Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Oops, I turned it into a feminist thing // chivalry is dead

When I first learned about this term's convocation, I was apprehensive. Based on the little I knew about Appiah and his topic, I felt it would go either very well or very badly, and was leaning towards the latter.

Instead, I actually thought it was pretty unremarkable. Like many people I talked to, I thought his lecture was unfocused, and it was hard to find his thesis among long-winded, sensationalized explanations of foot-binding in China or female genital cutting. Maybe he was just expressing ideas so complex that I couldn't wrap my head around them, or maybe he had a hard time distilling his ideas into just forty minutes of content. Either way, he seemed to take a long, twisting path to get to the pretty simple idea that we have to work with different cultures' views of honor in order to negotiate common values.

What I kept thinking about was the gender dynamics going on in his speech. He spoke at length about issues relating to the violent oppression of women, and how we can use ideas of honor and cultural sensitivity to get through to people and convince them to change their ways. Now, I'm all for ending violence against women, but at the same time, I see another side of the concept of "honor" emerging– that of male chivalry or egotism. It's true, a great many cultures view personal respect as a form of honoring someone, but many cultures, western and non-western alike, have also found honor in war, imperialism, and shooting someone to death for making fun of you. All of these activities are culturally male roles, which is why I think of this type of honor as more of a male-savior complex in this age of increasing gender equality, and it can lead to an inflated sense of responsibility and entitlement among the Honorable men in change.

"Whenever hot wars are necessary these days, we conduct them in the backyards of the world with the old technologies" -McLuhan, 138

So while working within the honor code of a certain culture may certainly lead to great progress– and believe me, anything we can do to end these harmful practices is great– it is important to ask whether this other form of honor is influencing our views of who is in the right.

"Did you happen to meet any soldiers, my dear, as you came through the woods?"
-McLuhan, 140

In conclusion, I'd like to add that I know nothing and have absolutely no authority or evidence to back these claims, and you should never listen to anything I say ever. Thank you and good night.

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  1. I also have that association between "honor" and "male chivalry." Appiah clearly wants to help the women who are suffering in these violent situations, but he failed to ever talk about the women and their agency. Also, his use of female pronouns through his speech felt rather forced.

  2. I definitely agree that his speech was quite unfocused and I was rather underwhelmed. I honestly had no idea what he was talking about for most of it. It's super interesting that you came at this from a feminist standpoint. I am a feminist and I totally agree with everything you said about it, but I guess I was not thinking critically enough about it to come up with those ideas on my own.

  3. This is pretty much on point from my perspective as well. The idea was just so general, and all of his examples have to do with violence against women, but he never addresses internalized misogyny. Like, dude. Come on.

  4. Hmmmmm I think you captured a good example of why I have never really placed much importance on this "Honor" thing. It seems like kind of an outdated moral, at least in the sense that you describe it. I do though, like thinking of honor as a less serious term and more about your connection with others (strangers and friends alike) and the mutual respect you share.

  5. I didn't spot this in his lecture, but it's an interesting take on his speech, and looking back, I can see where he potentially would come from this place of power, and it's definitely worth exploring as a legitimate critique of his work.