Culture as a System of Oppression
If one were to look across the globe with a microscope they would likely be blown away at how much the organisms on this planet differ from one country to the next. More often than not these countries are closer in proximity to each other than the nearest state is to me. Yet somehow the small artificial line between them, known as a border, has caused such vast differences in culture that they might as well be on opposite ends of the Earth. Taking that into consideration, if one actually does look at one corner of the world and quickly hops to the opposite corner they are liable to find some unmistakeably massive differences in culture. The two cultures that fit this description of being highly dissimilar that I will talk about are dominant Yemeni culture versus the dominant American culture I know so well. I know everything about dominant American culture or DAC because I was raised here, so what better way to learn about dominant Yemeni culture than to read the autobiographical account of a girl who was raised there.
The book that is imparting this knowledge to me is I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali. The author, a young girl who has lived a life that is just as depressing as it is impressive courageously tells the reader everything that she has been forced to go through in a culture that does not value women or their sanity. On top of the most burning topic, the treatment of women, there are also many other differences between our cultures that I will cover. The components of culture to be discussed, compared and contrasted are morals, traditions and norms. Even though nearly every aspect of culture is inconsistent between Yemen and America, I choose those specific components because I feel like they would bring out the most decisive differences.
The first component of culture to be discussed is norms. The norms in America are almost unbelievably different from the norms in Yemen. For one, in Yemen the men have absolute power over everything and typically the older they are the more power they hold. This is different then America because our power is supposed to be (and is actually becoming) evenly divided up between all races, sexes, and ages. For example, a young girl is Yemen is probably treated like how we would treat a dog. Whereas Yemeni men would probably be infuriated if they saw the level of power, attention, fame and wealth young girls in America have the ability to pursue and achieve. Nujood says that the women in her village of Khardji were, “. . . not taught how to make choices” (23). As an American, when I hear that someone is not taught to make choices I imagine them being oppressed and sadistically controlled, but maybe the men in Yemen somehow see it in a different light.
The next highly comparable and contrasting component of culture is tradition. More specifically marriage tradition in this case. In American culture a young woman is prepared by her father so that she is self-empowered and self-respecting, she can be a bread winner or a stay at home mom and it is all her choice. When you marry an American girl, you really are sharing the power fifty-fifty unless she willingly prefers a more submissive position. An American women and Yemeni man could never marry, one would murder the other within a few months time. He would feel she is out of control, unruly and ungodly. On the opposite end, she would feel that he is a control obsessed psychopath. I personally agree with the girls perspective here but then again I am American who was born and raised here. Shockingly, women in Yemen do not even have a choice. In 2008 Aba, Nujood’s father said, “Nujood, you are about to be married” (40). Once her father said those words, that was that, her destiny was already spelled out for her at the sickeningly juvenile age of eight-years-old. In America we do not even consider looking at someone so young in such away. To us it is considered pedophilia, an act that warrants the harshest of punishments including death.
The last and most significant component of culture to be covered in this paper is morals. When discussing morals in a global perspective the meaning of the word seems to vanish. Is it moral to rape someone if they are under-dressed? “Absolutely not,” says the American. You wouldn’t receive a similar answer from a desert dweller. To them it would be much more of a “sin” to wear a condom, even though a reduction in population is probably necessary for somewhere so impoverished. Even as I write this paper I am hostile toward Yemen. Their culture to me is completely immoral from top to bottom. To me it is a system of control, oppression and the old retaining their wicked power at all costs. Yet to them it is nearly the opposite, their oppressive stance towards women is merely to maintain the Yemeni “culture.” It is with this usage that the words culture and morals become dangerous and rhetorical. Morals do exist and they are scientifically calculable. Something that is moral is something that raises the quality of life and the level of happiness for the majority of people. Something that is immoral is something that brings human suffering. Using these parameters it can be proven that Yemeni culture is less moral in many ways. Most people in Yemen live in poverty while very few hold the power and wealth. Most women in Yemen are depressed and hopeless. The only thing keeping the men happy in Yemen is the chromosomal type they were born with, XY. XY to them means they at least get to feel some power and receive some enjoyment out of life. The Yemeni way is for a fact not the way of the future, and not the way to live. American culture is progress in many ways, however imperfect it is.
The book I Am Nujood 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali gives the reader a window into the life of a Yemeni person and from a very interesting perspective. The perspective of a powerless young girl gives the reader a very real and raw idea of what it would be like to be born there. Nujood is a truly amazing girl with a lot of courage. I hope that one day more Yemeni people can follow Nujood’s lead and begin rising up out of the systematic oppression that is their culture and fight for a better life for all. Fight on Yemen.