There are many issues that can be attributed to an individual’s cultural beliefs and how they can relate to another individuals specific cultural beliefs and set standards. Sometimes these issues can be minor and dealt with appropriately, but in other cases these cultural differences can be monumental and cause different societies to wage wars against one another. The way that an individual judges or perceives other cultures beliefs and standards based on the guidelines of their own culture is what sociologist refer to as ethnocentrism and is what we are going to be looking at in further detail in this paper.
There are many factors that contribute to the persistent societal disputes and disagreements that are forever occurring throughout the globe. There is a great divide that can be felt in regards to understanding and accepting each individual society; each one has its own unique culture and many individuals are not capable of viewing a culture different than their own without passing predisposed judgments and ideas that are typically instilled by their own culture. Ethnocentrism is a term that sociologists use to define this universally occurring unaccepting set of attitudes and behaviors. Ethnocentrism can be attributed to social evolution, local & foreign competition and can also be a result of cooperation with what is considered to be the in-groups and not the out-groups (Axelrod & Hammond, 2003). The main concept of ethnocentrism is individuals seeing their specific group or culture as being the in-group or the superior to the other cultures and the individuals that they are comprised of. Judging another culture by the standards of their own; it is important to remember that ethnocentrism is not the same as racism (Rodriguez, 2013).
Culture is a very important factor of ethnocentrism and it is vital to understand what is it; culture is everything that can be associated with a specific group of individuals, it is the way a group of individuals or society think and act in a common manner generally a result of how they were raised, the way they communicate; a common set of ideas or the making and understanding of symbols special to that group as well as the traditions that unify that group of individuals by having established shared values, beliefs and customs. Culture includes also the things that we own, the material objects that we consider to be important and the social institutions that we value, mores and folkways and the technology that is available and depended on (Editorial Board, 2012). As Americans there are many things as a society and culture that we have become accustomed too; freedom of choice and speech, freedom to express our individuality; the United States was founded on the principle the equality for every individual is fundamental and is the reason we have become more commonly known as the melting pot.
There are many various cultures that are represented throughout our society and many of which are to some degree maintaining the characteristics and traditions of their homeland (Editorial Board, 2012). The fact that America is considered to be a melting pot and is the land where foreign individuals come for their chance at the American dream is considered to be a large contributor of ethnocentricity mentality of white Americans. This mentality leads to a sense of power and superiority and the labeling of other cultures as unequal or unimportant in our country; in many this leads to a sense of resentment from both sides resulting in violence.
There are many aspects of the American culture that we consider to be acceptable, the correct way of doing things; these behaviors are specific to our culture, our norms (Editorial Board, 2012) and just as we may be offended and by aspects of other cultural norms it is important to remember that the same is true for other cultures as well, they may find them to be extreme, disturbing or even unethical. It is important to remember that many cultures view us with the same predetermined judgments and perceptions
Set by their own culture and that ethnocentrism is not only how Americans view other societies and why the violence and destruction due to these judgmental attitudes is so prevalent.
Many of the fundamental concepts and behaviors of the American culture are not considered to be acceptable in other cultures such as our principle of freedom and equality, these are not common attributes of many societies, equality and individualism are nonexistent in many; our general lack of informality both professional and personal has a tendency to make members of different cultures uncomfortable and can be punishable by law in some (Rodriquez, 2013). If an American were to go to a traditional Arab society in the summer months wearing our traditional summer attire, shorts, thank top and sandals it would likely cause an issue; this societies cultural standard requires women to be fully covered from head to toe and has very strict rules; I have no doubt that she would be harassed by local law enforcement and even made remarks to by local civilians, she would be started at and considered to be very unacceptable because this is not what is deemed acceptable in their society. This assignment required us to watch a movie that communicated the cultural values and norms of a different culture; for this I decided to use a tradition that has become a cultural norm in variations throughout many societies.
This tradition originated in Egypt and was borrowed by many other cultures and changed to fit their own cultural & religious needs. This traditional ritual I still practiced today in many different cultures considering our own. This is not a topic I would generally consider for a paper but it certainly did provide me with a unique cultural experience. The movie I watched was called the cut it is a short documentary on the controversial ritual of female circumcision also know in many cultures as female genital mutilation. This documentary was on the prevalence of the tradition in Egypt but this is also a common procedure in many other cultures. This ritual has been performed for over 200,000 years and is deeply imbedded in the roots of the Egyptian culture (The Cut, 2013). FGM is just as common in many cultures, if not more as the circumcision of infant boys in the American culture but due to the nature of the procedure has been considered a highly controversial, undiscussed issue that affects many different cultures and more specifically a large amount of the female members of these cultures.
The documentary reported that over 90% of the females in Egypt have been through the procedure and there are similar numbers in other practicing countries. Many young girls some as young as 9 years old are forced to go through this ritual often bound and gagged without regard to the children’s wishes, there are 2 different types of FGM both undoubtedly extreamly painful; the first type removes only the clitoris while the second type removes both the clitoris and the labia; this is done by inserting pins into the top and bottom as well as the middle to stretch the skin and enable a mid-wife to cut the skin. This procedure is done with no anesthesia and due to the fact that it was outlawed in Egypt 5 years ago it is often performed in the child’s house. The outlawing of FGM has been of little benefit, if anything it has caused more damage. Infection and death have become more common as many parents fear prosecution and do not get medical attention when necessary resulting to an increase of deaths from the ritual. FGM was the main topic of the documentary but it also offered a visual image of their surrounding; the area where they were filming looked like a whole other world, a dust covered, and dirt road, full of clay hut like houses where the women were completely covered wearing traditional vales.
