Deconstructive Intersections

Katriina Honkanen

[1] How should we approach the question of othering in academic feminism? Should we conceptualize feminisms' others through the concept of identity, a concept that operates through exclusion? Or should we consider the problem of othering as one related to the hegemony of poststructuralist feminist theory that excludes the real life experiences of "ordinary women"? Should othering be seen as a problem that can be solved through more inclusive theories or should it be understood as a mechanism of meaning making that cannot be overcome through refinements of theory? The question of who is speaking in the name of feminism has been central ever since feminists started to question the white heteronormative thinking that feminism presented as universal (Lorde, 1988; Anzaldúa, 1987; Mohanty, 1988). Considering the nature of questions concerning exclusion it is crucial to continue asking them in various ways and from multiple perspectives. This essay asks these questions in ways particularly relevant to the current situation of feminists working with a rhetoric that is dominant in Finnish equality discourses.

Since I have not broken the ties that bind me to underclass poor black community, I have seen that knowledge, especially that which enhances daily life and strengthens our capacity to survive, can be shared. It means that critics, writers, academics have to give the same critical attention to nurturing and cultivating our ties to black communities that we give to writing articles, teaching, and lecturing. (hooks, 1990: 30).

I have experienced the predominantly middle class, white heterosexual spaces that equality politics center around. I am sure many can relate to my wonder at listening to political speeches concerning equality and feeling excluded. Trying to solve this puzzle I have thought that perhaps politics is like this—a democratic majority-rule that through some detour would also benefit me or start speaking about me. Many times women have been preoccupied with an identity politics that did not speak to my queer gender identity. Was I included "in theory"?

[2] My non-academic lesbian friends tell me that I am being too academic when I discuss equality politics or gender issues. My language is strange. They might even be doing identity politics through excluding my academic language culture from the issues that they consider relevant to their lives. At those instances I like to recall bell hooks' words, when she says that she does not only talk postmodernism to "intellectuals and academics" but also to non-academic friends. However, the relevance of one's theories might not always be received as relevant. Those outside academe might not be interested and they might even be opposed to being addressed as if they were, or should be. I think about the often quoted passage in Spivak's "Can the subaltern speak?": when we speak for the other we speak ourselves (Spivak, 1994). How am I speaking when I "speak equality" and to whom am I addressing my politics? What values am I promoting and what ethics am I motivated by in my feminist politics?

[3] So the problems concerning feminisms' others are complex ones. This article aims to discuss othering in relation to the politics of representation. I discuss various examples of feminist practices by focusing on how these practices other a substantial number of feminist issues in the dominant Finnish equality discourses. On the basis of this, I argue for the benefits of a deconstructive feminist politics—both on a practical policy level and an academic theoretical level. I consider this important in order to take responsibility for the problems related to representational politics, since "the power to impose on people representations of themselves, or of others on their behalf, is intrinsically oppressive" (Braidotti, 2006: 13). Theoretically my work is predominantly situated as part of European and Nordic theoretical discussions concerning equality discourse and intersectional theories.

[4] Feminists have shown the problems involved in an identity politics (for a discussion see Phoenix & Pattynama, 2006) and pointed at the unavoidable complicity we have in the very power we oppose. A deconstructive politics that takes this critique seriously needs to proceed through careful deconstruction of the very discourses that it is constituted by. This enables us to see and problematize the extent to which our practices are constituted by the political climate and global situation we inescapably find ourselves in. We have to begin to deconstruct the neoliberal individualist and Judeo-Christian values that our ideals and values concerning human rights and equality usually are based on, especially in an intellectual atmosphere where these values are considered unproblematically "secular." This not because one would want to give up all values and finally become somehow "secular," but because feminists, as knowledge producing and political agents, have always wanted to problematize our complicity in power. A deconstruction of the equality discourse hinders a reformist approach that would firmly place one inside the parameters of the particular political discourse one operates with. Deconstructing the equality discourse reveals its ethical rootedness in a Judeo-Christian value system and a liberal individual political discourse (Badiou, 2004). Equality discourses are essential systems of power that neoliberal market economies operate through (Thornton, 2006: 155).

