Feminism and Anthropology: The Balance Between Unbiased Research and Creating Positive Change
I went to the Women and Secularism conference in DC this weekend. It highlighted the issues that women have in a secularist community, and how to draw more women into the community so that they feel comfortable expressing their ideas. The speakers also addressed how vital it is that the secularist community take on a more activist agenda, meeting the needs of the neighborhoods that they live in. I was enriched by the experience. It helped me to solidify how I feel about activism in general.
As a feminist and an anthropology student, I tread a thin line between bringing positive change to my community and effecting the culture that the people around me live in. I see policies that I disagree with, and I rally against those policies with the hope that my efforts will help my fellow community members. However, there is always the concern that this rallying conflicts with my anthropological need to simply accept a culture as it is and to study it however it chooses to be. With that in mind, generally I try to see the issue from both sides of the fence, but my judgement is constantly clouded by my own desires.
The conference taught me a valuable lesson about groups and providing help to those groups. A group is not just a group. A group is a gathering of individuals, each with their own ideas about how the world works and what should be done. Each with their own fears and goals. And I realized that there should be no fear in asking the entire group if they want help or change, because there might be that one person in the group who wanted help and change, but had no option before. Either they didn’t know that there was another option, or they didn’t think that there was someone on the other side who could help them get what they want and need. But if we fear offering that help, we can risk isolation for that person who just wants someone to reach out a helping hand.
This goes for people in specific cultures as well. If someone is only getting harm from their culture, is it fair to turn your back to them because you want to preserve their culture? Could you look someone in the eye and say, “I would love to help you and your community from being destroyed, mutilated, and abused, but you have a culture here and I won’t effect that”? I don’t think I could do that. I love to learn about the world and its culture, but I also want to make change and make the world a fairer and less violent place to live. And if a culture has its basis in corrupting and oppressing its people, I will not stay silent. I know of no reason why an anthropologist can’t study and also change misuse of power. I will offer help and change where I see an opportunity, because no group’s individuals are all the same. The world is no worse off for me asking.