Why Does ‘Respecting Cultural Issues’ usually mean ‘Women Have Few Rights’? Time to Stop?

In the UK there have been a spate of arrests, court cases etc involving the sexual abuse of women and girls. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable to read the news. This morning was no exception.

The excellent journalist Grace Dent writing for The Independent had a piece on the Oxfordshire sexual abuse scandal (read it here). If you read it you’ll see she highlights the issue of people being fearful of challenging certain practices in case they are accused of not respecting other people’s cultures. This was certainly a feature in the Oxfordshire case where young girls (sometimes as young as 11) were first groomed, then raped by paedophiles and used and abused by gangs of men for very long periods of time.

Coincidentally I was talking about this ‘cultural issue’ a few days ago to a group of women I was working with. I shared with them that as a young girl growing up in an area where there were a lot of Asian men I had regularly been verbally abused at in the street because I was wearing a mini skirt and deemed to be a shameless hussy (I’m imagining that’s what they were saying to me). I hated it. My best friend at the time was from an Asian family; at 15 she was married off and forbidden by her new, much older, husband to see me or any of her old friends again. Not just her surname changed but her first name too. I never did see her again.

After University I went on to train as a social worker and struggled womanfully with the notion that these differing attitudes to women were cultural and under no circumstances should I voice my concerns out loud if I wanted to pass my course. It would be considered racist to do so. It’s probably worth pointing out that at that time (early 1980s) the UK as a whole wasn’t quite so hot on the treating women with respect thing either.

So what do you think? Is it racist to be appalled at the way women are treated? Is it a cultural issue where we should fear to tread? Is it because we are frightened of being accused of racism that some of these appalling acts can go on for so long unchallenged or discretely ignored? Or is it that women and girls are still seen by a large proportion of society as second class citizens, easy prey, and that the inherent sexism and class snobbery in our society allows this to happen?

What do you think?

No picture today, seemed a bit inappropriate…


Posted on May 16th, 2013 by

2 Responses to “Why Does ‘Respecting Cultural Issues’ usually mean ‘Women Have Few Rights’? Time to Stop?”

  1. I think you nailed it with the comment about women and girls still viewed as second class citizens. I don’t think it’s racist to be appalled about the treatment of girls/women in other cultures; I think the perpetrators and protectors of that abuse hide behind the ‘Racist’ label as it allows them to continue to behave like this unchallenged.

    I find the older I get the less I am frightened to comment or object to blatantly sexist behaviour – maybe this is because I’ve more ‘life experience’ or maybe because I have a 7 year old daughter. But I really feel if, as women, if we feel strongly and comment about behaviour that we feel is unacceptable we can make a difference. Time was women were scared to speak out, I think that time has passed and most women are royally pissed of by the antiquated, patriarchal attitudes that still prevail.

    I don’t want my daughter (or anyones daughter) to be viewed as a collection of body parts or property to be mocked/abused/sexualised/ as men see fit to do. When men learn to accept women as whole human beings and not just tits and arse on legs, maybe we’ll get somewhere. When they can treat the whole person with the equality and respect they treat themselves with, maybe things can change. But speaking out and saying “This is unacceptable” has got to be the first step – whether we feel it is overstepping cultural boundaries or not. A woman is a woman is a woman no matter what her race, religion or social class or caste, and to fight inherent snobbery and class snobbery we need to stand together and say “Enough”

    Sorry, bit of a rant…..

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