Unveiling another Culture out of Context

Alex Apkin:

Unveiling Imperialism debunks the idea of Americans being the heroes that save Arab women from the restrictions that bind them in their cultures. This reading was extremely revealing about the ways in which the American media can create the public perception around issues especially those abroad. In the midst of the Cold War as the United States cared most about defeating the Soviet Union, their involvement in the Middle East and any foreign policy decisions were based off of the effects that they would have on Russia. The Mujahideen, an Islamic resistance movement in Afghanistan, began to receive support from the US because it helped their cause against the Soviet Union. As the reading says the US knowingly supported groups that used violent means and various terrible actions to get to their objectives. In 1989 the Mujahideen ordered a fatwa that forced women to wear hijab, which covered their entire bodies. Women could not attend school and those that worked for humanitarian organizations were assassinated. Later on the US would support the Taliban another group that suppressed women in order to secure a contract for more oil. The US has shown itself in Afghanistan use the suppressed women there to fit a narrative to gain support from the American public or they ignore them. By telling the American public that they are going to help these suppressed women in this lesser country they receive more support. However not until after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 did these women receive attention from the US media outlets. Once the downfall of the Taliban occurred the media flocked to praise the US for being liberators of these women. Magazines such as TIME showed women taking off the veil, and the US was the hero.

While the US has helped these Afghan women in some regards they still have few rights. But while there continues to be an uphill battle for these women to reach freedom and simple human rights, the media in the US has consistently lauded the US as heroes who made such a difference and should be commended for all they did there. These sources continue to ignore the history of US involvement in Afghanistan and what actually took place and instead focus on the small victories that have improved the lives of women. So as the news sources report on American heroics the American citizens will believe what they hear because they have to trust these sources since they are all that they have to learn from. I wonder if these sources simply ignore the ugly truths that exist in Afghanistan or if they are unaware of them. Also the degree to which the government has influence over these media outlets may be frustrating. It seems that the sources should work harder to find the truth and should be more committed to relying the truth to the American public because the information and knowledge of the state of things in Afghanistan is the first important step in improving the situation. If this trend of lies and ignorance continues then the American public will not attempt to take a stand themselves and think about these issues more. If everything is so much better because the US intervened then it just makes matters too simple when they are really more complex than that. Making things more simplistic continues to convince American citizens that they should not put forth an effort to learn more about the problems these women are dealing with because they don’t exist as clearly in their minds.

It is important there be a greater awareness of the major tensions and issues in Afghanistan and also with the US government which has failed in many aspects of protecting and advancing the rights of women abroad, and in other missions that they have in these countries. While Americans feel a desire to achieve freedom globally for all, they are misguided in many ways and don’t know how to advance this task for liberation in the right direction. Historically the leaders of the United States have attempted to show their commitment to human rights but have really been in it for economic or political reasons. In reading this article it was fascinating to think of the lack of controversy that the media obsesses with in foreign relations in contrast to the amount they crave in forums of entertainment at home. While it makes sense that the US wants to be promoted as a hero and promote peace in other nations it is still funny to see the desire for tensions in certain forums at home.

