In this attitude the image of the ‘third world’ sex worker is not only one of backwardness but also of helplessness (Murray 1998, Doezema 1998, 2000). This image of women in the ‘third world’ functions upon a notion of the superiority of Western woman in that it is from the circumstances of the victimised Eastern woman to that of the liberated Westerners that is seen to be progress. In distinguishing between the oppressed ‘Oriental’ woman and the liberated ‘Occidental’ body Feldt and Barry serve to facilitate the further conception of the need for the ‘sisters beneath the skin’ to be ‘saved’.Liddle and Rai contend that the workings of orientalist power are “invoked discursively when male oppression and female resistance are characterized in such a way as to reinforce a ‘hierarchy of civilization'” (Chu, 2001, p2). When in the early twentieth century Europeans complained brazenly “the Japanese worker is hardly willing to submit himself to the military discipline which according to our standards must rule the modern factory” (Iwabuchi, 2003, p.
1) Orientalism was clear. It is similarly present in frustrated NGOs who complain of the “negative role that traditional culture played in ‘blocking’ development” (Hoogvelt, 1997, p.30). It is much more subtle in these feminist discourses but the image of women in the ‘Third World’ can be deconstructed using Orientalism to reveal traces of imperialist conceptions of the world nonetheless. For Jack Donnelly, however, to do so in such instances is tantamount to a dangerous kind of moral relativism (Donnelly, 1999). He attacks statements made by writers such as Lee Manwoo who argues that, “different civilizations or societies have different conceptions of human well-being. Hence, they have a different attitude toward human rights.” (Manwoo, 1997, p.
131) For Donnelly writers such as Barry and Feldt are articulating views that ought not to be seen as signs of “disrespect but of disagreement” (Donnelly, 1999, p60). He argues that where human rights issues are concerned (or for our purposes specifically the human rights of women) we should understand the concepts underpinning them to have been “created or ‘discovered’… in Europe not because of superior Western virtue or insight but because, for better or worse, modern states and capitalism first appeared there.” (Donnelly, 1999, p69) In this Donnelly is akin to sociologists such as Hoselitz in understanding ‘us’ to be here (industrialised, liberal democratic nation states) and ‘them’ to be there (pre-modern, undeveloped societies) as the result of some ‘inevitable causality. ‘ Donnelly understands Orientalism to be a means for those who have not woken up to new moral and political realities to excuse any number of misdemeanours on the part of a self-appointed ‘Orient’. Orientalism may indeed be abused simply as a rhetorical device.
The usefulness of this tool in putting concepts and ideas within the wider social and historical context that to an extent must shape them does not preclude those ideas having any worth. Instead it can be best used as a tool to aid discussion of international issues in which ideas can be more fully interrogated and thus developed. Orientalism cannot invalidate Barry’s disgust at what she sees as the reduced “value of women’s lives to that of sexual and economic property, which in turn validate prostitution'(1995: 182) in parts of Thailand.It does, however, mean that Barry cannot claim natural authority on the matter over writers such as Suwanna Satha-anand that argue that “the process of cultural empowerment of Thai women [themselves] will not only reduce the traditional readiness to turn to prostitution in the face of economic need, but will also lead to a more active pursuit of women’s rights in this society. ” (Suwanna Sath-anand, 1999, p. 211) Orientalism ought most properly to facilitate a much greater engagement of differing feminisms around the world.One in which Western viewpoints do not operate within the boundaries of an image of women in third world as passive and incapable of their own struggle.
Orientalism is, however, a useful tool in revealing the images that underlie statements about developing areas. The need to interrogate these underlying concepts in ideas is not limited to instances of ‘the West’ talking about ‘the East. ‘ Rhona Howard discusses Occidentalism as a means of describing the way in which the Orient discusses the West.Ahmad praised Said for illuminating the controversy of Western cultural hegemony, whilst criticising him for appearing to claim to have somehow essentialized the Orient (Ahmad, 1992, p4). If we take Orientalism to portray the mis-representation of ‘Eastern’ culture (and the moral tone that line of argument begins to take) then the limitations of it are profound.
It can more profitably be seen to show the difficulties inherent in talking about another part of the world. This difficulty is amplified by the particular historical circumstances that will necessarily impact upon our view of the world as Orientalism, understood properly, reveals.Horner argues that China’s encounters “with the Islamic parts of the post-colonial world” display “another Orientalism” (Horner, 2001, p1). “Secular radicalism informed both Chinese strategic ambitions in Southeast Asia and,” he argues, “Indonesia’s own internal political vocabulary” (2002, p2). In this Horner takes Orientalism to mean a particular historically developed set of traces on the ‘inventory’ of an idea.
For Horner Orientalism enables him to better understand China and its relations to the Islamic world. Rightly, however, these observations are not argued in a moralistic manner.Orientalism is a useful tool in deconstructing images of the ‘Third World’. Orientalism as an analytical tool aids the interrogation of images of women in the ‘Third World’.
We best understand this usefulness to be limited. Orientalism is a good means of interrogating an idea. To do so may at times undermine viewpoints articulated against a perceived ‘moral’ wrong (as was seen in Barry’s writing). Of itself, however, Orientalism is not a useful tool in building ethical frameworks or new approaches to development issues.