As feminism becomes more mainstream, there’s been a great deal of discourse online regarding different cultural perspectives for various feminist issues. The more I read through these discussions, the more I become aware of a trend among feminists, which is the idea that a Western society is the ideal that other cultures should strive to duplicate. “Why does your culture do that?” “Your culture is so backwards.” “Your culture is oppressive.” These statements, along with others that share similar sentiments, not only alienate a huge portion of the feminist population, but also create divides among feminists that really shouldn’t exist in the first place.
You may not realize it, but the idea that Western women are somehow “more feminist” or “more liberated” than women from other cultures has existed for a very, very long time. This phenomenon stems from the concept that can most basically be summed up by cultural imperialism: the idea that Western society is ahead of other societies, and these “other” cultures need to catch up. Not only is this claim false, it also enforces marginalization of all cultures that don’t follow a Western framework.
This sort of cultural imperialistic mentality is dangerous for a multitude of reasons, the first of which is quite simple: it encourages prejudice and racial stereotyping. A Pakistani woman dressed in traditional garb should not be written off immediately as “oppressed by her culture.” She is only celebrating the country she identifies with by honoring it in the simplest way possible: by dressing in the clothes that reflect her nationality. By assuming that anyone dressed in accordance to their ethnicity is somehow not as “liberated” as the Western woman, we set up a system where the West has to try and “rescue” these “culturally oppressed” women. Notice, for example, that the West is referred to as “Western” or “Western society,” while most other forms of society are “cultural,” “ethnic,” or “exotic.” All of this helps propagate the believe that Western society is the default, and all other groups are anomalistic variations.
“Western” feminists have got to get better at this. (A) not imposing their western cultural standards on others and (B) not quickly assuming that non-Western women must be in some way oppressed.