Can feminism triumph over cultural relativism? (Opinion)

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Everybody has that friend who’s in a relationship with someone they are not meant to be. You sit with your other friends and murmur furtively when they’re not around, hoping that they don’t catch you. It’s such a bizarre coupling that you wonder how a kind, loving God could ever allow such an unfit match to occur.

The worst part about pairings like this is having to watch your friend slowly change over time. Their personality gets completely altered to please their partner, and perhaps they even stop doing things that they used to love because their partner doesn’t want them doing those things. You notice them walking on eggshells more and more because they’re worried about rocking the very delicate, leaky boat that is their relationship.

For me that friend is feminism, and the weirdo dude in her life that’s sucking out her soul is cultural relativism.

Cultural relativism is a disturbing trend that has infected many different progressive movements over the last decade, injecting smarmy hypocrisy wherever it rears its ugly head. Its ideology is simple: there are no good or bad cultures, just different ones. It sounds pleasant enough. Born out of multiculturalism’s demands for uniform tolerance without exception, the faction quickly lost direction and developed into a breeding ground for infighting when social justice became the “it” movement.

The fact of the matter is that cultural relativism is nobody’s friend, least of all feminism’s.

Take, for example, the recent trip made by Sweden’s all-female government cabinet to Iran for trade talks. Feminism sans cultural relativism would have firstly been outraged at the prospect of dealing with any country operated by a misogynistic theocracy where women are denied birth control and access to many public spaces; an authoritarian nation whose leader dismissed ‘gender equality’ as being ‘unacceptable to the Islamic Republic’. However, not only did the Swedish ‘feminist’ politicians go to Iran, they also ignored the desperate pleas of Iranian women’s rights activists to reject the compulsory hijab law- a law which states that women must cover their head and shoulders and dress modestly or risk imprisonment. This law does not apply to foreign women, so the Swedish delegation would have been free to decline the hijab in a statement to the regime

But they didn’t. Masih Alinejad, an Iranian women’s rights activist who has lead the anti-hijab Stealthy Freedom movement on Facebook, decried their submissive attitudes, saying that they ‘legitimized’ the law. Alinejad also brought home the fundamental point when discussing feminism’s sick relationship with cultural relativism: “… if you are feminists and you care about equality then you should challenge inequality everywhere.”

Challenging inequality everywhere is a foreign concept where cultural relativism is concerned. It has expanded its lack of concern for basic human rights violations depending on the culture of the violator into including western nations – and feminism is going along for the ride.

Consider the case of Cologne, Germany, in 2016. While celebrating their traditional New Year’s festivities, 1,200 women were sexually and physically assaulted by hordes of men in the crowds. Was there a feminist outrage? Nope. Not with cultural relativism pulling the strings. Feminism simply shrugged off those victims because their attackers were Arab and African. Even when those women were victimized a second time by their own mayor, who told them that their provocative dresses and lack of caution was among the reasons why they were assaulted – because their clothing was culturally insensitive to their attackers.

The incident in Cologne isn’t isolated either. In Austria, a girl attacked by a foreign man was told by police that her ‘blonde hair and sexy clothing’ were responsible. Not one, not two, but FIVE other European women reported similar warnings issued to them by police or government officials, a common theme in attack prevention warnings being not to go out at night without a man – and there was not a single protest. Can you imagine?

I’m old enough to remember when a central part of feminism was fighting victim blaming – and I’m not even that old! But everything changes when cultural relativism sneaks into the picture. Its introduction into mainstream feminism has done insurmountable damage to feminism’s bottom-line advocacy. Battles that have already been fought and long since settled on the inalienable humanity of women have been thrown back to square one, all because cultural relativism is unwilling to distinguish between cultures that treat women like human beings and those that treat women like hypersexualized cattle. Much to my chagrin, under the iron clad rule of cultural relativism, it has become controversial, if not totally discriminatory, to make that differentiation.

Feminism is at a turning point. Feminism needs to decide if it’s going to let itself be absorbed into the growing monster that is cultural relativism- a parasite slowly drowning out the voices of women around the world struggling with victimization, and relativizing their basic struggles with domestic violence, legal inequality and lack of institutional representation with how men sit on the bus, the temperature in offices, and whether someone disagrees with a social justice warrior on Twitter.

The only question I have is this: will feminism break free before it goes completely deaf?

Emily is in her fourth year of Political Science. She loves studying and academics which follows into her research work. She's a stern black coffee drinker and is a proud Acadienne. When she's not working or doing school work, you can find Emily listening to 70s music on vinyl and watching Parks and Recreation. If you ask her about parliamentary institutions, she won't stop talking.