Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Acceptance of the Unacceptable

So over the past few days I have been throwing down thoughts surrounding the oppression of women with my friend Ana. While doing so, many questions have arisen in my mind surrounding cultures at large and how to deal with the inequality present in a foreign culture while still respecting its sovereignty. So let me first highlight some assumptions that will be used in formulating this argument against the oppression women in a foreign culture. I would assume these are givens, for all who read this but none-the-less let me articulate them. First women are of equal status to men. They hold the same value, and thus deserve equal respect, protection under the law, and reimbursement for services. To attain these goals they then must also be afforded equal opportunities for self-advancement. Secondly, culture is the totality or aggregate behavior, ethos, beliefs, expressions, and overall tone of a society. Given these values and assuming the universal application of them--it is my argument that oppression of a person based on gender is wrong, regardless of culture.

To remain somewhat unbiased let us assume for the moment that we have in country Y a society who's overall tone is oppressive to women. Our goal is the change this and create equality. My first challenge is that there seems to be a liberal value that many of us have which respects and seeks to respect a society, and to not interfere with its course or belief system. However, in doing so do we tolerate the intolerant? In other words, do we have a certain set of values for human rights that we hold as a measure in our own society, yet lower these principles and standards when looking internationally. I believe that this is wrong because I do believe in the idea that all people have certain inalieable rights, and that these rights are universal to the human experience. All people are equal, one does not hold more or less value than another. So if we hold equality of women as applicable only to our society, yet believe in the universalism of it, then our silence towards another cultures practices is both hypocritical and malignate to the human race.

It is possible to throw out a section of a society without disenfranchising it. Culture is an apparatus of human formation, it contains both good and bad elements. Thus if country Y were manifested as a human, we could say that their are certain elements of that persons character which are well, and others which could be improved or altered in order for them to become a better person. And yet they would remain the same person, just in a more developed state. Likewise in a society we see the same thing. A great example from our own history is the civil rights movement, and the issue of civil disobedience. King and others in the movement rejected the subjugation that minorities dealt with, and sought to bring about equality. They did not reject the United States, merely the oppression within it. They worked within the system, disobeying certain statutes yet recognized the authority and value of the society overall. They felt a deep love and commitment for this culture and sought to bring about its development, not destruction. So in throwing out a portion of our culture that was cancerous they in effect made us better, and we are still distinctly American.

Finally, how do we respect the sovereignty of a nation while still invoking this sort of change. For me it is a simple answer. We find women and men inside the society who are already working towards equality, and we align ourselves with them. We give them our support and aid them as possible, yet it remains their's. We don't live in their society, nor do we understand the specificities of it and as outsiders we don't have to live with the consequences of the actions. I feel this principle can be applied to a multitude of issues, and is one of the reason I was against the invasion of Iraq. We were invading and imposing our will. We should have been there in 96' supporting the popular uprising...Anyhow I digress. If people themselves don't propagate a movement I worry about its effectiveness. Without ownership a movement is less likely to penetrate a society and/or have lasting influence. Remember its passionate people who affect and change society, not ideas.

In closing, I would not like to summarize the above but rather to comment on two more personal points. First of all, as a man in this society I find the objectification of women disheartening. The propagation of this, largely by pop culture, I fear reverses many of the advances in equality since the 1920's. Granted women have received much more equality and opportunity, yet the idea that outside the professional setting they are material is disturbing and wrong. Secondly since this is Womens appreciation Month, I would like to recognize the many strong and capable women who have given me such respect for women. First of all my brilliant and loving Mother for raising and investing in me, my grandmother the worlds best listener, the Barrett-clan sister--whom I consider my own--for being strong and independent, Erin for not taking crap and having a voice, to Brenda Rindels for not being afraid to put me in my place, and most recently to Ana for spurring the thought that led to this essay, helping me formulate ideas, and for being such a strong and great friend.


At 5:52 PM, Blogger Bryan said...

Hey guys I was thinking, since this is Womens Appreciate Month, I think it would be cool to dedicate this page for this month to issues surrounding women (Erin you better post), matriarchies, or just stories about the women in your life. Enjoy and keep blogging.

At 9:21 PM, Blogger bombasticbeats said...

Hey Bryan, thanks for the shout-out. If anyone hasn't seen it, I did a post about some cool stuff going on with Debbie right now.

Also, I'm really into a poet named Carolyn Forche right now so this fits write in. Most recently I picked up an anthology she edited called "Against Forgetting" (it bugs me that I can't underline). It is a collection of "twentieth-century poetry of witness" from writers who experienced war or oppression in the past century. Forche wrote a great introduction to it as well.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger shinanos said...

Hiya Brian, just say hello from Niigata Japan :)
Jump here from Bombastic's comment area. If you like, visit mine!!

Shiitake teacher ♪

At 9:52 AM, Blogger travis said...

Bryan- Wow, I consider myself fortunate to have read two brilliant pieces of writing in the same amount of days. You moved moved me. The other piece of writing was an excerpt from Scott Peck titled 'Truth is reality.' I am going to post it on amandla.
Again, great piece on women! Thanks for the brilliant read.

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Roxanne said...

Ok, a few random comments:
First, as most of you should be aware of, yesterday was International Women's day (also my birthday, and if i remember correctly, Michael's appropriate!!). I propose everyday should be treated as if it were International Women's day..not to leave you guys out, but I think it's important that women are recognized.

Secondly, yes we've come "a long way"..but I'd like to commment on the ongoing objectification of women outside of a professional setting. Sure, we're objectified all over the place, but I can't put the blame solely on men. With the freedoms women have acquired, we have the choice to behave in whatever manner we chose, which for some women is looking like Britney Spears, or whatever. My point is, sex sells, it gets attention, and can be a means of getting what you want. I don't agree with this, but I think it's a fact. So, if we as a society(perhaps men more specifically), can stop promoting this, we'll be on our way to seeing females for what they are: equals.
so, let's get to it!


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