This week, we looked into three practices on women that are prevalent among different cultures. All of these practices – Chinese foot binding, female genital cutting, and genital plastic surgery – are deeply rooted in culture. Chinese foot binding and female genital cutting are both considered rites of passage and are important to the status of women in society. However, all three of the practices, seem to be a result of the oppressive treatment of women all over the world. They all have something to do with the expectations placed on women in their respective societies and what the ideal woman should be that makes them the most attractive or most suitable for marriage. Yet, I still think it is important to put yourself in a place where you can try your best to understand the reasoning behind the practices, even if you don’t agree with it.
With Chinese foot binding, Lisa See gives an inside perspective in “Snow Flower.” She seems to be using the interpretive theoretical approach because she addresses what the meaning of foot binding is and how it impacts health and looks at it as a symbol that carries meaning. She enables you to see this from the family’s perspective. However, through this lens, she also gives you a close look at just how deeply-rooted the general oppression of girls and women is in Chinese society and how a lot of pressure rests on these young girls. They’re forced to think about and consider their future very early in their lives. It is clearly evident that, at least where See grew up, the value of girls and women was mainly defined on their suitability to marry into a wealthy family. It wasn’t in the discussion for these girls to create success for themselves. You see this in the harsh words from her mother to her and her sisters. When See’s Third Sister was resisting getting her feet bound, her mother said to her, “You’re a worthless nothing. You are an embarrassment to our ancestors.” How small they could get their feet from binding was a measure of their worthiness in society.
The ritual of female genital cutting has similar reasoning behind it. The cutting ritual is integral to the girls’ treatment and placement in society, and also is related to her impending marriage. As stated in lecture, this practice ranges in type and severity and there are actually four types according to WHO and UNICEF. From what I’ve learned in my numerous semesters of studying the topic of female genital mutilation/cutting, a lot of cases that result in infibulation (which is type three), also result in numerous occurrences of cutting. These women and girls often need to be re-cut prior to sexual intercourse and also before the vaginal birth of children. Fuambai Ahmadu goes into detail on female genital cutting and the misconceptions that Westerners often have. She explains both sides well, by starting off her article with an example of the response by circumcised women to the question on if they experience pleasure. For some, it’s yes obviously why wouldn’t they? For others it’s that they only endure intercourse for the sake of marriage and the only thing they feel is pain. I think many do assume that when the cutting does occur, it is the worst kind. I have found that infibulation is quite common in numerous countries in northern Africa, but there are also many societies within some of these countries that practice type one. Either way, it is important to be aware of why the practice happens. In the cultures that practice it, in many cases, the cutting makes them feel more clean, and often, more beautiful and able to marry because they’ve went through the rite of passage that allows them to fit in in their culture. I would say that Ahmadu is also using the interpretive theory for the same reasons the See seems to be – looking at the symbolic meaning of female genital cutting and how it impacts health and behaviors.
In comparison to the two previous practices is genital plastic surgery, which has become more and more common in Western countries. I think this is an eye-opening comparison because, on its face, I think Westerners don’t see this in the same light as other practices like female genital cutting. Just like the other practices, I see where girls and women are coming from. They want to live up to the expectations that society places on them, and they think that surgery will make them more beautiful and defines them as a person.
I think if any of these practices were suddenly outlawed, the practices would most likely continue for a while but in secret and in more dangerous settings. I think that the women in these cultures would be facing a serious dilemma in their lives and something that is threatening to their identity in their communities and to themselves. However, not that I think just straight outlawing the practices is the proper way to address them, I do think that it could be a step to consider lightly in order to work towards less oppression of women in the world. Yet, this would be a superficial way of going about it.
SERENA WILLIAMS EXTRA CREDIT:
As I’ve also learned in previous classes regarding intersectionality and the treatment of black women – specifically in medical treatment – is that they are often not taken seriously. And this article exemplifies just that. Using an intersectional lens, Serena Williams is a woman and black. The way she experienced the birth of her child and her interactions with medical professionals is much different from a white woman or a white man. I think that it has definitely been shown that society in general does not take black women seriously – anywhere from educational settings to medical settings. The fact that Serena is a successful woman does not seem to give her much more authority, although you can imagine that if a professional NFL or NBA player had a similar situation in informing medical professionals of a condition he’s dealt with, he would definitely be taken seriously.
I do think that Serena’s success may have enabled the medical professionals to eventually listen to her, not that any of this should be a factor in the empathy and understanding of your doctor or nurse. If this were a lower class black woman, it can be assumed that she may not have been able to get her doctor to listen to her. Black women have higher chances of illness and disease, and this many times is due to the lack of access to what they need, but the fact that they’re not taken seriously is also a factor. Preventative care could be implemented if doctors would give them the time of day and not see them as less than.