October 20, 2007 Matthew

Culture and Female Repression

For some of the women in these societies, FGM is seen as an exciting promotion into womanhood and for others, cause for revolt.
Richard Shweder (What about “female genital mutilation”?, 2000) argues that it is not the men who are oppressing and torturing the women in these “ceremonies” but it is the women themselves who perform the rituals and therefore it is cultural and shouldn’t be regarded as wrong.
However I contend that it is a highly repressive tyranny towards women in these “cultures” and that the “culture” itself is tyrannous. Culture is not an innately righteous entity, but seems to be often used as a cover for detestable acts within humanity. There is much fear in many of these women that their entire lives and well-being is at stake if they do not partake of the ritual. After all, the men of their society will not accept them otherwise, and they would be shamed and rejected. It is the standards and patrilineal values held by these men that give a sense of hypocrisy when the women are taught that they must not be centered on themselves—are not the men being centered on themselves in this regard?
This reminds me of other tyrannical “cultural” systems around the world such as the Hindu caste system in India where young girls can be subjected into widowhood in an outcast commune for the rest of their lives if their husband or even future husband dies. In times past women were burned on the pyres with their dead husbands in “cultural” funeral ceremonies. Repression of women has remained a salient fact of nearly all cultures in history in one way or another.
Cannibalism is also one of those “cultural facets” of certain societies in the past, but clearly a barbaric and unacceptable “culture”. This alone should caution us as to how we throw around the word “culture” onto customs and rituals so as to make them “righteous” in any regard.

In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. Ephesians 5:28-30