Monday, 27 September 2010

dodging bullets

i went to visit a friend over the weekend who had just come back from a conference in adelaide, of which i have no details. one of the major issues for discussion there was the difficulty for women from minority communities to take on issues of gender discrimination, because of the need they felt to protect their communities from further criticism.

i'm sure i've written about this any number of times, so it was really great to talk it out and know that other more learned minds than mind were putting their mind towards this. the fact is that so much discrimination is justified using notions of tradition or culture. in fact, i haven't heard the words "tradition" or "culture" used to justify anything other than reasons for people to be nasty to others, or to exclude them. as if culture is something that is sacred, and can never change. even though the evidence is all around us that cultures continuously revolve and adapt.

just because previous generations have done something isn't sufficient reason for us to continue to do something. feminism is all about challenging and changing cultures, after all. it's about dismantling structural barriers, and finding new ways of doing things.

on the other hand, it's so much harder to raise issues when those very issues will be thrown back at you and your whole community by bigots, to justify their bigotry & hatred. all you've achieved then is anger from your own community for bringing a higher level of harassment (which means they're less likely to listen to the actual issue); while on the other side, you either get people thinking of women from minority communities as powerless victims (does not help) or hating you even more for being part of a community where xyz happens. of course the latter group will ignore the abc that is happening in their own communities, which is equally bad, while being quite happy to judge you and yours.

there will be those who will laud your courage for speaking out, but even that is a double-edged compliment because there is still that sense of patronising condescension, that sense of "oh you poor thing, having to put up with that, you're so brave to speak out about it", which also does. not. help.

then there the whole issue of interpretation about a particular practice. that interpretation will be coming from a particular cultural view of the world, and/or a moral perspective that restricts our ability to see that something might not be as negative as we think it is, or it may have positive aspects that we haven't considered. is our way of viewing others based on our own sense of cultural superiority, more than anything else?

one issue we talked about was the difficulty minority groups had in combatting the extremists in their own communities, precisely for this reason. for example, i'm quite concerned about the rise of activity here from elements aligned to the VHP, a known extremist group in india. my friend pointed out that though many people in the indian community didn't agree with what was going on, those people know that raising the issue will lead to tarring of the whole community. there's nothing to be gained from having to dodge bullets from both sides. then there is the fact that the silent majority will never have the fanatical fervour that extremists do.

my friend and i talked about how difficult it is to create safe spaces for women of minority communities to be able to speak out about what's happening to them and to be activists on those issues, without feeling like they've made things worse rather than better. unfortunately, we didn't get around to working out how that could happen. it's hard to solve the problems of the world on a sunday afternoon.

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