[5] This kind of contextualization and genealogical investigation helps when there is a wish to avoid indulging in another branch of moral and religious "preaching" directed against various others. Examples of this kind of "missionary work" can be found in the rhetoric of western and especially US based civilizing projects, directed against Islam or the moralizing preaching in the name of equality and human rights directed at Iran. Very often this moralism is promoted in the name of democracy, human rights and God (see, for instance, George W. Bush's proclamation on Human Rights Day 2004 [1]). We have to ask in what ways the values that feminist critical thinkers and policymakers promote differ from the othering practices of conservative political agendas. We have to ask this because we cannot be blinded to the fact that our values might take as their departure point the very same discursive setting.

[6] Although this article mainly discusses equality discourses, I still wanted to show that a deconstruction of the equality discourse and the two-sex model that it operates with is an undertaking that has its contexts also on this level of generality. It is important to realize that the problem of exclusion is not just internal to feminist discourses such as equality. It is not just that equality discourses can be shown to operate through othering and exclusion, it is also possible to contextualize the unquestioned nature of the value-system that equality discourses and human rights rhetoric "spring from". Equality discourses, as such, might have exclusionary effects on a more general level. These values are also used to advance oppression and warfare which makes clear that these discourses are not in any sense "innocent" or intrinsically good.

[7] Descriptive equality research that only portrays the situation internal to discourse ends up being conservative. Describing the status quo within a reformist and consensus ridden "progressive thinking", a thinking, moreover, that does not contextualize itself may end up universalizing a western liberal value-system in problematic ways.

[8] A great deal of identity-based equality politics still has to solve the problem of representation. Deconstructive anti-representationalism should be seen as a profoundly ethical move, one where the practice of deconstruction is an attitude or an ideology, if you wish, that springs from ethics. Braidotti calls this an ethical pragmatism (Braidotti, 2006: 14), and it is connected to politics as it is the site at which politics itself constituted. A productive antagonism (Butler) and the refusal to "speak for" should be seen as the poststructuralist political and ethical solution that it is. Deconstruction is much more than a method of investigation. The ethics of deconstruction lies in the practice of deconstructing representationalism. This is the main message that this article aims to communicate.

[9] Within a constructivist epistemology I ask what equality discourses leave unsaid, what is marginalized in them and what power mechanisms are embedded in them. I do this by deconstructing some of the language that equality discourses circulate. I deconstruct the theme of sexual difference. The subaltern is to me a tool that I have used to discuss ways in which equality discourse speaks its own politics through various Others I use it as a concept to open up political intersectionality.

Subaltern intersections

[10] I argue that the concept of the subaltern helps to clarify both structural and political intersectionality (as presented by Verloo, 2006). By using the subaltern as a tool in the analysis of political rhetoric, the simultaneity of politics and theories about politics become visible. Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) uses political intersectionality to indicate how inequalities and their intersections are relevant to political strategies:

Crucial questions in analysing political intersectionality are: How and where does feminism marginalize ethnic minorities or disabled women? How and where do measures on sexual equality or on racism marginalize women? How and where do gender equality policies marginalize lesbians? (Verloo, 2006: 213)

[11] By focusing on political intersections we can refer to the exclusions that an identity-based equality politics produces, for instance a "queer" identity not being addressed by the politics of equality. Structural intersectionality occurs when inequalities and their intersections are directly relevant to the experiences of people in society (Verloo, 2006: 213). I suggest the concept of subaltern as an analytical tool that reminds us of the coexistence of these two levels of intersectionality. I suggest deconstruction as a political strategy that feminists must insist upon in order to overcome the problems of humanism, liberalism and individualism.

[12] Maintaining an opposition between theory and politics, "applied" practice can safeguard the researcher from ethical responsibility and reflexivity in relation to her own practice of representation and her complicity in a particular discursive set of meanings. She might claim her theory to be just that—a reflection on politics without being itself a politics. In these cases the researcher can ascribe various meanings to equality that are exclusionary without acknowledging the role of her own practice. This is why we need a genealogical awareness of our academic representational practices. An assumed division between politics and theory strangely implies that politics should not be advanced through theory. It implies that there is a possibility to become a neutral "expert" that supplies policymakers with theoretically informed bulleted lists of best practices for easy consumption. It again assumes that equality and human rights are unproblematically universal values and that academic knowledge produced within these discourses is necessary for the "improvement" of policies. Since when have critical thinkers become public servants for the establishment?

[13] Within a deconstructive epistemology, it is not enough to for instance name oneself as "white middle class heterosexual" and portray "others" as lesbian in relation to one's own position (or indeed to portray others as "policymakers" representing politics and oneself as "knowledge producer" representing theory). Deconstruction proceeds from the assumption that one is advancing a politics. Without this awareness we produce subjects of equality and do not acknowledge that our own practice is a politics in itself.

