Pictured here: Jacinthe Michaud and Gertrude Mianda
New books offer insight into women’s experiences
New books by Glendon College professors Gertrude Mianda and Jacinthe Michaud discuss women’s experiences in two very different ways.
Mianda’s book V.Y. Mudimbe: African women, gender and social order (Editions du Cygne, 2022) is an examination of the novels of renowned Congolese philosopher, V.Y Mudimbe and his insights into gender and women in Africa, while Michaud’s work Frontiers of Feminism: Movements and influences in Québec and Italy, 1960-80 (UBC Press, 2021) analyzes the feminist movements occurring in two disparate environments.
Mudimbe, who was born in Congo in 1941, is a man who was ahead of his time in his beliefs about women and society, said Mianda. “Mudimbe is a critic of the situation of African women and of the subjugation of women, which is amazing for a man of his generation. He uses his novels as a vehicle for sharing these ideas, since is essays don’t always reach the general public."
“He uses gender to criticize colonialism, as well as the traditional order and explores how these two systems come together to subjugate women. Africa is a continent of female agriculture “par excellence” in which women were also producers and reproducers. They were not confined to the home.
“The binary sexual system implemented during colonialism marginalized women when it came to work and education. It established a new patriarchal system at the intersection of race, gender and class that aims to confine women to home and reproduction.”
Michaud’s book is unique for several reasons. First, it studies feminism not solely from the perspective of its internal dynamic but in synergy with political movements of the left: the traditional left (political parties and unions) as well as the multi-layered ‘New Left,’ from the student movement to the extra-parliamentary groups. This approach differs from other approaches that study the feminist or women’s movement from the perspective of its relationship with the state, public policy, governments and public institutions.
Second, the book looks at the influence of American and French feminisms on the evolution of these two movements. In Québec and in Italy, many protagonists and activists had spent time in the US, and brought back ideas, practices and organizational strategies to their home countries. They absorbed a particular way of understanding race, for example, and their attempts to make a link between the theory of the oppression of Blacks and the oppression of women influenced the ways in which differences among women were dealt with in their movements.
The politics and practice of consciousness-raising, a method of personal inquiry borrowed from the Americans, strongly influenced the feminist practices of both movements. From France, the theory of sexual difference reinforced the one already emerging in the Italian discourse but was much less prominent in Québec. The book explains why.
Third, the book revisits the recent history of feminism with the perspective of comparing major feminist discourses, practices, modes of organizing and strategies of action. The author has been doing research for more than thirty years on Québécois feminism. Comparing and contrasting this movement with Italian feminism offers insight into what happened to feminist and womens’ movements in the West as a whole and still impacts the present configurations of these movements. This book contributes greatly to feminist scholarship in feminist movement, political movement theory and feminist political economy.
Michaud’s research for the book has sparked her interest in activists and the way that society often pathologizes activists and feminists and may label them as crazy because of their involvement with political and social movements, including feminism. Mianda is considering research into the colonial library, looking at how women were presented in colonial writing perpetuated the view of African women as “other and inferior.”
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