“When you save someone you imply that you are saving her form something. You are also saving her to something. What violence’s are entailed in this transformation, and what presumptions are being made about their superiority of that to which you are saving her? Projects of saving other women depend on and reinforce a sense of superiority by Westerners, a form of arrogance that deserves to be challenged.” (454)
This piece brings up all the complexities surrounding international feminist movements- how far does history go? Where do you draw lines? How do you come to understand and take issue with a culture that is not your own? Is it possible to do so while still being respectful?
To me, personally, a historical narrative is key when trying to understand and appreciate another culture, it is only though the complex individual history of each nation state that anyone can claim to have made an effort to approach a culture from a lens of scholarship and respect. However, to really understand another’s cultural historical narrative you must first look at your own. Americans, very generally, make all sorts of presumptions about superiority and who needs our help, but in reality this concept is only a product of America’s own history. Abu-Lughod’s discussion of veiling and its cultural significant highlights this. It seems so odd to me that so many Americans (and for that matter Europeans, from what I gained from a visit to France a year or so ago) are so unwilling to accept that they misjudged and misread an aspect of a different culture. Surely, these things happen all time and people should have the opportunity to talk to each other, clear the air and learn each other’s history. Is their simply no one listing? Because I have heard many speak about it. I understand that it is complex to both disagree/ critique a culture while still trying to understand and remain respectful of it at the same time, but in reality it is something that desperately needs to be done.
Going off of this, in the passage I highlighted above Abu-Lughod makes the claim that the idea of saving is more then just liberation etc. but ‘saving to something’. While I can appreciate where the idea that ones cultural standards are superior comes from and is easy to buy in to, it is at the same time ridiculous. If you ask most Americans if we have cultural issues, I would expect the answer to be resoundingly yes. Why then would we even want to save women ‘to’ our standards and practices? Sharing ideas and challenges through discourse is one thing, helping when asked and collectively working on challenges is not only appropriate, but something I would hope that leaders globally would engage in more often.
To me I think supporting each other efforts, as Abu-Lughod suggests with RAWA should be a goal for feminists and aid workers everywhere. Gaining historical background, talking though misunderstandings and general support of each other’s initiates, to me would be a big step in the right direction. Clearly there are people and organizations doing this now, but once we can do this on a large scale it seems likely the that idea of ‘saving’ will fade away, or one would hope anyway.