[14] According to Mieke Verloo (2006) the simultaneity of structural and political intersectionality is mostly overlooked in policy-making (Verloo, 2006: 214). By using the two-sex model as a lens I will show what I understand as such instances of overlooking within an uncritical equality research. A deconstructive approach to gender is needed when we want to pay attention to political intersections. Uncritical equality discourses operate within the hegemonic two-sex model that, I will show, might appropriate "the lesbian," "ethnicities," and various subaltern "groups" through the practice of representation. These meanings are appropriated and constructed as part of the hegemonic struggle. I think that a deconstructive approach manages to reveal how feminist practices that want to take heterogeneity and the Other into account can end up appropriating the Other if and when the complicity between representation as speaking for (Vertreten [2]) and representation as the staging of the world (Darstellen [3]) is forgotten (Spivak, 1994: 74). How could feminists be constructive about the paradox they face: Being produced by the very discursive power that we resist? How could we be reflexive about the seductiveness of resistance - a resistance that calls us to become instruments of discursive power? Where do we find an opening for an ethical representational politics, a politics that we all strive for?

[15] A deconstructive approach does not seek essences behind the historical, social and linguistic processes that produce meaning but rather investigates these genealogies. The practice of representation has to be made explicit and the problems involved in seeing language as just a means of referring to objects or things "outside it" has to be repeatedly remembered. The two senses of representation ("speaking for" and representation as staging) become relevant here. If representation as "speaking for" somebody, as being a proxy for (within the state and the political) and representation as theoretical description, as a staging of the world, as a portrayal of oneself and the other are complicit and if this complicity, when unexplicated, produces silences and hegemonies, the only way to appreciate this dynamic is to deconstruct these kinds of operations (Spivak, 1994: 70, 72). The staging of the world produces the problem of political intersectionality and structural intersections call for proxy politics.

[16] The very production of categories such as "woman" is a political act and we need not see that these productive representational practices are "necessary" to further politics that would become possible "after" the category is produced. The politics of representation is the first thing to take seriously within critical equality discourse. Otherwise it falls into a naïve identity politics where "women," "working-class," "transsexual," "lesbian," and various other categories are utilized to enable a "politics of rights" and representation for insurrectionary subjects. The insurrectionary subject needs its proxies. Although it can be argued that this might be helpful for some "groups" somewhere, I do not wish us to settle for this. In a neoliberal vein we circulate a language that "takes into account" identities such as class, ethnicity, sexuality without an epistemological (genealogical) awareness of our own academic representational practice. We uncritically buy into the very same value-system that is used by conservative regimes for oppressive purposes. We help produce the problem of political intersections.

[17] Discourses on equality are strategic sites that promote the iteration and repetition of gendered meanings. Equality discourses allow for the reproduction of racialized national and gendered identities. Genealogically speaking, for example, Finnish equality discourse has been a site for identity construction for particular kind of "woman" that stands in a particular relationship both to the "man" (the Finnish man) and the nation. The history of Finnish women (written in the 1980s and early 1990s) is a history of equality, but also of normalized heterosexuality (Honkanen, 1997). It is a history of mostly middle-class women's struggles to be able to participate in working-life, politics and education and the life of the nation. One example of this discourse [4] is the well-known The Lady With the Bow: the Story of Finnish Woman (Manninen & Setälä, 1990). The book draws the history of this "equal lady", the lady with the bow, as far back as to the stone-age, arguing that a particular rock-painting representing a figure with what can be read as breasts and a bow proves that "Finnish women always have worked together with "their" (heterosexual) men (Manninen & Setälä, 1990: 9). These representations should be genealogically analyzed and deconstructed. Otherwise they will continue to be used uncritically as part of a "politics out of history" to use Wendy Brown's formulation (Brown, 2001). These hegemonic representations, this staging of the world, these portrayals, enable the unreflexive identity politics of the equal Finnish woman and uphold the problem of political intersectionality as long as they are not deconstructed. Furthermore, this politics is backed up through history as yet another grand narrative called "the history of Finnish woman" (see also Honkanen, 2007).

