|Trans||Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||15. Nr.||März 2004|
4.7. The Woman as the Place
of Cultural Encounter
Kathleen Thorpe (Johannesburg)
The introductory paper (Thorpe) highlighted some aspects of the theme of the woman as the place of cultural encounter as they have been documented in travel literature by women since the 18th cenutry. These texts bring discoveries of women's experience of their own "Otherness" in their meetings with women from different cultures . Sex tourism in more recent times adds another dimension to travel literature, too. These encounters make it clear that gender, patriarchy and money form points of convergence between the cultures.
This theme was expanded upon in considerations of gender equality in Cuba (Luciak), where democracy is understood differently from the western European and American models of liberal constitutionalism. In Cuba the provision of education, healthcare, housing and water is understood as a democratic achievement as substantive democracy, embracing both economic and social rights. Discrepancies in Cuban society as regards the representation of women in government structures and in certain professions point to the prevailing patriarchal attitudes which even legislation such as the Family Code of 1975, obliging men to participate in housework for example, has done little to alter.
The problem of race and gender in South Africa (Naude) in the pre-democratic era points to such matters as social status and the sexualisation of the landscape in colonial literature. This, together with the notion of the woman as an essentially blank space to be filled by the author's own unfulfilled desires forms the basis for the analysis of William Plomer's novel Turbott Wolfe.
The detective novels of Doris Gercke (Vestli), with her female detective Bella Blok, open up a wide intertextual vista, with parallels to the Russian writer Alexander Blok and, by using classical archetypes such as Heracles and Artemis, deal with the matter of gender equality.
The problem of race in immediate post-1945 Germany (Weber) emphasises Wolfgang Koeppen's concern with love between the races and the blurring of problems such as economic and social status by equating all black characters with primitive Africans. This is seen as a type of perverted Fascism in the portrayal of love relationships between black African-American G.I.'s and German (white) women.
Finally, a glance into the structure of the Arab family (Machut-Mendecka) affords a view of a society denying women rights by democratic standards, but culturally allocating women a high social status as mothers, more specifically, as the mother of sons.
In summary, the most important inference to be drawn form the papers read in this section is that no amount of legislation will alter cultural attitudes with regard to the status of women in society, as long as a change of mindset does not take place. This is a task to be accomplished by both men and women.
© Kathleen Thorpe (Johannesburg)
4.7. The Woman as the Place of Cultural Encounter
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