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Nancy J. Buffington Visions in White (on Laura Donaldson, Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender and Empire Building [Chapel Hill: U North Carolina P, 1992]; and Diane Fowlkes, White Political Women: Paths From Privilege to Empowerment [Knoxville: U Tennessee P, 1992]) Women of color such as Audre Lorde, Gloria AnzaldĂșa and bell hooks have objected for at least two decades now to white feminists' exclusion of race from their theories of gender. Hooks has stressed the importance of white feminists' working on their own racial identity, by calling for a "persistent, rigorous, and informed critique of whiteness" (54). In response, a few white feminists in the 1980s began to address whiteness, sometimes creating more problems than they solved. For example, Marilyn Frye calls whiteness a male political construct, abdicating any responsibility for it and insisting on the power to "disaffiliate " from it. Ann Russo suggests that through solidarity with women of color she can stop being an oppressor and shifts her focus away from racial difference in order to stress a shared sense of gender oppression. Lorde and others, though, might contend that such assumptions actually widen gaps between women by ignoring the social realities ofrace, such as persistent poverty among many racial minorities, unequal access to health care and education, and job discrimination. Other recent works have tried to solve the theoretical problems inherent in the work of white feminists such as Frye and Russo, especially the negotiation of white privilege and assumptions of sameness among women of different races. Two such texts are Donaldson's Decolonizing Feminisms: Race, Gender,and Empire-Building and Fowlkes's White Political Women: Pathsfrom Privilege to Empowerment. Donaldson looks at literary and film representations of whiteness in colonial contexts from Jane Eyre and Uncle Tom's Cabin to The King and I and A Passage to India, examining ways in which white feminists' critical approaches often appropriate and colonize difference by ignoring the power relations which inform their interpretations. Fowlkes bases her book on interviews with 27 white women involved in politics in the U. S., exploring the meaning of gender, race, political involvement and feminist perspectives in these women's lives. Each book is notable for its dismissal of notions of a homogeneous white female identity, and for its exploration of how specific white women's identities intersect with race and class and with social structures such as imperialism and politics. 184the minnesota review Donaldson seeks to complicate "a too unitary and noncontradictory conception of gender" (2) and calls for a heterogeneous theory and practice. She applies a variety ofcritical methods and theories, from feminist film theory to Marxism to deconstruction, to what she calls "colonial" texts. But the book is aimed at more than textual analysis. Donaldson uses each text to address "the ways in which feminism's universalist stance disguises its white, middle-class solipsism and recuperates the experience of diverse groups of women" (9). She argues (relying on Gayatri Spivak) for the strategic "unlearning of privilege" (11). Particularly strong in Donaldson's book is her explication of ideological contradictions within texts. For example, she argues that James A. Barrie's Peter Pan and Aeneas Gunn's We of the Never-Never both enable and perpetuate British colonialism. She asserts that Peter Pan presents the character Tiger Lily as a challenge to turn-of-the-century imperial England's gender roles, but simultaneously removes thatchallenge by aligning her with the colonialist trope of the "Piccaninny." She later makes similar observations about the film version of We ofthe Never-Never, a "seemingly 'progressive'" work which highlights antisexist rhetoric but marginalizes issues ofcolonialism and racism (62-3). Donaldson shows that such ideological contradictions within texts are often linked to the position of the white woman as both oppressor and oppressed. In her discussion ofRogers and Hammerstein's The King and I, Donaldson examines issues of race, gender, and class that define Anna's complicated position: a feminist woman holding a masculinist colonial gaze (35). She concludes: "Along with the critical anti-imperialist , there exists a woman whose zeal to liberate legitimates the agendas of a colonialist society" (36). In her discussion of the film version of A Passage to India, Donaldson explicates several...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 183-189
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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