[18] It seems to be the politics of this very same Woman that is advanced in recent discussions on the Finnish women's studies mailing list. This discussion was started by Pasi Malmi, a researcher on men and masculinities, who came up with the argument that certain feminist discourses oppress men (the list-archives are accessible and searchable in Finnish on the internet [5]). The discussion concerns how specific (wrong) portrayals of women affect the way in which men are seen. What I see as particularly telling in this heterocentric debate is that as long as it fails to name itself for what it is, it proceeds endlessly with its production of gendered meanings. It also proceeds as if it were engaged in a merely descriptive enterprise—with researchers attempting to describe how cultural meanings variously oppress either men or women.

[19] The hegemony of the two-sex model in Finnish equality discourse also leads to a strident men's movement in Finland that claims men's equal rights. Their politics is framed within an equality discourse and a two-sex system. Adding hetero-oriented men's studies to the academic scene also strengthens the naturalization of heteronormativity. It upholds the heterocentrist white academic hegemony by becoming the relational and complementary counter force to the uncritical "women's equality discourse." Within this kind of equality discourse women and men are unproblematically seen as relational and complementary categories.


[20] The subaltern is a concept that might help to further the theoretization of the ideas of diversity and multiplicity that contemporary European and Nordic equality research is engaged in. It might also be helpful in attempts to overcome problems related to representational identity politics discussed above. The term "subaltern" means 'subordinated" or "non-hegemonic" (Morton, 2003: 48). In Latin "sub" stands for beneath or below and "alter" means the other one. I find the simultaneity of the oppressor and the oppressed in this concept valuable. "Subaltern" connotes power, dichotomy and hierarchy. The concept of the subaltern is defined by the complicity between the "sub" and the hegemonic. The concept becomes useful within a deconstructive epistemology that takes into account the two senses of representation (Vertretung and Darstellung) that Spivak puts forward in "Can the subaltern speak?" (1994: 75). Conceptualizing the subaltern within a deconstructive epistemology reveals the problems linked to political intersectionality and identity politics.

[21] Deconstructing subalterity in equality research is a practice that keeps from the problems of multiculturalism, heteronormativity or class-bias. Diversity is not merely structural, something "always already there" to be used for the researchers' merely descriptive purposes (Carbin & Tornhill, 2004: 113). Within a realist epistemology the voice of the subaltern other is constantly sought, while within a deconstructive epistemology you spotlight places where exclusive practices are at work. I argue that not even the concept of intersectionality manages to overcome the problems of multiculturalism and the continued colonialist astonishment in front of the other that it engenders (for a critique of "culturalism," see Badiou, 2004). No concept can, of course, prevent careless readings and narcissistic aggressivity, readings where the Other is simply the other of the self, but at least with careful reading, the subaltern does not allow for mere description, for portrayals only.

[22] Thus, the subaltern should not be conceptualized as "somebody"; it should not be understood as a person or a societal group. It is not a list of subjugated positions. Rather, within a deconstructive epistemology, the subaltern is a shifting place of silence and abjection constituted by the operations of the hegemonic, of power. The question we should ask is: what power constitutes the discussion on the Finnish women's studies list? What silences is it built on? As an analytical tool the concepts' strength lies in the fact that it only becomes intelligible through operations of power. The subaltern conventionally denotes a junior ranking officer. My reading of the concept underlines the lack of a coherent political identity and is informed by a deconstruction of dichotomies.

The politics of Finnish equality expertise

To confront them is not to represent (vertreten) them but to learn to represent (darstellen) ourselves (Spivak, 1994: 84)

[23] An ethnographical study concerning multicultural women's politics in Finland made clear that that an idea of common femaleness was used as a platform to construct differences and hierarchies between the women that took part in this multicultural women's project (Tuori, 2006). The understanding of equality was produced through an idea of 'shared femaleness" and differences within this commonality. The normative centre was produced by staging the world as naturally consisting of this sameness and the diversities that it engendered. The language that seminars organized in relation to multicultural women's politics circulated used a sexed "common language." The importance of "us" (women) "working together as women" was underlined (Tuori, 2006: 7). This is a staging of the scene, a produced discursive center that cannot easily be contested. It is a political intersectionality in operation. A call for co-operation that is unaware of its own power of representation and genealogy will become a silencing call. What is first produced is the idea of a common ground—that of shared "womanness." This common ground follows and rearticulates a heteronormative two-sex model and produces silences already on this general level. Diversity may enter into this general assumption about sex. Diversity is established within this generality. I suggest that a general assumption about sex lies at the core of most political intersections.

