I am a cultural relativist to the core.
You definitely cannot watch a 10 minute piece on a Sunday Night “doccie” programme or read an article in a glossy mag to know the issues at the heart of a cultural concern. And then flamboyant your judgement loudly around.
But even a good doccie, a peer-reviewed journal article, or quick field trip “in” would struggle to bring complete understanding of someone else’s culture. Culture is too deep, complex, and entire-life-explaining for that.
So, while female circumcision [The ultimate litmus test of someone’s cultural relativism, it would seem] makes many women of many cultures scream in horror & bay for elders’ blood in the death to this practice - Before death of the women who undergo it - I have to ask, where is the space for those women of that culture to be heard. And which of those women do you choose to listen to.
Women are not homogenous the world round. Hell, women are not homogenous within a single culture or town. I would hate to be associated with some of the South African English-speaking white Jo’burg girls I have met [which I may have told one or two in a boozed state. Sorry]. It gets down to who you identify with, who understands you, how inclusive & how exclusive.
What I do then reckon about female circumcision is that, one woman in that community would advocate against it, showing up its negative sides, which the rest of us then flaunt about to our other cultures. But her neighbour or sister might be shocked to know that she might not undergo the practice. What does this mean for her identity, to her community, to her past generations, to her sense of culture & how to live life. She might choose social inclusion & cultural acceptance over physical issues.
What many of us women forget is, just because you’re a woman, doesn’t mean you understand me. And certainly does not mean you get to speak for me.
Funnily enough, even male circumcision is so culturally-based. Here I thought it was the most normal act in the world. That most South African cultures, mine very much included, believe in circumcision at some stage in a boy’s life. For health, religion, culture or all of thee above. I have always known that any boys that I pop out will be chopped, for health reasons.
Apparently, in Aus, this is not the case. And you’d be hard pressed to find a run-of-the-mill doc who would circumcise your baby boy on this island. Men in America even have groups shouting about how you are torturing baby boys by doing The Chop. WTF, I think. “How backward”, I think. How backward, they think of me.
In all of this pondering, I have been looking for some cultural comparison to use against all those talking simplistic folk of western cultures who love to say Our culture is Better. Culture is Linear. You “Progress”. And every other culture wants to progress to Ours.
But I don’t want comparisons of “tools for controlling your daily world”, of food & dance & dress, or how capable someone is to survive in a desert setting, and definitely not of the overdone comparison of sexual cultural practices. I have been searching & contemplating.
So, to those who still really think Our Culture is better!
The culture I come from does not consider repercussions beyond our generation. Beyond our borders. Beyond our day-to-day living. We forget to (choose not to) (were never taught by our elders to) follow the lines forward and backwards and sideways over time and space to see what we do now has past & future & linear implications.
A trader on Wall Street bets against a fluctuating currency of some random small country. He does this by clicking on a mouse while looking at numbers and considering that he needs to feed a family tonight. His bet screws up a foreign country, and hits employment & trade abilities of that country. Someone, far away, is affected by no longer having a job. How is this new man now going to feed his family that night? How is that family going to survive now? But, the trader never knew this guy’s face, had never even heard of the name of this guy’s town, so what does it matter. And unless someone has shoved the information into his face, he is taking no responsibility for it, feeling no guilt, and not going to consider it. Because that is just the way the system works, mate.
People drinking champagne for lunch in New York today impact on a family’s food security in a mining town near Welkom tomorrow. It is now known as The GFC. The difference is, the bankers got bailed out, the miners did not.
People the world round today are shouting at BP for the horror that is the oil spill. Yet, none of us look at our demand for oil in almost every aspect of our lives. BP is not just some giant devil, randomly pumping up killer sludge. How was this computer that I type on built, how did I get to this office where this computer is, what is powering everything around me.
We sell off our best healthiest most nutrient-packed produce (and land!) to richer countries, while we scream at our politicians for not doing enough about the health of the nation. And then a volcano erupts and grounds flights. The sellers of this produce suffer massive knocks, to the extent that people lose their businesses & are made unemployed, so that they join their fellow citizens in starving… while the produce rots because it cannot reach European markets, which contracts stipulate it belongs to.
We choose to not think about these things. Maybe we read it, but then we let it go. Watch a movie & be “shocked”, and let it go. We choose to say, Well, I know that Trader, and he means no harm. I need to drive to work don’t I. The issue existed for as long as my webpage was open for. Why can a farmer not sell his fruit to whomever he chooses. I don’t know how this garment got to me so ‘so what’. And so we blinker up, bubble-wrap around, explain away, and forget.
We shop for what we want. And demand Now Now Now. We live for Now and we forget the generations before, after and to the sides of us.
We see life in linear, so no wonder we cannot understand the cultures that don’t.
We buy cheap crap in the name of this season’s fashion. And we toss it out next season when it has a hole in it, or scuffed heels, or lack-lustre gleam. We CHOOSE not to think about any of the implications in who made it, how well it was made, what it was made from, how that material was obtained, how it was shipped, how it was sold, who was employed to sell it under what terms & conditions.
And why did you buy it? All because a glossy mag or an ad on a tv channel told us to buy it. The same glossy mag or tv channel that told you Female Circumcision was Wrong Wrong Wrong.
That is our culture.