The fetish economy of sex and gender activism: transnational appropriation and allyship

Saffaa Hassanein, L. L. Wynn*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines what happens when local gender rights activism is taken up by international allies and appropriators, using case studies of activism in Saudi Arabia and India. The relationship between local and transnational activists is shaped by histories of Euro-Americans writing about the gendered organisation of Eastern societies. In an economic system where nongovernmental activist groups compete for donor support, political causes are commodities with value, and value is generated through representations (e.g. of patriarchal oppression). These representations of the sexuality and gender organisation of other societies are fetishes in the Marxian sense, essential to the commodity-cause that generates value in circulation. These representations gain value through the accretion of cultural images and texts that adhere to the cause, e.g. the stereotype of the violent brown man and oppressed woman. Such images in the cultural repository allow transnational consumers to make sense of issues they are called to support. But such images also reify stereotypes that activists seek to undermine, even at the same time that these representations generate an international audience. We analyse this process and identify strategies for how transnational allies can show solidarity without overshadowing or devaluing the voices of local activists, with primary focus on the case of activism against male guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)125-150
Number of pages26
JournalFeminist Theory
Issue number2
Early online date31 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • activism
  • allyship
  • appropriation
  • fetish
  • gender rights
  • India
  • Saudi Arabia


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