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, please respond to one of the bulleted questions below, or formulate and respond to your own discussion question that poses and analytic and historical question about these secondary and primary sources.

Secondary source:

Jocelyn Olcott, “Cold War Conflicts and Cheap Cabaret: Sexual Politics at the 1975 United Nations International Women’s Year Conference” Gender & History 22, no. 3 (November 2010): 733-754.

Primary sources:

Excerpt from Domitilia Chungara Barrios, excerpt from Let Me Speak!,

Text of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women), adopted in 1979 by UN General Assembly, Text on CCLE and available here:…

(Recommended but not required:) Combahee River Collective Statement (1977)

(Recommended but not required🙂 Adrienne Rich, “Notes Toward a Politics of Location” (1984)

Olcott’s essay is about the 1975 International Women’s Year conference in Mexico City. This conference was pivotal in launching numerous new feminist networks, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and feminist conferences that in turn produced new international conventions and initiatives.

This conference is also often remembered as a “global catfight,” which is also how the press portrayed it at the time. The U.S. press in particular described the fault line in 1975 as running between Marxist, anti-colonial, and anti-racist, “Third World” women on one side, and white, liberal, bourgeois “First World” women on the other. They insisted that failure to bridge this divide—often described as a conflict between “politics” and “women’s issues” would prevent this event from having any long-term impact.

This divide was said to have been embodied by a fight between Bolivian feminist Domitilia Chungara Barrios, and between white U.S. feminist Betty Friedan. However, this showdown between the two women, Olcott tells us, never actually happened. Chungara Barrios’s conflict was more with the Mexican feminist Esperanza Brito de Martí, who prioritized abortion rights and reproductive freedom over anti-imperialism, and with other feminists who focused on rights of sex workers and lesbians. In the aftermath of the conference, Chungara Barrios’s testimonial memoir, Let Me Speak! narrated her conflict with Brito de Martí, yet the idea that she and Friedan clashed is what many remember about the conference.

Olcott’s article is an attempt to understand why this narrative of a First World versus Third World show-down became the story that everyone told about the IWY conference, and even, to some degree, how a number of participants explained the event themselves. In her article, she attempts to destabilize supposed dichotomies between “First World” versus “Third World” feminism especially when looking at politics around sexuality at the conference. This article stems in part from a book Olcott wrote about the IWY ( in which she argues that the politics of disunity at this conference were in fact more productive than counter-productive; debates over feminist goals, she argues, resulted in pushing forward broad agendas.

Please read the short excerpt from Chungara Barrios’s testimony, which became a canonical account of the challenges of forging solidarity among women across lines of class, race, and ideology.

The IWY conference and the UN Decade for Women that followed it (with several more UN women’s conferences) produced numerous new global feminist initiatives and led to the passage of international women’s rights conventions. One of the outcomes of these new global feminist conversations and meetings was the adoption of CEDAW, described as a bill of rights for women, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. Although nearly all member states of the United Nations has signed CEDAW, the United States remains an outlier in refusing to sign it.

In Olcott’s article, how does the example of Mexican lesbian feminist Nancy Cárdenas complicate the idea of a divide between “First World” and “Third World” feminisms?

What does Olcott mean by a “hauntology” and how does she see hauntology operating in how participants understood, and how we remember, the IWY conference?

What does CEDAW tell us about the goals for international women’s rights at the time it was created? What are the priorities of this document? What rights, if any, are missing?

The two recommended but not required primary sources help us see how the internationalist discussions of Third World and First World women resonated in debates in U.S. feminisms, and also show us the diversity of “First” and “Third World” feminisms at this time. As we’ve seen from other readings, many of women of color began to identify as “Third World” women, identifying their own shared histories of being subject to colonialism within the U.S., and to espouse an internationalist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism. The Combahee River Collective, established in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts by black lesbian feminists, utilizes this identification. The Combahee River Collective Statement reflects a clear articulation of many of their intersectional feminist goals.

Tensions within U.S. feminism that the Combahee River Collective Statement identify, and conflicts that emerged at the U.N. Decade for Women conferences, led some white radical feminists to think carefully about how they universalized feminism from their own perspectives. Feminist poet Adrienne Rich called this attention to “the politics of location.” Before writing this essay, Rich had gained renown for her contributions to radical feminist theory in her book Of Woman Born about the social and political institution of motherhood, and her poem collection The Dream of a Common Language that explored love between women. In the 1980s, because of tensions in U.S. and global feminisms, Rich asserted the need for white, Western feminists to not universalize their own experiences. In this essay, she acknowledged her own “politics of location” as a North American, white, Jewish lesbian, and criticized the universalization of those experiences, what she called “the faceless, raceless, classless category of all women as a creation of white, western, self-centered women.”

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