Culture. What is culture? It seems like such a prevailing concept, one that dictates every aspect of our daily lives; who we are, what we do, how we do it, and so on. It is an abstract thing, an idea that is simply a figment of our imagination yet determines so much in our realities. Mahatma Gandhi said, “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the souls of its people.” Thus he illustrates that culture lies within us and not about us.
Culture is a form of evolution, as it evolves over time with the development of new ideas, technology, and the like. Often, this proves to be of our advantage, especially as women. Take into account the enfranchisement of women and their allowance into the workplace in America. This drastic change was initially prevented due to the culture and mindset of the people of the past, and has been permitted due to a change in perception, hence a change in culture.
But then again, whether such a change is considered a sign that society is improving or worsening is also based on opinion. Recently, I had an encounter that opened my eyes and made me realize that not all what we, as Americans, dub an improvement may indeed be positive in the eyes of others. Likewise, not all that we dub negative may be considered negative through a different pair of spectacles.
On Thanksgiving, my mother invited a Saudi Arabian couple she had met to dinner, along with a few other families. Two of my best friends and I decided to converse with the couple’s daughter, who was twenty-years-old. We began to discuss the differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States when we came across the hot topic of women driving in Saudia Arabia. Expectedly, my friends and I bashed the law expressing our deep disapproval as we had seen it. We presumed that the Saudi Arabian girl would agree with us and support our claims, but to our surprise she spoke to quite the contrary. She insisted that women must not drive and that it is not safe for them to do so. She also remarked that she would never drive and does not wish to drive, as is the case with many of the women around her in Saudi Arabia.
I was taken completely aback by her statements, given that I have never considered that anyone, especially any <em>female</em>, would actually support such a law preventing females from driving. I had just gotten my permit and I drive any chance I get, and here is a twenty-year-old girl telling me she doesn’t believe <em>I</em> should drive!
Whether or not we believe in her statements is aside from the point; what I had learned is that I never took into account her perspective and I had never appreciated the differences in our two views. As Americans, we fight for the rights of women and we consistently push for a change in the Saudia Arabian constitution, especially in regards to this particular law. What we don’t realize is that we are imposing our belief (that women could and should drive) on another people who believe quite the contrary. By doing so, we believe that we are doing the Saudia Arabian women a favor by granting them more rights, but in reality we are imposing and forcing our beliefs on them, many of which they do not believe or agree with.
Therefore I’d like us to open our eyes, and rather than viewing the world in our American spectacles. Let us remove all spectacles and start to view the world as it is: a diverse place with varying cultures and customs in every corner and curve of this beautiful planet.
By: Essma Bengabsia