Back to School Again… yay! :)
I’ve finished one of my required readings for class: Rita Gross’s fascinating Feminism & Religion. I wish I’d read this book years ago.
One of the most critical points the book makes, which was a sort of “aHA!” moment for me when I read it, was that a religion which purports to welcome and offer salvation for all can’t really be believed, when it offers hierarchical control and rewards only to half (or less) of its constituents. As she notes, this is much like writing history: if you chose to ignore the accomplishments of everyone except white upper class males, you’re going to end up with wildly incorrect and incomplete hypotheses on human behavior.
She gave a fascinating example in the current work being done to more correctly rewrite our evolutionary history so it included the accomplishments of women again. The (formerly all male) evolutionary historians found just adding in the women historians’ thoughts wasn’t enough — they all ended up having to effectively re-write everything to incorporate the differing perceptions and accomplishments of women as well. This occasioned the intellectual shift from regarding our ancestors as simple “Man the Hunter,” to more deeply understanding the true realities of gatherer/hunters: a far more complete, complex, and fascinating understanding of our evolutionary history.
This also demonstrates why the shift from androcentric (i.e. male centered) to androgynous (i.e. focused on both genders) religious & historical thought is difficult and often resisted: it’s hard to break out of mental ruts! But if we ignore that which makes us uncomfortable, we end up with self-deluding fantasies rather than an ever-closer approximation of reality.
For myself: I want truth. I may be nervous about it; it may take me a bit to wrap my head around it… but in the end, I want the truth.
In the search for that truth, it’s interesting reading objectively about the subtle discriminations of our society, as bolstered and maintained by certain religious thought. Because we’re raised with it, I believe we consider it normative, “natural,” “the way things are.” We may not initially even be able to describe it! I remember my intense frustration as a child at first vaguely sensing a sort of wrongness in how people were behaving towards each other — but not having the vocabulary to explain that frustrating wrongness. Having the simple words to discuss something is so critically important to sharing personal revelation!
As an example, I know the issues regarding double standards of treatment between females and males of all ages were thrown into sharp relief for me when my family lived in Spain while I was a child. To my child’s eye, the Spanish women were treated much like the US women I’d seen — only moreso, if that makes sense? Therefore, once I’d gotten to the point where I thought, “that’s not fair!” about Spanish discrimination… there was a growing cognitive dissonance, even to my child’s mind, in claiming it was fair to do so to a lesser degree in the US.
I couldn’t do that. I ended up having to be honest with myself and say discrimination (although I didn’t know the word for it then) wasn’t fair no matter where you were. Needless to say, pointing out these behavioral disparities did not endear me to my parents. ;)
Has anyone else been in another subculture or culture, and had a similar experience? Or been through that weird frustration of not even having words to say what they were seeing?
I’m curious if you watched the Vice-Presidential Debate last week. If so, do you think Sarah Palin helped or harmed the view of women as liberated beings?
I did not watch the debate. However, just on the basis of what I’ve read and/or heard about what she believes, I think she does great harm to women in particular, and the society in general. Her support of women-harmful policies (such as a reactionary fundamentalist church which relegates women to second-class status, her refusal to explain birth control to her daughter not once but twice, and her apparent anti-personal choice leanings concerning abortion) dismay me greatly.
It’s all fine and good to pop out babies as fast as you want to, as long as you can afford to raise them well — which she can. Forcing her choices on others, however, is where I draw the line. Not only are there quite a few women (and men) who do not wish to have babies like clockwork, but there are also women and men who cannot afford to do so. I do not believe she has the right to tell those people how to live their lives.
One of the hardest things for us ‘librul’ thinkers is to what extent we allow cultural relativism. Obviously (okay, maybe not-so-obviously) things like human rights are a line that brooks no crossing, and modes of dress and culinary dishes are understood to be part of the culture… but what if that food and dress is a part of the human rights issues? To decouple this from gender equality for a moment, let’s look at the caste system in India, which is still being challenged and still being fought. In fact, it was only recently that a dalit (Untouchable) finally achieved a seat in Parliament. Obviously a caste system which favors one group of people based solely on birth over another group of people, and denigrates another group, is unacceptable in terms of human rights. The castes wear different clothing and eat different foods, even if there’s no outright discrimination going on.
(Well, there’s no ‘outright discrimination’ against minorities in the US, either, but it’s still there. And as we’ve been seeing lately, it’s not only there, it’s burrowed beneath the surface and is still festering. So the excuse of ‘there’s no OUTWARD discrimination going on’ isn’t enough.)
So let’s bring this back to gender equality. The burqa and veil required by Islamic shar’ia law, for example. Where does that stand? To Western minds, it’s a symbol of oppression of females; I’ve heard a variety of opinions from Muslim women as to what they feel about it. At the same time, they have ‘grown up with it,’ which is a thin excuse to continue an oppressive practice but it’s there and it has to be delt with.
I believe that there’s a line between respecting a culture’s values, modes of dress, and so on; and being quite frank and unswerving in asserting that something is inappropriate and unacceptable. I don’t believe that line is as fine as some might believe it to be, but it is one that one has to think twice before jumping.
Cultural relativity is a huge and thorny subject all on its own, and (fortunately) not really what I was addressing here. It’s been my experience most cultures change at the speed they are (mostly) comfortable with. Trying to force swifter change based on another culture’s beliefs, however well-meaning, is far too easily swayed into cultural imperialism, which from what I’ve seen is ultimately always a huge stinking failure, and which I cannot condone.
Admittedly, there does come a point where I find myself really pushed to the limit of staying out of other folks’ business. Female genital mutilation comes to mind as one of those points, as does so-called “ethnic cleansing.” I’m still working through my thoughts on those, though.
What I’m talking about in this posting is simply (“simply” — hah!) the intra-cultural members of a religion or society choosing to implement changes so they actually live up to the claims of the religion or intellectual field of endeavor with which they are associated. Does that make more sense, I hope? :)