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Monday, January 21, 2008

Feminism : a western culture?

“Feminism is western lifestyle. Therefore, as eastern people, we are not to follow it because it is not our culture. It can be added too that feminism is against Islamic teachings. Consequently, as eastern Muslim, we are forbidden to give green light to feminism to “intrude” our way of life.”

How often have you read such a statement? Or probably, how often have you stated such a doubt about feminism?

To counter such a doubt (I just got such an accusation at my blog at in this writing, first of all I’d like to cite the definition of culture I took from “World Book 2005” (the digital version).

“Culture is a term used by social scientists for a way of life. … People are not born with any knowledge of a culture. They generally learn a culture by growing up in a particular society. … Therefore, one of its characteristics is that culture is acquired through learning, not through biological inheritance. Children take on the culture in which they are raised through enculturation.“

Hundred thousands years ago, our ancestors moved from one place to another place. They could move from the east to the west, or on the way around, from the west to the east. They would bring their habits (read => culture) wherever they would go. When the era of ‘nomad’ ended (this started especially after women invented agriculture), they would develop their culture in their respective place, based on their way of thinking. Different places absolutely would create different ‘culture’.

Meanwhile, gender bias has been on men’s minds since immemorial time. The “invention” of some celestial religions would strengthen it since those religions were “invented” by men. Therefore, no matter whether one culture was developed in the east or in the west, apparently those cultures had one similarity, the marginalization of women.

Perhaps you still remember the glory of Islamic nations with their ‘cultures’ many centuries ago. Muslim scientists invented many things. However, the fight among three Abrahamic faiths (to win “the prize” as the most righteous religion) made those nations left behind. I assume that it was due to the unnecessary fight. Therefore, when the western nations progressed with their sciences, way of thinking, advanced inventions, etc, the eastern nations were even in the dark age.

Related to that, it is very understandable when women in the west started to question why they were marginalized first while women in the east were still ‘dumb’. However, to say that feminism ideology is ‘western’ and that it is not appropriate for the eastern women, with reason that it is not our culture is very shallow.

Started with the first women summit in Seneca Falls in 1848, American women (read  western women) began struggling for equality. The printing machine and publishing companies obviously were more developed there rather than, in Indonesia let’s say, in that era. Although those women were attacked by the cult of true womanhood (where one of its tenet was that women were not allowed to write because writing was men’s sphere), they still produced writings to protest.

In Indonesia, around the same era, very few women got their chance to get education. It is understandable then if they could not pour out their protest in a form of writings. However, we have one very good example of it, R.A. Kartini with her letters to her Dutch friends. She protested why she could not continue her study to a higher level. She also questioned why her fellow women citizens were not allowed to get education at all. I believe many other women also questioned similar things, only their protests were not recorded appropriately.

It is also underestimating to say that women in the east are not supposed to follow the struggle for equality. In other words, it can be said that those women cannot perceive the unequal treatment they get from the society, using ‘culture’ as the tool. (e.g. by saying “feminism ideology is just not eastern culture.”)

At the beginning of its ‘birth’, we know that feminism was proposed by white, middle class women so that it did not really represent the whole women in all nations. Therefore, to accommodate this lack, more kinds of feminisms appeared, where one of them is multicultural feminism. Their emergence apparently has made feminism ideology something down to earth, something very common in women’s lives for women living in the developing countries.

Culture is often used as a scapegoat to refuse a new thing. It is ‘abused’ in a form that human being is not a free creature to use their awareness to value something. As I have cited above, culture is acquired through learning. There is no wrong when someone has different way of thinking, or different value as long as they do not harm the society. They have different ways to view culture through their learning, using their common sense, and not just passively follow what the crowd considers as ‘culture’.

To end this writing, whether feminism ideology is western or eastern ‘culture’, it is no longer important. The more important thing is that using our common sense and awareness to view a piece of culture is appropriate for our lives or not. Afterwards, respect other people’s values in the hope that they will respect our values too.

PT56 13.35 210108


colson said...

Although my previous attempts to give affirmative comments got stuck in spamfilters (I assume), I hereby once more try to express my admiration for this ( and other) posts of yours.

I may add, if you allow, that Feminism, just like other forms of emancipation, in my opinion could only take of from the moment the clergy withdrew ( = had to withdraw) to the religious domain only.

A Feminist Blog said...

Mr. Colson,
It is an honor to get the admiration from you. (For the spamfilters, I didn't know anything about that).
I agree with you that the clergy of any religion would not be happy to see women progress their position in public.

triesti said...

I want to say something about this quote: 'It can be added too that feminism is against Islamic teachings. '

How could one say that feminism is against Islamic teaching???

Muhammad WAS a feminist in his day!! in the time where women were considered as second class citizen, he campaigned for their rights. Women were allowed to give witness, yes 2 women against 1 man, but it was much better than none. women has the right to inheritance, not as much as men, but it was an improvement from nothing. in the time when men could have dozen of wives, he put limit of 4. His wifes travelled with him, went to the battle with him, discussed with him.

What a pity that in a lot of moslem countries these days they forget about the prophet's feminism!

A Feminist Blog said...

You are very right, Triesti, we can say that Muhammad was a feminist compared to his contemporary men. This is really a big shame that in many Muslim countries, they limit women's life by saying that it is what Alquran teaches them. They obviously forget that Muhammad struggled for women's better place in his era.

johnorford said...

well i think it's the language of feminism that puts muslim ppl off (at least that's what i hear). the smarter way to appeal to them is to couch feminist arguments in the language of the koran.

then again why bother arguing with those who are biased against ppl who use a different vocabulary?