[24] Staging the world in this kind of representation sets the scene for who is to speak and in what general language. This language cannot hear critiques coming from immigrant women's organizations concerning their being denied autonomous expression and the financial support needed to operate independently from "the Finnish" majority. There is little possibility or space to question the idea of commonality when the majority women's organizations politics is built on the idea of the benefits of cooperation and the practice of working "together as women" (within the Finnish). There certainly are benefits to this commonality, but the idea that these benefits would be common to all is perhaps a little hasty. In this example the two-sex model stands as a ground from which diversity is assimilated into the hegemonic sexed nationality. The cooperation-argument seems to be a way for majority women activists to construct a place of agency for themselves (Tuori, 2006: 8). This argument is a speaking for disguised as a speaking together.

[25] One of the central aspects of the multicultural women's project is to include immigrant women into the equality work that is already done in the nation. Being integrated into the Finnish society "as a woman" seems to imply that one becomes "equal," that is, that one learns how to use this particular language to construct one's identity as a woman. The category woman is produced by citing elements in equality discourse and this construction becomes a marker for something specific - the "Finnish" (Tuori, 2006: 11). The problem is that this construction really is the Finnish, it is exclusionary and it is real. Equality discourse directed against the other for inclusive purposes is based on a value system that is in no way "secular" or innocent. Immigrant women get advice from Finnish women and this practice is called "sharing knowledge between women." The liberal and righteous Finnishness is constituted out of the subaltern, out of the other that is portrayed as needing a proxy. The hegemonic assumes expertise and represents and silences the Other that it assimilates, but it also makes unintelligible other others that it cannot even begin to assimilate.

[26] Deconstructing the way Finnishness is represented through gender and showing how this leads to a certain speaking for reopens the space of politics. This is the ethical possibility offered by a deconstructive epistemology. Outside of deconstruction the "instruction" of the Other concerning the state of things "here" (in Finland) is not open to transformation. The heteronormativity in equality-discourse is entangled with a white, western and Finnish "womanness." The Other is constituted as the Self's shadow.

[27] The sex-gender distinction suits representational politics as it enables one to argue that gender (as representations of women or men) is something other than actual women or men (sex) and that one can ground one's research on the supposed "gap" between descriptions of the reality of women and men and "discourses on women and men." Within this epistemology it becomes understandable that ideas about representation (Darstellung) can be conceptualized as "stereotypes" or "misunderstandings" (a lack in knowledge) that a given "culture" or "history" is responsible for. The portrayal is wrong when compared to "reality." There is no room for seeing one's own practice as a carving of a particular sex-gender order, as a carpentry of sex. The Self becomes a nonrepresenter, a diagnostic of the episteme (Spivak, 1994). With the hegemonic status of equality discourse within the Nordic countries, it could be argued that the liberal representational politics that equality often implies upholds sex-gender thinking within Nordic feminist research. With gender mainstreaming and diversity mainstreaming, equality has also become something that the European Union establishment consumes, and expertise on equality and human rights issues has become something that is "produced." Equality is used and research has found a way of becoming "useful" and "productive." What powers are operative here?

It takes two to tango: sexual difference and its others

Sexual difference is not a given, not a premise, not a basis on which to build a feminism; it is not that which we have already encountered and come to know; rather, as a question that prompts a feminist inquiry, it is something that cannot quite be stated, that troubles the grammar of the statement, and that remains, more or less permanently, to interrogate (Butler, 2001: 418).

[28] I conceptualize sexual difference as a question. Sexual difference cannot be investigated as a fact, as a constituent of the world with various meanings attached to it. Sexual difference is not a variable. What interests me is the way that the very idea of "equality" implies and means a construction of sexual difference (Honkanen 1996, Honkanen 2007). The question of sexual difference is constantly posed within equality discourse. Equality discourses are major sites where sexual difference is produced.

[29] The language of equality is a hegemonic arena for the construction of the two-sex model. It allows for various combinations of sexed meanings to be circulated and articulated. Equality discourses are sites where a language of woman and man is produced and where power is constantly negotiated in relation to man and woman. Consider the following as an example of the kind of language that is used by the European Union machinery:

[30] Yet, it has been generally argued that in order to achieve de facto equality between women and men, attention should more and more be paid to equality of results. Based on past experiences, the traditional requirement for equality of opportunity has not actually eliminated the difficulties of the sexes in reality. Even though the formal de jure equality would have been achieved, women in particular find themselves in a less favorable position compared with men. De facto equality remains to be achieved. [6]

[31] The text combines the two sexes, female, male, woman and man with equality but it does this through an element lack and a discontinuity between opportunities and results, between "de facto" and "de jure." The category "woman" is constructed "in comparison" to the category "man." Power is negotiated throughout the quote as the whole argument builds on the claim that "women find themselves in less favorable position compared with men" (what women? What men?). It states that a formal equality between men and women has been achieved. It locks the meaning of the sexes in this portrayal of the world. The sexes are "in reality" and this reality is merely described.

