As a student who completed a psychology minor, I know that it is human instinct to judge others. We all judge quickly, before we even realize what we are doing. Unfortunately, people frequently judge other people, situations, practices and beliefs when we don’t have enough information to make an accurate assumption. The tendency to judge before learning is something that came up a lot in this class, as we discussed judgments and assumptions related to family structure, body type, sexuality and gender. The readings this week made me realize that Americans may think we know and understand more about different cultures, preferences and practices overseas than we really do.
The idea of judging before knowing came up in the reading “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others” by Lila Abu-Lughod. I have to admit that before reading this article, I thought the burqa was something forced upon Afghan women, and that these women did not want to be veiled. However, as I mentioned before, I judged a practice before knowing enough. Lila Abu-Lughod’s writing drastically changed my views on this. I learned that the burqa “…marked the symbolic separation of men’s and women’s spheres, as part of the general associated of women with family and home…” (Abu-Lughod 2002, 785). Although this may seem sexist, it really is more of a symbolic representation of identification within a group and role in society. I never would have thought this way before. In addition, I agree with Abu-Lughod in that Americans do not need to “save” Afghan women, we must rather “…be aware of differences” so we can learn more about other cultures, and not just pass judgments (Abu-Lughod 2002, 788).
Furthermore, before we judge other cultures, we must first look at ourselves. How can we label “… the Afghan woman as someone in need of saving” when we have gender inequality issues within our own country? (Abu-Lughod 2002, 789). According to the blackelectorate.com article “The Thong Vs. The Veil”, there have been women Presidents in Muslim nations, but not yet in the United States. In addition, “…There are more women serving in Iran’s parliament than there are women serving in the U.S. Congress” (blackelectorate.com, 2001). I don’t agree with the tendency for Americans to believe we need to “save” other women, when women here are oppressed from leadership positions and equal pay. Before we judge, we must learn, not only about others, but also about ourselves.
After reading the articles for this week, I knew I wanted to write about the wrongful judgments we place on cultural practices, specifically related to gender equality, in other countries. Much like what Abu-Lughod explained, I believe Americans think we should “save” Afghan women because we think we know what these women want (Abu-Lughod 2002). As a woman, I believe that all women want equal rights and privileges, but that doesn’t mean I know how every woman wants to access these rights. As Chandra Mohanty explained, women are thought of as a “…coherent group with identical interests and desires, regardless of class, ethnic or racial location…” (Mohanty 1988, 64). This starts to explain why Americans think we need to, and have the power to, save women in third-world countries. We think all women want the same things. However, there is so much to learn before we can begin to understand what women over-seas desire. Overall, there is no way for an American woman, or group of women, to know how to “save” women around the world, especially if we don’t fully understand their desires and cultural practices.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2002. “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others.” American Anthropologist 104(1):783-90.
Electorate.com, Black. 2001. “The Thong Vs. The Veil.” (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=491).
Mohanty, Chandra. 1988. “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.” Feminist Review 30:61-88.