Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Westoxification, Orientalism, and Why I Love my Father

My father is far from being a perfect man; like all other brothers and sisters of this species, across times and geographies and civilizations, he has his flaws: he is vehemently stubborn, he does not always listen first and can be quick to judge in certain areas, particularly emotional realms he finds uncomfortable, he can be a grouch, he can be afraid to try something new and different and potentially fail or be humiliated. That being said, my father loves myself, and my older sister and younger brother, more deeply than anything, organic or not, on this planet. Though his decisions and his actions, naturally, occasionally manifest his very human flaws, I always know this fact, this power of feeling; it is almost palpable, almost a being I can wrap up into my arms, tightly, when I am sad or lonely or frustrated.

Part of this intense love for his children, for his daughters, is a great amount of admiration and respect for us. Growing up, a young girl in a politically and economically stable nation, the most affluent and powerful in the world, within a respectable and educated upper middle class family, I was reminded constantly of my own potential, as blossoming bright and beautiful woman, and as a blossoming bright and beautiful human, my intelligence and inquisitive nature and my thirst for new challenges and knowledge always encouraged and bolstered. Though throughout my childhood we enacted and maneuvered through the traditional paternal-offspring roles of pedagogy and guidance, as enforced by biological and social histories, at the foundation, my father saw and continues to see me as an equal.

Every day, my father rose early, donned a tailored suit and tie, and worked his way through corporate America as a businessman, so that my sister, brother, and I could be permitted any educational opportunity we desired. Every day, he reminded me I could accomplish anything my heart and my mind desired, anything I could dream of, and was willing to work hard for. Every day, from an early age, whether I was entering the warm and maternal confines of an elementary schoolroom or running wildly across the grassy fields of the local lacrosse field, he infused me with self-confidence, always reminding me that I deserved the respect of any and all in my path, again, respect as a woman and as a person.

(image taken from The London Lounge)

The father-daughter relationship and the father's perception of his own daughter's femininity and humanity are crucial in the creation of communities, societies, cultures, and governments that foster equality. If a father treats his own offspring, his own daughters, as property, as pawns within the power struggles of political and economic exchanges, as a type of bartering system, permission is implicitly granted to all other community members to follow suit. She will follow suit, without experience or influence otherwise.

The fight for global female equality and sexual liberation is long, it is arduous, it is complicated with historical intellectual and tangible artifacts, and it is far from over; similarly, the proverbial fight for greater peace and stability in the Middle East is long, it is arduous, obscured with long histories and traditions and ideologies, and it is far from over. Inherently, according to the laws of genetics, half of any human population, without any intervening external forces, is female. Change of any kind, political, economic, religious, is severely hampered without the positive power of this other critical half.

(image taken from Eclectic Jewelry and Fashion)

In lending my support to my dear friend Diana sharing her personal story and her global, and Arabic world oriented, feminist and sexual views, I commented on her blog link on Facebook. Typically and traditionally, I view Facebook purely as a frustratingly and aggravatingly convenient modern social media tool, and not as an appropriate forum for intellectual and political dialogue; however, stepping away from naivety, and cognizant of the information technology movement and evolution, I recognize its inherent participation in these types of discourses, whether I like it or not. Her Lebanese born and raised cousin was quick to respond to my brief words elaborating on Diana's message of the importance of female equality and sexual liberation as a necessary parallel mechanism to political and cultural change in the Middle East, quick to instigate and call me out on my ideals and slander me with Western ignorance, with displacement and translocation of Western thought to a historically and culturally altogether different geopolitical arena.

I completely understood Diana's cousins cause for alarm, her disease with Diana's forthright views and calls for change, and was in turn quick to clarify my intentions, and responded in kind (much of this indeed is verbatim): it is an idealist statement, my expressed desire for the fetters of inequality to be removed from the female population; we must maneuver pragmatically in our environment, in its politics and economic exchanges, in its social relationships, in its history and culture, however, our ideals can aid as a true and powerful compass. Applying Western political, religious, and social ideologies, as well its subsequent historical lessons and stories, which like those of the turbulent Middle Eastern region, also continue to be written and developed, is not only irrelevant to a region rich with its own people and past, it is indeed toxic. Orientalism created and perpetuated by Western thought and media has served to only exacerbate the issues of inequality, at the base of other political and social ramifications, notably fostering a landscape and an image democratically nonviable. A visual manifestation of Westoxification, replete with genderized political undertones, can be seen in the above image of a vintage Harper's Bazar cover from 1915; aesthetically, it is stunning, an immaculate mix of illustrated patterns and colors, but it is not without impact on our cultural and political collective subconscious.

As a concerned observer to Arab political and economic happenings, and as an active member of the global feminist community, and the global humanity community, I merely want to raise awareness to the issues of female inequality as foundational to other social, cultural, political ills, both in the East and in the West; again, we account for half of any natural population, and certainly need to demand our own rights. Our fathers and brothers, our lovers, need to listen, to give respect and earn ours in kind, and work along with us in order to enact true change.

1 comment:

  1. Well written and so true. My father has always been my biggest fan and was always open and honest with me. Considering my non-supportive maternal situation, this was vital to my sucess. To think that there are women who are told they will never amount to anything unless they are married off is sad. And forget about respect.