At this point I think that it is safe to say that we are all aware of the manner of dress that women in some middle eastern societies are forced to wear. I think that we are also aware of the honor killings in places like India. Female circumcision or FGM (female genital mutilation) has gained much attention in the past few years. These are profound harms committed against women in an effort to control their behavior. They are violent. They are public. They are not ‘civilized.’
We would never do those things. Western culture has advanced beyond such barbarism. The women in our society are free and capable to dress how they want to dress, date who they want to date, and their bodies are not cut up for the purpose of satisfying others.
Except that they aren’t.
When it comes to sexual and intimate partner violence, we all got issues.
The threat of rape always looms heavily over women. We still judge women for what they wear (or don’t wear) and should an assault occur, we still ask them what they were wearing and why (and shouldn’t they have known that that would attract a certain kind of attention).
And can women truly date whomever they want to date? What if it is another woman? ‘Corrective rape,’ that is a rape that is meant to correct some behavior (in this case, non-heterosexuality) is a serious issue. Perpetrators feel the loss of control over a woman’s body if she identifies as a lesbian, or is perceived to, and so rape is used as a tool to correct this. Men will say that ‘all she needs is a good f*ck,’ and so they force it on them.
If you look at the rate of plastic surgery in this country, FGM doesn’t look so barbaric. Breast implants, botox, liposuction, these procedures are done so that we may appear attractive to others. So that an ideal, promoted by our media, can be met. this ideal, however, is an impossible goal that can never truly be reached (thanks to airbrushing).
So who is really free?
The reality is that cultural differences are real, and need to be taken into account when discussing violence. the first examples (honor killings and FGM) are extreme, and I believe that it represents something necessary for change, but we need to look at these cultures in less than a western lens. Latino culture is family oriented, and often very religious, and so women may not leave their husbands, or report a sexual assault. this is not something wrong with a culture, but rather a result of culture. Cultures change but they cannot be forced to change (that’s called colonialism), they must be allowed to change on their own. If we look at Latino culture, and specifically the reasons why reporting are problematic, we can see something great; emphasis on family. Having such an emphasis on the importance of family is a great thing, it creates the opportunity for a large support network, a necessity to healing for victims. Those there is no guarantee that this support network will be there after an assault, there are no guarantees in life, the opportunity is there.
We need to support other cultures and promote the positive aspects, not force western culture on others. We also need to not sanitize our own culture. Cultural difference is a great thing. It is something key to growth and learning, both on an individual and social level.