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The baggage and the benefits that travel with the F word: Transnational feminism and its discontents
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  • Ozge Savas,
  • Lauren Duncan,
  • Hanna Smith,
  • Abigail Stewart
Ozge Savas
Bennington College

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Lauren Duncan
Smith College
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Hanna Smith
University of Michigan
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Abigail Stewart
University of Michigan
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We examined how locally situated and transnationally circulated meanings of feminism interact forming implicit cultural meanings, and how these meanings about feminism appear in women’s accounts of their own work and identifications. Using twenty-four oral histories, we identified four implicit cultural meanings about feminism: (1) “Mainstream” feminism is/as white and middle-class; (2) Feminists are lesbians; (3) Feminism is/as hostile to men; and (4) Feminism is/as a “western” ideology. In addition, we identified three strategies activists used to respond to these meanings: (1) distancing themselves from the word “feminist/feminism”; (2) explicitly embracing the term and clarifying its meaning; and (3) shifting from an individual to a structural level of analysis. Examining these discourses in a multinational sample with women of various racial-ethnic and indigenous identities, we found that implicit cultural meanings often identified in the U.S. or as western interact with locally found meanings affecting activists in the Majority World . Activists’ use of these implicit cultural meanings complicated prevalent, but often simplistic, narratives about feminists, feminism, and identity.