’s 100% performative with zero substance. What’s next? Pink bombs for feminism? Painting fighter jets pink for breast cancer awareness? They wouldn’t do that. Yeah, they definitely did that, courtesy of the Israeli Air Force and US Navy — Raising breast cancer awareness, one cancer-causing depleted uranium bunker-buster bomb at a time. Sounds like feminism to me.”
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