Cultural Rituals As Un-Stereotypes

December 29th, 2012 | Categories: Uncategorized

To celebrate the new year, I thought I would celebrate the un-stereotype once again. The un-streotype is a message about a group that is counter to the stereotype for that group. See my recent post introducing the concept.

Every culture tends to view themselves as unique and special and other cultures as strange and simplistic. My blog this week titled Mapping Stereotypes is an example of how this works because it shows the simplistic stereotypes that cultural groups have of other cultural groups.

Despite that stereotypes make “other” cultures seem one-dimensional, each culture is unique and special. This uniqueness is expressed in the rituals from a culture which demonstrates that culture’s thoughtfulness, ties to traditions, respect for their own culture, and so forth. All things that any culture has despite stereotypes that would suggest otherwise.

Each cultural ritual can be viewed as an un-stereotype. There is one caveat. It is an un-stereotype if you actually understand the ritual, not just know it exists.

In order to promote the idea that rituals, when understood in depth, are un-stereotypes, I invite you to read art therapist and blogger Natasha Shapiro’s recent series on cultural rituals which she introduces here.

In the series, Natasha writes several related blogs on funeral rituals and continues this discussion in a second post. She also dedicates an entire post to Chinese funeral practices.

Most recently, Natasha discussed Dream Catchers as a Native American ritual.

When we see that other cultures are as unique and special as our own, then we can discredit and move beyond stereotypes.

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  1. December 29th, 2012 at 16:21

    There are some rituals, like female genital mutilation, that I can’t respect
    because they violate what I consider universal values. Other cultures, like that of the white South in the time of slavery or more recently the culture of the Ku Klux Klan, likewise violate those values of equality I believe should be universal. In other words, I can’t accept the idea that all cultures are equal or worthy of respect because some cultures don’t view all human beings as worthy of respect. Tolerance cannot include tolerance of violating basic liberal principles of equality and liberty. Of course many cultures in our world are not in violation of these principles and we should respect those cultures, and so on that I agree wholeheartedly with your well-argued post. At this point, I’m more concerned about fighting for the equality of all people, and plenty of cultures in every part of the world are in the wrong side in that fight.

    • Anastacia Kurylo
      January 1st, 2013 at 10:05

      I love this discussion because it demonstrates exactly my point. We get caught up in specific rituals that we know a limited amount of information about, isolate them to a specific culture via a stereotype, and then view the culture negatively as a result.

      The comparison to male circumcision is interesting and I think there is an extension of that discussion that still hasn’t been made. If there are countries that view American’s circumcising boys as a barbaric ritual, then why isn’t America stereotyped the same way as countries in which there is female circumcision.

      For Americans it’s likely the answer to that question is female circumcision is “more” barbaric than male circumcision. But I would argue that people know more about American culture and, thus, view American culture as more complex than other countries that practice female circumcision. As a result they allow American culture more understanding of their rituals than other cultures.

      For example, many of the countries in which female genital mutilation is practiced actually have recently put into place laws that make such practice illegal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_female_genital_mutilation_by_country

      This shows the countries themselves wish to – at least at the surface- disassociate themselves from this practice. Yet, we might never know that because once we learn a limited amount of information about a ritual within a less familiar culture we stop seeking new information and rely on stereotype. Exactly the point I was trying to make.

      We can object, and should, to female genital mutilation. My argument in the post is that rather than using this ritual to stereotype a country, we should learn more about it so that we can be a strong well-informed advocate against the ritual. Advocating against a ritual- no matter how abhorrent- without having a deeper understanding of it will only perpetuate stereotypes.

  2. KnickerBlogger
    December 29th, 2012 at 19:19

    Why qualify it genital mutilation with “female”? Surely all forced genital mutilation should be treated equally.

  3. December 30th, 2012 at 09:30

    Of course you’re right. The female version is by far more common, as it is done to most young girls in many regions, which is why I referred to that specific practice. If you’re talking about male circumcision as widely practiced, that’s another debate.

  4. KnickerBlogger
    December 30th, 2012 at 22:34

    Why is circumcision another debate? There are many people who would view childhood circumcision as a cultural ritual that violates basic liberal principles of liberty. Should all cultures that practice it be thrown in the category of not being respected because some don’t agree with the ritual and it goes against the universal value of not harming our children?

  5. December 30th, 2012 at 23:20

    wow. I am just amazed that an attempt to think of something in a positive way for just a few moments, such as how lovely it is that we all celebrate the first birthday of our child in such a different and some very interesting ways, or that a culture different from our own actually believes we need to take 49 days out of our regular life to focus on mourning the death of a loved one…

    This blog mostly focuses on negative stereotyping, and I was so honored to have my attempt to look at other cultures and learn from them posted on this site…

    I agree that “genital mutilation” is seen as violent and abhorrent, but what does it have to do with celebrating our differences in a positive way and learning more about other peoples, countries, cultures, ethnicities, and unique observances of neutral type rituals like birthday and death/mourning a loved one? I find it interesting that human nature often has to go to the negative when focusing on something positive!

  6. January 3rd, 2013 at 10:47

    Female genital mutilation involves the complete removal of a woman’s clitoris and parts (or all) of the labia as well. While I have serious questions about male circumcision, it is the removal of a piece of skin for which we cannot identify any specific function as yet. Again, I have questions about male circumcision, but there is no equivalence, in terms of the impact on the human body, a person’s health, and his/her sexual life, between removing the foreskin and cutting out the clitoris and parts or all of the labia. From wiki:

    The WHO has offered four classifications of FGM. The main three are Type I, removal of the clitoral hood, almost invariably accompanied by removal of the clitoris itself (clitoridectomy); Type II, removal of the clitoris and inner labia; and Type III (infibulation), removal of all or part of the inner and outer labia, and usually the clitoris, and the fusion of the wound, leaving a small hole for the passage of urine and menstrual blood—the fused wound is opened for intercourse and childbirth.[4] Around 85 percent of women who undergo FGM experience Types I and II, and 15 percent Type III, though Type III is the most common procedure in several countries, including Sudan, Somalia, and Djibouti.[5] Several miscellaneous acts are categorized as Type IV. These range from a symbolic pricking or piercing of the clitoris or labia, to cauterization of the clitoris, cutting into the vagina to widen it (gishiri cutting), and introducing corrosive substances to tighten it.[4]

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