Thoughts that stick with me: “Bound” by culture.

Sorry my little loves that I have been so lax in my posts.  I feel like I am constantly making excuses.  But I promise, post-November, I will be solid with posts.  Well, maybe not, cause I’ll still be swamped with work, but I will have one thing off my plate.  When you are in grad school, that is A LOT!

But my normally anxious, impulsive, inattentive  little mind has been constantly irked by a comment made several weeks ago during a meeting at my place of work.  One of the issues discussed at great length when you work in human development and social sciences is the influence of culture on how we meet the needs of clients, what issues are addressed and how.  Anyone who knows me at all, or who has even just read a post of mine, might get a slight indication that I, oh, might be a little tiny bit biased against patriarchal cultures.  I admit to struggling a bit with individuals who are in this type of culture, but who also feel the culture is working for them and they knowingly adopt the role they have taken in that culture and how it effects the people around them.  Where I feel that all individuals and families should have equal power roles across genders and such, many in these cultures understand and accept the roles their culture has placed on them, if they are happy, comfortable, and fulfilled in those roles, it is not my place to upset the system simply because of my personal opinions.

However, when individuals in such cultures are being victimized, are held hostage by their culture and are disallowed opportunities at happiness and self-actualization, I have a problem.  What irked me in the meeting I mentioned previously was a comment made in discussing a hypothetical case.  In said case, a woman in a highly patriarchal culture was constantly demeaned by the men in her world, both younger and older, to the point of a severe depression.  She was expected to function as a slave to these men and felt paralyzed to speak out against this.  This supervisor stated that the woman was “bound” by the expectations of this patriarchal culture.  I felt myself cringe a bit.

I dislike the word “bound.”  It implies being held hostage.  I am a very visual person and when I hear “bound” I literally envision a woman in chains, unable to move, and weighed down by the burden of their culture.  Personally, and perhaps this comes from a more privileged position of whiteness, where real culture, passed down by generations, is so undefined, but I see culture as something you participate in by choice.  I think culture is something you should have pride in and something that gives you strength in your identity, not something that beats you down.  So, to hear that someone is “bound” into a role that results in self-hatred, disempowerment, and depression is frustrating.  But to hear further that this cannot be intervened upon, it more confusing than anything.

I struggle to understand or accept that work in social service and education is limited by this.  That it should not be shaken up.  Reflecting on this and the feminist movement in America, I wonder what would have happened if women in the US during this time were of the mindset that they should not rock the boat, that they are bound by their culture to stay stuck in their roles.  And it makes me wonder, why do we feel it is so taboo to encourage women of other cultures to do the same?  It was not long ago that mainstream American culture was also so patriarchal and made many women feel this same sense of disempowerment and depression.  Why it is not okay to explore this with women of other culture?  The goal is not to change the entire culture, I am not a part of it and that is not my role, but simply to find ways that women can feel strong and perhaps to make their culture work for them.

I understand that for many women in these culture, the roles work for them, just as traditional American culture works for many women, it fits with their identity, their values, and their desires.  However, when it does not, no one should feel “bound” to these restrictive roles.  It may be my cynicism, but I wonder how much of this claim of “cultural acceptance” comes from simply not knowing how to broach the subject and avoiding the issue altogether.  IDK.

I’ll leave this quote here for your further thoughts.


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