I have to admit, coming into this week I expected to examine some of the conditions of women around the world and how they compare to the US. For how developed the US is, I assumed that issues abroad would be way worse, and should evoke our sympathy. However, I didn’t even realize how tainted our lenses can be coming from a Western feminist culture. I suppose I always knew that depending on our culture, we are biased on how women should be treated and what their needs are, based on our own experiences.
In Lila Abu-Lughod’s “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?,” she examines the tradition of the burqa and the role of the Taliban in the lives of Muslim women. I find the social, economic and political history for these people to be fascinating. I also began to ponder how the social and political culture intertwine with the Islamic religion to influence how women are treated (such as wearing a veil). She touches on the burqa being a “symbolic separation of men’s and women’s spheres, as part of the general association of women with family and home, not with public space where strangers mingled.” It is interesting to see the common values across cultures (women being associated with family and home) are played out differently. I can see many different arguments for this, however, in the eyes of western feminists. I understand that women wear a burqa to maintain their modesty, and that there is a lot more to it than just that but this seems to be the most understood reason. I feel like a common sentiment among western feminists would be, why are women responsible for covering up when men should be able to respect women for their character and not their looks. As a result, western feminists encourage lifting the veil because they believe that would be liberating for Muslim women. But I think it would be unfair of any of us to judge without being immersed in the culture ourselves. Besides, the burqa and other forms of head covering dim in comparison to the other problems that they faced/ are facing such as “recent exclusion …from employment, schooling, and the joys of wearing nail polish” (Abu-Lughod, 2002).
Furthermore, the concept of Muslim women having an advantage because of their veil is something I had not really ever considered before. In “The Thong vs. The Veil,” questions over who gains more respect between veiled Afghan women and black women dancing in a thong are challenged. I suppose it would be true, in Afghan culture that the women are subject to less sexual harassment, name calling, rape because of their presentation to the public. Although I wish that wearing a veil is not the solution to the problem, it sure has been an advantage for the women who wear them.
Lastly, Chandra Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes” was very challenging and thought provoking for how I view feminism and issues around the world. I had never thought of how dangerous it is to categorize women the way we do. Even within third world countries, poor/ lower class women have very different issues and desires than upper/ middle class women. She argues that it is difficult to make reforms and policies because the needs are so very different, yet we make assumptions that all women should have “identical interests and desires regardless of class, ethnic or racial location.” I feel that western women in the US should be able to understand better than we do for the simple fact that not all American women have similar wants and needs. There are such disparities between the classes and races that we should not categorize women into one grouping.
I think the biggest thing I have taken away from this is that western feminists need to be careful when imposing their ideas and goals for women across the globe, because not everyone has the same issues or may value the same freedoms that we do. Although yes, there are many issues that require humanitarian assistance, we have to be more careful about the cultures and traditions of others and really learn before we impose.
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.