I was surprised to see that many of the men who were filmed walking down the busy shop lined streets were wearing similar dress clothes to that of our American business men, they had on expensive looking suits some had ties, some did not, and I was also surprised that there were some wearing jeans and t shirts. One of the interviews was conducted inside the women’s house which was elaborately decorated with silks and beautiful gold statues and metal accents. There was also a strong behavior difference, in American society many people like and want to be on TV, news and radio interviews are conducted every day on sensitive subjects but this is not the case for the women on this documentary. Many of them appeared to be fearful and reluctant due to the fact that their culture considers it unacceptable to speak with anyone especially outsiders on camera about such a sensitive traditional subject (The Cut, 2013). There are many reasons that I personally had the reaction I did to the documentary and more specifically the subject matter itself, being a women of any culture makes this an offensive tradition or cultural belief; this part of the female body is a very private if not sacred part of the body and to forcibly remove it with no regard for the young girls wishes is very disturbing.
To imagine the pain they are subjected to and the lifelong consequences it can have; there have been no medical benefits associated with the procedure, in the Egyptian culture there is not much of a religious aspect of the ritual either it is conducted on behalf of the groom’s family and is often a requirement for marriage. I find it unfathomable that these young women are forced through this ritual with no anesthesia or pain medication during or after to remove the parts of the female body that are capable of arousal or pleasure out of fear they will enjoy this experience to make them more desirable to be a bride. As American’s we are exposed to sex on a daily basis, TV shows, commercials, movies and even the news, American’s are fascinated with sex; it is a form of entertainment for us, a type of communication and for some even a career and others just a hobby, this just goes to show the level of difference that can be seen between various cultures. In many different cultures sex is not spoken about ever, in our culture it is hard to make it through the day without hearing a reference to sex.
Many relationships in our culture especially one between a man and his wife have a foundation to some degree on physical romance and the connection that it forms. In many of these sexual relationships the ultimate goal is personal pleasure or satisfaction of both individuals, look at the abundance of his/her personal lubricants, condoms and other accessories that are present in our culture to ensure and enhance this process, there are even herbal remedies and prescription medications to help women achieve orgasm during sexual intercourse.
This is not the case in Egypt and other cultures that practice FGM; this ritual is performed as not only a method of purification but to prevent female orgasm the pain is supposed to serve as a reminder that sexual arousal and pleasure is unacceptable (The Cut, 2013). There are many complications associated with this ritual and has been proven to be more harmful physically and mentally than beneficial; many of the members of these practicing cultures see it as a symbol of purification and not an act of violence. In many cases of FGM the mother in law will check to ensure their son is marrying a pure women and it is also believe that young women that are not circumcised will be short, stubby and unattractive.
I find it shocking that this practice is still so common or ever was in the first place, many female members of these societies also find this ritual to be disturbing and unnecessary. I feel that many members of our society would find this aspect of the Egyptian culture to be disturbing and would certainly cause an ethnocentrism attitude. In our American culture we have a similar tradition, many still consider this to be controversial but the circumcision of infant boys is also embedded deep into our cultural roots and has been performed for many generations.
In our society the cultural norm is to remove the excess skin while the child is still an infant and the pain will not be remembered; this tradition is slightly religious and slightly attributed to medical benefits such as decrease risk of infection later in life but was originally used to signify the transition from boy to man as well as to purify the body as the openings were believed to be entrances for impure malignant spirits (Millett, n.d). There are critics and opposers to our tradition as well both inside and out of our own culture which can be seen as another example of ethnocentrism. Many associate both FGM and circumcision of infant boys to be a form of hierarchical control by subjecting young children to conform to a hierarchical system and religious beliefs and cultural norms that they may not wish to be associated with (Millett, n.d).
It is often very difficult for members of a society to accept, understand or even conform to their own cultural standards never mind those of a different culture; how an individual or group of individuals act or react in relationship to others, especially a different culture is what sociologists refer to as social interaction and is fundamental to understanding and having the ability to understand the thoughts, actions and interactions with other individuals, especially those that are different than ourselves (Editorial Board, 2012). As human beings there is undoubtedly one thing that we have in common, our reluctance to accept that which is different, to understand the action of others in which we disagree with, these negative attributes of our species leads to a great deal of conflict and violence which and between both homogenous societies such as Egypt which is mainly comprised of the same culture and dichotomous societies such as America which is made up of multiple various cultures.
Homogenous societies generally have less controversy and issues than that of dichotomous due to the fact that most members are raised and socialized in the same manner and have a similar shared set of values but even in these societies there can still be conflict like that surrounding the controversial topic of FGM. A dichotomous society is much more likely to have conflict between the various cultures present and the complications it can bring when trying to communicate on an interpersonal level; these issues and complications are also large contributors to ethnocentrism.
There are many consequences of ethnocentrism and the attitudes associated with it and are a large part of our inability as not only a nation but globally to deal with many of the important critical issues that often get neglected due to the fear of being uncomfortable and lack of understanding as well as the effort necessary to effectively work interdependently with other societies and cultures and the individuals they are made up of too support and aide rather than to judge and wage wars based on our own specific cultural standards and beliefs.
Editorial Board. (2012). Introduction to Sociology. (1st ed), Prentice Hall
The Cut. (2013). Female Circumcision is Egypt is Custom, Tradition and Religion.
Retrieved on 4/17/2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a25S9jrEmKc