Elizabeth Spahn


Predicting the ways in which feminisms might develop in the next century is unfortunately well beyond my own capabilities. In the next decade or two, however, one thing I believe we might want to think about are the relationships between feminisms and global free market capitalisms. The question I am asking, simply stated, is the extent to which economic development (free-market global capitalism) advances, is neutral toward, or harms women. One traditional American way of viewing the global free market is to tout economic development as a panacea for the problems facing the world's poorest and most violated group, women. In the words of Ann Jordan of Hong Kong: “[E]conomic development, modernization, and democracy emerge as an atheistic trinity. According to the trinity theory adherents, economic reform is the key to transforming authoritarian governments in developing countries into free-market, rights-based democracies. Mainstream development models, trinity adherents assure us, inevitably lead to (Western) modernity, which consists of an educated population with a civic consciousness that demands democratic political reforms.” The basic ideas of trinity theory are intuitively appealing to many Americans. Economic development leads to greater wealth; greater wealth brings about modernization (TV, newspapers, computers); modernization reduces the ability of authoritarian governments to control their populations into rigid patterns. As modernization occurs, people will increasingly demand liberty and equality, greater political democratization, and higher levels of human rights protections. The answers to this question are not so simple. What does it mean to “advance” women? What does it mean to “harm” women? In whose opinion? “Advance” or “harm” compared to what? More importantly, the category woman itself raises obvious problems. Some women may “advance” while others may be left in the same position (neutral), while still others may be “harmed,” depending on their class, race, ethnic or tribal background, religious status, rural origins, and so forth. Women themselves within a particular culture may well disagree about whether they are advancing or being harmed. Individual women may feel they are advancing in some areas while being harmed in others, or that they advance or are harmed at different points in their life cycles. Or they may feel that they are advancing and being harmed simultaneously. Ambiguity abounds here. This Article examines the assumption underlying the trinity with respect to the woman question.

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