But It’s Their Culture…

By Juliana Jiménez

Many men are quick to get outraged by racism. It’s now considered common sense to at least oppose racism in theory, even when a lot of people remain unconsciously racist in practice. But when confronted by sexism, these same, ostensibly sensitive men will have no second thoughts about dismissing feminism. “Oh, but this is different.”

Sexism comes in many shapes, permeating all the way into academia, in areas like anthropology or sociology, where it’s not just about the practices of its members, but the actual theories and tenets that are held and taught. Some cultural relativists out there feel certain misogynist practices belong to the sacred realm of culture, or of religion, and should therefore be respected above all else. This stems from the fact that how women are treated is seen as part of cultural practice — and from the fact that women are seen as cultural objects themselves.

Think, for example, of how many travel guides promote places for their “delicious food, pleasant weather, and beautiful women.” Colombia, for example, is an expert on this.

Google Search Screenshot

I could not have done it better than Lonely Planet describing the city of Cali, Colombia:

“While the city itself isn’t breathtaking, Cali famously claims to produce the most beautiful women in Colombia.”

One word: produce. Like sugar cane or fucking cholaos.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a travel guide praising a city for “producing the most handsome men” in wherever. See how ridiculous that sounds? Who writes, edits, supervises these travel guides, and who do they write them for? The answer might not just be “men”, but a specific type of men, and it might also be women, who are accustomed to this type of thinking and embrace it as the accepted worldview.

But this is of course, only one side of the racist/sexist hypocrisy lines many men traverse daily as professional sport.

When it’s about barbaric treatment of men toward other men, it’s despicable, it’s genocide, crimes against humanity, behavior that should be campaigned against, that should be stopped with an invasion, with state-backed aggression.

Public execution of a woman by Taliban members, Afghanistan, Nov. 1999.
Public execution of a woman by Taliban members, Afghanistan, Nov. 1999. Image via Wikipedia

But when it’s systematic attacks toward women, because they’re women, when they’re starved to death in favor of their brothers, and millions of them die every year in deplorable conditions, then it’s a “women’s issue.” That can wait for later. That’s you being a feminist (queue hissing cat), being hysterical and too emotional, and not focusing on the important things, like human rights.

This is exactly what is happening as we speak with the peace negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan, where women’s rights are being bartered for the sake of political gains, on both sides. PBS did a wonderful series, Women, War and Peace, where urgent issues as this one are explored. In the Afghanistan episode, Peace Unveiled, we can hear Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promise Afghan women that “peace and justice can’t come at the cost of women and women’s lives.” Time is running out, and the pressure increasing. Will the world forget these Afghan women? Will we do anything about it?

4 thoughts on “But It’s Their Culture…

  1. I agree that there is an unbelievable amount of sexism in the tourist industry. I’ve worked in travel for the past four years, and I get to see it everyday when visiting my companies websites, or reading the descriptions of tours that are offered. Even travel guide books that teach you rudimentary phrases in the local language give you tips on how to pick up women. The tactic of using sex to sell in our culture, worldwide, is something that has been used since our inception as a civilization.

    However, I think women need to take a long hard look at themselves now. Especially in western countries where the subjugation of women has all but ended. When I see Rhianna singing songs about whips and chains, and dressing up as a complete whore, I cant help as a man but to think “What a pathetic bitch”. We are seeing a lot of the degrading images of women coming out of the mouths of professional women. Singers, actresses, models, designers. They are all accountable for their actions, are they not? If a clothes designer creates a line of clothes that show off your breasts and ass, then Katy Perry Shows off hers during the Super Bowl, then you run out and buy those clothes, who is at fault? The men who have their hormones enraged by your outfit or you for your choice to follow the fold?

    I’m not defending sexism, or saying that there are not places in the world where the treatment of women has never left the dark ages. I am simply proposing that women who live in society’s where they have the opportunity to break the mold and be admired and desired for reasons other than sex should take those opportunities. Perhaps actresses should ignore roles like “Desperate Housewives” travel companies that have women in management should demand that those tactics be dropped, and singers should expect more of their art and less of their bodies.

    Breaking from what we are as a species, which is men looking for healthy females in which to impregnate is not going to be easy. Considering we have only been living as a society for 15k or our 200,000 year existence. Plus we have only given women quasi-equal rights for around a 100 of that so we have a long road ahead of us. Yet, the goals are achievable if women who have the chance to make change don’t lose sight of the goal.

    1. I think it would be cool if travel guides also taught you how to say “back off, pervert” and other handy phrases in the local language. Not to stereotype an entire gender, but we’re talking about possibly saving lives here.
      Also, I’ve learned that “bitch” is not so much a casual word rather than a sensitive one for a lot of people, and should be used as sparingly as possible.
      I agree with you that women everywhere, not just in developed countries, can take a look at themselves now, as you say, in regards to whether they succumb to being sexual objects. It’s not just about how you dress, and it’s harder to do this in some places than in others. In Latin America, for example, the beauty standards for women are extra-ridiculous; all women are expected to be “in shape” (aka, be hot) and perfectly groomed, and you are constantly bombarded with images of breasts and asses everywhere, much, much more so than in the US. It’s a hard act to follow. We have to try and imagine what, say, a little girl of 7 thinks when she sees a commercial, or a billboard, or magazine ad, or a soap opera, like that. It’s not as simple as watching whomever show her breasts, and then running out to do the same; a girl’s or a woman’s reactions to this stuff is complex, and the propaganda bombardment of “You Must Look Sexy Other Wise No One Will Love You” is more overwhelming, and more subtle, than you may imagine. But getting away from it is doable. And if, in the future, more and more women say “fuck it”, then men will either 1)have no choice but to like it or 2)be reasonable and sensible human beings and love women how they are. I have faith.

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