Feminist scholars have a long, contentious history with practices of “transcultural mappings.” One of the most thoughtful contributions to this scholarship is Uma Narayan’s work. Narayan seeks to dismantle frameworks for understanding gender as a construct across cultures, to undo what she calls “cultural essentialism.” In so doing, Narayan retheorizes the meaning of culture, how we approach it, and its use as a foundational category in feminist theory. Taking my lead from Narayan’s retheorization of comparative transnational gendered practices, I examine how this history of conflicts over gender and culture in feminist theory can be put to transformative use in transcultural studies and more specifically in studies of gender and cultures of globalization.My approach builds on my own experience teaching “Gender and the Cultures of Globalization” and students’ resistance to the deconstruction of such binaries as West/rest, civilized/savage and liberated/oppressed. I argue that feminist theories of globalization and gender offer transformative possibilities for reconfiguring dominant media that have, to use Narayan’s phrase, made many in the U.S. see women across the globe as “victims of culture”—with the exception of white women in the North/West. While transcultural studies challenge this cultural framing, Western media do not and continue to use cultural essentialism as a lens through which to understand gender oppression in countries of the South/East.In response, this comment addresses several questions: How can intersecting feminist theories of globalization and culture help us overcome the cultural essentialism that often pervades Western popular media? How can this multidirectional approach transform our understanding of gender, globalization, and culture, avoid the impasses of cultural relativism, and address the elision of gender in studies of globalization? I offer examples of approaches that show how transnational feminist theories of globalization can help us undo cultural essentialism.
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