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How often do we seek to distinguish between the Western and non-Western cultural thinking? How often instead of looking deeper into social, ethnographic and anthropological implications of non-Western cultural traditions, do we increase the existing gap between Western cultural “appropriateness” and non-Western social “otherness”?

It appears that ethnographic research does not always lead to cultural reconciliation, and whenever scholars try to combine professional research and commercial profit, they inevitably limit themselves to subjectivity, avoiding the most interesting and controversial social tensions and expanding the boundaries of never ending racism.

Grewal and Kaplan (1996) are confident that when trying to create an objective picture of otherness, we are being torn between the two opposing forms of cultural representation, and this western/ non-western paradigm shapes our attitudes and predetermines our reactions to everything that goes beyond the acceptable limits of “western” cultural thinking. This binary structure of our cultural perceptions seems to contradict to the generally accepted principles of multiculturalism, and turns neo-colonial representations into the essential component of any ethnographic narrative.

It should be noted, that “US cultural feminism constructed an unproblematic narrative of liberation based on a universalized and essentialist identity as ‘woman’. This form of cultural feminism, as it has been practiced in the US and Europe from the 70’s to the present, often turns its attention to global sisterhood” (Grewal & Kaplan, 1996). As a result, both Walker and Parmar seek to review the tragedy of African womanhood through the lack of sisterhood and the predominance of cruel and almost inhumane patriarchal traditions.

Certainly, the essence of ethnography is to represent societies other than those in which we live; moreover, the aim of any ethnographic research is to review the hidden implications of otherness as opposed to modernity to which we belong (Grewal & Kaplan, 1996). In this context, Walker and Parmar intentionally emphasize the role which foreignness and exoticism may play in constructing new global images of other cultures.

Both agree upon the need to create an atmosphere of global terror, which is expected to underline the value of womanism as well as complete and intentional negligence toward women in “other” communities. Finally, Parmar and Walker cannot avoid integrating colonial experiences and perceptions with those generated by the vision of female genital surgeries in Africa, which for Walker stand out as the signs of the so-called “patriarchal wounds” (Grewal & Kaplan, 1996)

The question is, however, how appropriate, objective, and unbiased this horrified gaze of genital surgeries in Africa is. Moreover, the work of Pramar and Walker creates rather limited ethnographic impression and seems to border on their subjective feminism. On the one hand, this horrified impression is the result of placing the concept of genital surgery against the background of western feminist values; here, genital surgeries look like the brightest representations of patriarchal otherness and the instrument of violating the basic human rights.

On the other hand, this horrified gaze prevents authors from breaking the eternal binary Western / non-Western paradigm and turns into a barrier on the way toward a more objective and multicultural understanding of gender practices in “other societies”. The problem is that the authors erroneously apply their westernized vision to gender practices in societies, which adhere to a completely different set of values.

Walker and Pramar exploit the features of a universalized female body, which makes it impossible to review the similarity between genital surgeries in Africa and the impact of liposuction, cosmetic surgeries, in vitro fertilization, and mastectomies on female body in Western societal tradition (Grewal & Kaplan, 1996). This lack of objective vision is the source of the major anthropological asymmetries, which position otherness along with the notion of unnaturalness, cruelty, and helplessness, terror, victimization, and a whole set of feminist misconceptions.

Unfortunately, the work of Walker and Pramar is the combination of commercialism and the search for popularity. In the pursuit for multiculturalism and ethnographic objectivity, it is not enough to create a sense of terror toward patriarchal practices in “otherness”, for these do not always fulfill their scientific function but on the contrary, become the source of distorted racial attitudes and bias.

References

Grewal, I. & Kaplan, C. (1996). Warrior Marks: Global womanism’s neo-colonial discourse in a multicultural context. Camera Obscura, 39 (4): 5-33.

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