Death by Culture explored the issues of domestic violence and its coverage. Dowry murders were as major part of this issue and what the author focused on throughout. She spoke to the ways context shapes women’s issues, how emergence of issues effects their perception, and finally the exploration of women’s issues from the lens of different countries. A dowry murder is the harassment until eventual murder by husbands of their wives. Narayan explores how the context of the violence is important and what role it plays in the responses from feminist groups. She says, “Understanding the reasons for this difference is, I think, interesting in its capacity to illuminate dependent on the background social, economic, and institutional features of the national landscapes within which feminist groups operate.” For example the author brings up the scarcity of women’s shelters in India compared to the United States. This is due to fact that even with the establishment of women’s battered shelters it would still be difficult for these women to leave the family setting and seek help at these shelters. With the structure of Indian society that ability to receive paid employment, medical attention, and legal aid for custody is not strong enough to allow women this opportunity to make a decision about leaving their family. This shows that while many in the US believe the movement for feminists in India has not moved that far along and cannot put together these shelters in reality there are many more reasons that have to do with the small amount of help that these would actually provide in this very different society. It is easy to judge others based on many assumptions from what we have seen in our society but this many times has been proven to create incorrect ideas about other cultures. Examples like this one show why it is hard but important to examine the entire context of the situation in which this problem is occurring and what other elements are at play in that context something that we forget to do. As we attempt to mend a situation we make assumptions based on our environment and therefore create solutions that would only work in this environment and not in others. While we like to think of other countries as lagging behind and slow, we then also quickly presume that the answers to problems that work here will work in these countries as well. The reading speaks to the way the American issue of domestic violence is not looked at in terms of deaths recorded in these instances while in India the Dowry murders are what gathers the most attention.

The Burka and the Bikini was a new look at something most Americans never consider. The idea that women are oppressed because they wear bikinis would seem absurd to many people living in this country, and would probably be contrary to what they believe the bikini represents. However there are many parallels between the bikini and the burka. Both show the desires of the culture and society the woman wearing it is from. But there are many differences as well. I would say that the American society has put immense pressure on women to lose weight and to look good while the Taliban has forced it’s women to cover up and has dictated the way they live their lives. In some instance women do choose to wear a burka and this should not be confused with the situations in which they are forced to be warn. Even as our country continues to view women as sexual objects that must lose absurd amounts of weight and they are held to an incredibly high standard, we are still an extremely overweight country that has a problem with diet and exercise. Women face cruel pressures here but compared to those who are forbidden to go to school they are not as harsh. This piece from the Boston Globe showed the naive mindset of the US. We constantly look down on other countries and the way they behave but we forget to look in the mirror much of the time.

2 thoughts on “Unveiling another Culture out of Context

  1. Karen Cardona
    “Americans being Heros” , I think the idea that USA citizens promote as saviors is something that goes back to the years of the conquest. This idea of the ‘white savior’ who attempts to save everything and everyone who represents anything different from his or her culture should not be praised but instead be seen as problematic. A Disney movie that shows a great example of this is “El Dorado” a story that takes place in Latin America representing Spaniard conquistadors arriving to latin America and “saving’ these ‘savage’ people and ‘falling in love’ with the exotic women. This completely masks the massive genocide, enslavement , and rape committed by the spaniards. This all being done while hiding behind the idea of being a savior. Even the word “Americans” implies dominance . The Americas is composed by North AMerica , Central America, and South America . When the word Americans is expressed it only focuses on USA citizens instead of the people who live in the Americas , such a name represents the way USA citizens are able to get away with certain things in ‘third world countries’ without being questioned or stopped.

  2. Jihmmy Sanchez

    Now that Karen has brought up movies so will I; another important example of this is in the movie Pocahontas. I have not seen the full movie, but i my junior year history class we viewed a few clips from the movie. The clips showed the puritan colonists fighting against the natives that were present on the land. One of the scenes shows a large group of colonists walking in a group and wielding muskets and torches. They burn down a neighboring native village, as this happens the colonists break out into song and dance as is usual in Disney moves. The sing “Savages, savages….barely even humans!”, the song they sing also mentions them trying to purify them into the ways of the english. The movie indirectly trie to pass on propaganda that the conflict between the colonists and the natives was justs the colonists bringing salvation to the “feral natives”. The movie doesn’t show the murdering and enslavement that was wrought onto the native americans by the colonists.

    The U.S is quick to poke its nose into foreign affairs, then become involved. THe media gives the american public a false image of the country they live in. Americans think that by invading these countries they are in some way saving these people from their ignorances. When in reality in doing so they are causing more harm, but whenever humans rights are violated whenever the U.S involved these stories never make it on the front page of any newspaper or magazine. Real journalistic coverage of current events is almost non-existential because the news and other sources of media are skewed by infotainment.

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