[32] This is quite a common argument in the Nordic context. That the existence "in reality" of two complementary sexes is taken from granted makes it difficult to centralize the continuous struggle for lesbian and gay "reproductive rights," for instance. Lesbian and gay reproductive rights cannot be at the center of an equality discourse that claims these issues to be legally solved already. The lack of formal equality for lesbians and gays does not disturb the achieved formal equality between men and women. This kind of rhetoric hides a reality in which some men have the formal right to adopt a child, while some women do not have that right. Equality discourse cannot address the lack of formal equality unless it be between supposedly heterosexual women and men. Are we again in need of "special measures?" Should the others be included again and research be conducted in order to make theories better and in line with the values that we promote?

[33] Because one of the basic elements of Finnish equality discourse is the two-sex model, it is no wonder that there are differences among the differences within equality: the fact that some women have the legal right to marry and some are forced, and the fact that some women can "choose to" "register" their partnership so that others can marry is no longer comprehensible within this discourse, it is not a question. [7] Furthermore the rhetoric celebrates northern Europe when disregarding Europe's place in the midst of the gendered international division of labor, even though it cannot deny the possibility that this disregarding is enabled by oppressive power structures on the global labor market. We also continue to farm animals in devastating conditions and eat them at our weddings, weddings that have become more affordable to us because of the animals' suffering. The justice any of this is not questioned (Högback 2006).

[34] The Nordic equality-discourses are famous for their effectiveness. In the anthology Equal Democracies? (1999) the central ingredients of equality discourse are political mobilization, family policy and childcare and legislation. For some women it is possible to find an empowering gender-identity and space for agency with these ingredients. Equality discourse provides subject-positions for some women. This is where critical Nordic equality research needs to "unlearn our privilege as our loss" (Landry & Maclean, 1996: 5).

[35] Feminist postmodern accounts question the politics of identity. They claim that identity-politics is exclusionary and produces hegemonic identities that become silent centers of dominant discourses. These centers are produced by drawing lines around what kind of "woman" equality will be about. The public debate around the Finnish law on artificial reproduction is a case in point where the issue of women's access to artificial insemination never became a general equality-issue (Jämsä et al, 2005). The fact that the law was seen to effect lesbians made it less of an "equality-issue." The language that the two-sex equality-discourse operates with was not usable for arguments in favor of the right to their bodies of "women only couples." In this case it seems that the identity and the space of articulation that equality-discourse enables does not even include lesbians. In the end, as the law was passed in 2006, a common femaleness was produced through the idea of dimorphic reproduction. The law does not allow surrogacy. Equality becomes understandable when it concerns the relationship between women and men. The two-sex model that equality discourses operates through decreases the effectiveness of an equality politics that does not echo the formula man-woman.

From gender equality to queer post-human rights?

[36] Is the problem of representation solved by introducing identities such as "lesbian" into equality discourses? Does the solution lie in the insertion of lists of subcategories of "woman" and "man" (lesbian transsexuals, gay men, Sami working class men, black women, queers on wheelchairs...)? Postmodern feminists such as Judith Butler call for a rethinking of universality in relation to politics. The critique of false universals and exclusionary identity-politics has led to a vacuum in how it is possible to argue for group-rights. Universality becomes central, especially in international human rights work (Butler, 2001: 423). How do we deal with the epistemological imperialism that universality is criticized for in times where, for instance, women's human rights are at issue? Can we make general claims for group rights without falling into the unethical practices of marginalization, exclusion and silencing? What do we do politically to end oppression, injustice and violence? Is human rights discourse more inclusive in times that stress diversity? What kind of values is human rights discourse based on? Is the ethics that human rights stem from based on an exclusion of the non-human? Why do we treat animals the way we do? Is animal rights discourse in any way connected to human rights discourse or are animals just part of the global markets and western consumption?

