Culture can be defined by more things than people think. Culture can include behavior or norms in a community; it can include the foods that are popular in an area, arts, popular music styles, language, beliefs, religion, and really any custom present in a region. Since there are so many factors that play into culture that can change, it is nearly impossible for culture to stay the same around the world. Unfortunately, when culture in one place varies from our own, we tend to judge it and perceive the cultural norms in that area to be wrong. Specifically, in several countries around the world, it is apart of the culture as a women to get her genitalia cut to certain extent. In other cultures, plastic surgery is seen as a way to better the female body and has woven its way into culture, especially here in the United States. Another example is Chinese foot binding, which has been happening for centuries. All of these rituals inside of these country’s culture function in many ways, whether it be as a rite of passage into womanhood, a way to be socially accepted/desired, a way to express faith or religion, and more.
In China, according to the lecture provided for this week, foot binding used to serve as a way to show an elite status, as it took money to actually go through the process of binding the foot (the women could no longer work in fields or earn money so they had to have an extra stash somewhere to make up for the time they were physically debilitated). Another purpose for foot binding was to ethnically identify as Chinese after the Mongols invaded China in 1279. This was one things the Mongols didn’t take from the Chinese so it became very important in Chinese culture. Also, it served as a sign that a woman would be obedient and hard working to her future in-laws and husband. When this practiced was abruptly outlawed by communism, the whole society around foot binding changed, like aspects of work and marriage, because this sign of wealth and status was no longer important. So basically, as author of “Snow Flower and the Fan”, Lisa See seems to believe, this practice enhanced society’s culture and allowed a woman to feel wanted and capable (See).
Cutting female genitalia is connected to similar aspects of culture as foot binding is. It serves as a rite of passage into womanhood, shows that the woman will be faithful and a good wife, and speaks to faith and religion. It actually functions as a way to draw the male to the female and says she is clean and attractive. Similar to what author Lynda Newland conveys in her article, females who undergo this process do not believe they are being stripped of their sexuality as us Americans do. They see it as a way to become a moral person and enter womanhood; some are actually called “girls” their whole lives if they are not cut (Newland, 2006). If this practice were outlawed, the culture would change and so would morale because this is an important part of these women’s lives; they are proud to have it done and defines them as an adult member of the society. It would also be hard to change this law because it might require a change in society’s beliefs to bring it to the attention of the government. So when we view this as immoral and wrong, we are being insensitive to their unique values and culture–we may even be hypocritical, as most boys are circumcised at birth in the U.S., which is not much different.
Plastic surgery in Western cultures serve similar purposes as listed above, and it can give someone a new meaning to life after being more comfortable in their own skin. Many times, in the United States, it can also serve medical purposes if someone was in a car accident, for example, so it is a necessary part of culture and medical practices. I wouldn’t personally have it done without medical reasons, but I acknowledge that it has cultural significance in the United States and I understand that it will not be outlawed until people’s norms and beliefs completely change, because law is a fancy form of culture and a social construct.
Newland, Lynda. “Female Circumcision: Muslim Identities and Zero Tolerance Policies in Rural West Java.” ELSEVIER, 2006, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.2-Newland.pdf.
See, Lisa. “Snow Flower and The Fan.” Footbinding, anthropology.msu.edu/anp270-us18/files/2015/05/6.1-See.pdf.
Serena Williams Extra Credit
When viewed through a lens of intersectionality, this situation with Serena Williams is even worse. Not only is she a woman, who until recently couldn’t even vote for her own president, let alone for how she was cared for in a hospital, but she is also black. She is automatically pegged as unintelligent and not deserving of as much attention, say, as a white male or even female. The combination of her identity probably caused the doctors to not take her seriously and realize that she most likely knows her own body and that she may actually have a blood clot. Further, this tells a lot about our society and biomedicine in terms of thoughts toward black people. Maybe blatant and malicious racism has calmed down a little bit, but these micro-aggressions and stereotypes against black people have not gone away at all. Her physicians failed her by viewing her opinion as irrelevant even though she was talking about her own physical person. Moreover, it is scary to think of how the doctors might have treated her if she weren’t upper class. As mentioned in “Looking the Part: Social Status Cues Shape Race Perception” by Jonathan B. Freeman in Week 5 materials, people categorize people as black or white based on their look as low status or high status–low status usually being associated with a black person (Freeman et al., 2011). If this were the case in the hospital, if Serena were to be lower class, they may even be more focused on the fact that she was black and neglect her further. The picture is also a lot different if she were a white woman. Though a white woman may not be as listened to as a white man, it is unfortunately still more than being black. In fact black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from maternal reasons than white women (Williams, 2018). The author of “Serena Williams’s Birthing Nightmare Is All Too Familiar for Black Women” suggests doctors start to actually listen to their patients and use their privilege to raise awareness to and improve the fact that racism is a large part of biomedicine, apparently.
Freeman, Jonathan B., et al. “Looking the Part: Social Status Cues Shape Race Perception.” PLOS Medicine, Public Library of Science, 2011, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0025107.
Williams, Sanithia L. “Serena Williams’s Birthing Nightmare Is All Too Familiar for Black Women.” Tonic, Tonic, 12 Jan. 2018, tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/43qb5m/serena-williams-birth-black-women-maternal-mortality.