Let me open for apologizing greatly for how long I am taking to respond to comments over the past few days. Last week I had five interviews over three days and two more interviews which took up most of my time yesterday. I’m amazed I’ve even been able to put a blog post up every day. None of that is an excuse for ignoring comments. Please have patience as I have every intention of responding to each and every one of you lovely people (hopefully later today).
…and now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Per the request of Totally Trips, I attended Japan Fest this weekend. I’m forever grateful to her for that suggestion because I had a blast. While I was watching the Midwest Buddhist Temple Taiko Group play the traditional Japanese drums, I couldn’t help but wonder who composed the music we were hearing. Were they new songs composed by a modern musician, or were they old tunes that they used to play hundreds of years ago in Japan. Were women allowed to play the drums back then like they were in the show? Would spectators have been allowed? What about non-Japanese spectators?
As I walked through all the different displays and events, I couldn’t help but be overcome with the culture. It was all so rich and unique. You could tell the how seriously the people there took their ethnicity. Their culture thrived and all the specifics about how certain people were or weren’t historically treated were set aside.
Sometimes, you’ll hear countries or groups of people demand the right to discriminate in the name of their culture. My senior project in college was on female genial mutilation and that was one excuse I came across for the practice. That’s what it is at the end of the day – an excuse. Saying you have the right to mutilate your daughter’s genitals because it’s part of your culture is like saying you have the right to own slaves because of culture. No matter how much history can be dug up, it doesn’t change how wrong it is.
Likewise, eliminating harmful practices doesn’t have to attack or destroy a culture. Polygamy comes to mind as an example of something that tends to be very harmful. The idea of plural marriage isn’t a problem as much as forcing women into marriages they don’t want, often at too young of an age. The removal of choice and the rape of children are the true problems that need to be addressed. Eliminating those practices would still allow any culture that practices polygamy to thrive.
In the case of female genital mutilation, many NGOs are trying to replace the practice with one that has the same meaning without causing harm. No one is cutting up their daughter’s genitals for no reason. Often, it’s used as a way to define and/or celebrate womanhood in the same way boys have a right of passage into men. That idea is at the heart of the practice and it can be transformed into a celebration that doesn’t harm anyone’s rights.
The issues of polygamy and female genital mutilation are much more complicated than I’ve made them sound. The changes I propose will never happen over night and anyone trying to change them will be accused at least once of ripping apart culture. It just struck me as I watched smiles break across the faces of he men and women playing the Japanese drums that they had figured it out. They had found a way to celebrate their culture, to share it in an untarnished form, without also enforcing the discriminatory practices that may have been a part of the drum performance hundreds of years ago.
I wonder how many other cultures could be equally celebrated even though some practices in their history are harmful. With the harmful aspects removed, why can’t a culture be celebrated? A friend of mine once explained to me that the Confederate flag was all over the place in the South as a symbol of pride in their culture. Having spent most of my life in the northern half of America, I associate that flag with something much different. Many may even be offended if they see the flag in someone’s yard. Yet, don’t those who live in the southern United States have just as much right to be proud of their home as anyone else? Stripped of any discriminatory meaning, maybe it’s okay to fly the Confederate flag in the same of Southern pride.
What of the practice of wearing burka or arranged marriages. Both of these practices are related to cultures are related to harmful and sexist ideas about women. I wonder if that always has to be the case. Certainly a culture can keep the burka as one of its aspects without needing to include all the restrictions on woman it tends to come with.
Maybe I’m being overly optimistic. Do you think cultures can be left in tact after the removal of harmful and discriminatory practices? Can they be celebrated and handed down without enforcing sexist or racist ideas that may have once been a part of its practice? Perhaps the true question is, does a culture which, in its original state, had harmful of discriminatory practices deserve to be celebrated at all?