A Decolonial Feminism by Françoise Vergès

A Decolonial Feminism or as it is titled in French, Un féminisme décolonial was written by French political scientist Françoise Vergès. It was published in 2019 by La Fabrique Éditions and translated to English by Ashley J. Bohrer. The English paperback edition was published in 2021 by Pluto Press, plus it was named Winner of an English PEN Award 2021. It is a robust, sweeping collection of essays which despite its small size (under 100 pages) offers a panoramic view of what constitutes ‘decolonial feminism,’ a movement that encompasses a vast range of social issues. It addresses the ways in which mainstream or ‘civilizational’ feminism, also termed ‘femonationalism’ or ‘femoimperialism’ helps to reinforce the oppression of marginalised women.

“A feminism that fights only for gender equality and refuses to see how integration leaves racialized women at the mercy of brutality, violence, rape, and murder, is ultimately complicit in it.”

pg. 12 , Feminisms with Decolonial Politics

content warning: references a problematic writer. See more below.

This book introduced me to such terms as ‘multidimensionality’ a powerful concept that offers even more nuance than intersectionality in explaining how dominant structures of power in West not only oppress intersectional identities but also how they can infiltrate a variety of social spaces. An example of this is the way the book considers the links between decolonial feminism and crippling environmental issues, such as what it defines as the capitalist ‘economy of waste’ and ‘exhaustion.’ It also confronts the duplicity of the patriarchy; one on hand the conservative, oftentimes violent, traditionalists and the neoliberalists that masquerade inclusivity and diversity schemes as a way of maintaining their power.

“The economy of exhaustion, of fatigue, of wearing out gendered and racialized bodies, is constant in the testimonies of women who work in the cleaning industry.”

pg. 76, Wearing Out the Body or Exhausting Racialized Bodies

I also appreciated how strongly this book denounces Islamophobia and the harmful politics of the West that seeks to attack women for choosing to dress how they please. But A Decolonial Feminism goes way deeper than this, defending the Black Lives Matter movement, trans rights and reproductive rights.

This book specifically comments on French politics and the Francophone world, but its arguments can be applied across the rest of the Western sphere. It uses very technical language to analyse the social imbalances of the Global North/South divide and would be perfect reading for those interested in the social sciences.

This book is crucial for helping all those truly committed to the feminist cause to reimagine society, completely unbound by the shackles of modern-day colonialism.

“The European temporality of slavery/abolition relegates colonial slavery to a historical past and therefore ignores how its strategies of racialization and sexualization continue to cast their shadows on our time.”

pg. 24, Decolonial Feminism as a Utopian Imaginary

I would only note as a content warning the fact that this book references the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and her non-fiction essay/memoir We Should All Be Feminists. It does so to criticise the limiting way in which Adichie argues the feminist struggle. I thought I would include that point in case reference of a problematic author is a trigger for some readers.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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