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Archive for January 24th, 2009

A discussion that arose with a conservative (male) friend earlier this week has left me with conflicting thoughts that I need to share. He accused me of being a cultural imperialist because I identify as a feminist. I defined feminism, in this discussion, as the belief in political, social, and economic equality of the sexes. But what about women, he asked, who don’t want equality? He flat-out stated that he doesn’t believe in equal rights for women on the grounds that defined gender roles are what make certain societies function the way that they do. At first it was easy for me to dismiss his view entirely as completely ridiculous. But I wanted to understand where he was coming from.

This friend of mine comes from a very traditional (aka patriarchal) society in the southwest tip of Africa.  When he gets married, he expects that his wife will behave in a certain way. He will expect her to fulfill a certain role within their (his?) household. And I will admit that this offends me and brings me to the question that I am struggling with: How can I respect a culture (and especially the women of that culture) and at the same time see the gender roles within that culture as completely unequal and therefore unjust? It’s easy to decide how we feel about an issue involving violence or hatred, like the issue Irene posted about Afghan girls who were splashed with acid just for going to school. But am I not so arrogant and overconfident in my own beliefs as to dismiss my friend’s entire culture of which I really know relatively little. Thoughts?

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