[37] Nira Yuval Davis suggests that intersectionality should be used as a methodology in human rights policy (Yuval Davis, 2006: 203). Despite this suggestion she does not discuss human rights discourse as such. Whose values and what kind of values do we promote by referring to "human rights"? Should we perhaps rethink our notion of democracy as Zillah Eisenstein (2004) suggests? Rethinking equality in a global frame might not be enough and it might, in fact, be a task that calls for a change of discourse: from the two-sex model of equality to universal human rights and democracy. Within this frame we might ask: Do women's human rights include lesbian human rights? Do human rights include queer human rights? How do human rights relate to animal rights? What would a queering of universality mean? Would it enable a deconstruction of the heteronormative assumptions that traditional human rights and equality discourses are founded upon? This kind of deconstruction opens up universality. Deconstruction is anarchist in its relation to democracy. Conceptualizing human rights through an idea of universal queer rights does not automatically connote heteronormativity, liberalism, Christianity, markets, the west, meat eating. Or does it?

[38] If the category lesbian were inserted into the realm of the human rights (of women) it would disturb the way that the universal rights of women are understood and defined in the first place. It disturbs the conventional grammar that equality and human rights discourse operates through. The lesbian disrupts the very definition of what is considered to be included in the category human—namely man and woman, the universal heteronormative "couple." There is a possibility for a subversion of universality, and the question of animals as part of capitalist economies makes this point even clearer (Braidotti, 2006).

[39] It is argued that the highlighting of diversity waters down the centrality of woman (Lykke, 2003: 47). I think that this fear is justified. Whether this change is considered positive or negative is, I guess, again a question of both Darstellung and Vertretung. It is a question of how the world is portrayed and what kind of political subjects and proxies this portrayal imagines. Highlighting the problem of political intersections, asking the question of feminisms' others calls for a deconstruction of universality and a contextualization of the values our politics are made of.

[40] Northern Europe is often regarded as a stronghold of equality and feminists have pointed out the problems of this view (Holli & Magnusson & Rönnblom 2005). What I have wanted to highlight here is that these problems cannot be solved only by attempting to refine theory and making it more inclusive. Instead we need to renegotiate our value-system and the ideals that our discourses operate though in order to end the unethical privileging of the ground that we ourselves are standing on.


Anzaldúa, Gloria (1987) Borderlands / La Frontera the New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute.

Carbin Maria & Tornhill Sofie (2004) "Intersektionalitet—ett oanvändbart begrepp?" Kvinnovetenskaplig Tidskrift 3(2004): 111-115.

Crenshaw, Kimberlé Williams (1989) "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics", University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167.

Badiou, Alain (2004) Etiikka. Essee pahan tiedostamisesta (Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil). Helsinki: Apeiron.

Brown, Wendy (2001) Politics out of History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Butler, Judith (1995) "Contingent Foundations", pp. 35-57 in S. Benhabib, J. Butler, D. Cornell, N. Fraser (eds) Feminist Contentions. A Philosophical Exchange. New York: Routledge.

Butler, Judith (2001) "The End of Sexual Difference", pp. 414-434 in E Bronfen & M Kavka (eds) Feminist Consequences. New York: Columbia University Press.

Eisenstein, Zillah R. (2004) Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West. London: Zed Books.

Equal Democracies? Gender and Politics in the Nordic Countries Christina Bergqvist [el al.] Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1999.

Holli, Anne Maria (2003) Discourse and Politics for Gender Equality in Late Twentieth Century Finland, Acta Politica 23. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.

Holli, Anne Maria & Magnusson, Eva & Rönnblom, Malin (2005) Critical Studies of Nordic Discourses on Gender and Gender Equality, Nordic Journal of Women's Studies,13(3): 148–152.

Honkanen, Katriina (1996) Nainen, pp. 139-157 in Anu Koivunen & Marianne Liljeström (eds) Avainsanat. 10 askelta feministiseen tutkimukseen. Tampere: Vastapaino 1996.

Honkanen, Katriina (1997) Tasa-arvoideologia suomalaisessa naishistoriassa (Equality-thinking in the writing of Finnish Women's History) Naistutkimus/Kvinnoforskning 3(1997): 2-15.

Honkanen, Katriina (2007) Equality Politics out of the Subaltern in Magnusson E., Rönnblom M., Silius H. (eds) Cracks in the Equality Façade, Gondolin, Eslöv 2007, forthcoming.

hooks, bell (1990) Postmodern Blackness. Postmodern Culture. An Electronic Journal of Interdisciplinary Criticism vol. 1, no. 1. «».

Högback, Freja (2006) "Animal rights", unpublished paper presented at the Institute of Women's Studies at Åbo Akademi University.

Jämsä, J., Mustola, K., Sorainen, A. (2005) "Queer-lakia säätämässä? Hedelmöityshoitolaki keskustelu etsii perheen rajoja" (Passing a Queer Law? The discussion on the law on artificial reproduction seeks the boundaries of the family), Naistutkimus/Kvinnoforskning 18(2): 52-57.

Kardam, Nuket (2004) "The Emerging Global Gender Equality Regime from Neoliberal and Constructivist Perspectives in International Relations", International Feminist Journal of Politics 6(1): 85–109.

Kaskisaari, Marja (2003) Parisuhteen rekisteröinti tunnustuksen performatiivina (Conceptualizing Same-Sex Marriage in Finland as Confessional Performative), Naistutkimus/Kvinnoforskning 16(2): 4-19.

Koivunen, Anu (2003) Performative Histories, Foundational Fictions. Gender and Sexuality in Niskavuori Films. Studia Fennica Historica. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society.

Landry, Donna& MacLean, Gerard (1996) The Spivak Reader. New York: Routledge.

Lorde, Audre (1988) Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Freedom: Crossing Press.

Lykke, Nina (2003) Intersektionalitet—ett användbart begrepp för genusforskningen (Intersectionality—a useful concept for gender reseach) Kvinnovetenkaplig tidskrift 1(2003): 47-56.

Manninen, Merja & Setälä, Päivi (eds) (1990) The Lady with the Bow. The Story of Finnish Woman. Transl. Michael Wynne-Ellis. Helsinki: Otava.

Méndez Raquel (2006) "From Prohibition to Inclusion: The Limits of Intersectionality Perspectives within Equality Legislation and Gay Marriage in Spain", paper held at the 6th European Gender Research Conference in Poland 31 August 2006.

Mohanty, Chandra (1988) Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Feminist Review 30: 61–88.

Morton, Stephen (2003) Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. London: Routledge.

Ann Phoenix and Pamela Pattynama (2006) "Intersectionality", European Journal of Women's Studies 13(3): 187-192.

Spivak Gayatri Chakravorty (1994) Can the Subaltern Speak? pp. 66-111 in Patrick Williams, Laura Chrisman (eds) Colonial Discourse/ Post-Colonial Theory. A Reader. Columbia University Press.

Thornton, Margaret (2006) "Feminism and the Changing State. The Case of Sex Discrimination", Australian Feminist Studies 21(50): 151-172.

Tuori, Salla (2006) "Tieto, valta ja sukupuoli monikulttuurisessa naispolitiikassa Suomessa" ( Knowledge, power and gender in multicultural women's politics in Finland) in Lehtonen, Löytty & Kuortti (eds) Kolonialismin jäljet: Perifeerisyys ja Suomi (Traces of Colonialism: Periphery and Finland). Helsinki: Gaudeamus, Forthcoming.

Wolfe, Patrick (2002) "On Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present", History and Theory 41(2002): 367-380.

Young, Brigitte (2000) "Disciplinary Neoliberalism in the European Union and Gender Politics", New political Economy 5(1): 77-98.

Yuval-Davis, Nira (2006) "Intersectionality and Feminist Politics," European Journal of Women's Studies 13(3): 193-209.

Internet Recourses

Positive action in the field of equality between women and men—Final report of activities of the Group of specialists on positive action EG-S-PA (2000)7. Cited at: «»


[1] "Freedom and dignity are God's gift to each man and woman in the world. During this observance, we encourage all nations to continue working towards freedom, peace, and security, which can be achieved only through democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law". Cited at: «»

[2] Synonyms for Vertreten are "to act in place for," "to represent," to stand in for, eine Einstellung, to take a stand.

[3] Synonyms for Darstellen are "to pose," to allegorize, to plot, to constitute, to represent

[4] More examples of this research-strand can be found in Koivunen 2003, 133. About the connections between Finnish women's history and equality discourses see Honkanen 1997.

[5] «»

[6] Positive action in the field of equality between women and men - Final report of activities of the Group of specialists on positive action EG-S-PA (2000) 7

[7] For a critique of "same-sex marriage" legislation in Finland see Kaskisaari 2003; for Spain, see Méndez, 2006.