"There’s a radical – and wonderful – new idea here… that all children could and should be inventors of their own theories, critics of other people’s ideas, analyzers of evidence, and makers of their own personal marks on the world. Its an idea with revolutionary implications. If we take it seriously." – Deborah Meier
Thoughts on the Dismantling of Dualism
University of North Texas
Psychology Major, Women’s Studies Minor
We live in a world that is constructed of dualities. Whether the binary be modern or traditional, eastern or western, first world or third world, us or them—we isolate ourselves from the opposing “other” in such a way that has caused severe cultural dislocation on a global level.
Othering is a concept used to polarize two groups, isolating them so that the individuals involved, no matter how similar, will feel as if they cannot relate to individuals of the opposing group—sometimes allowing hatred to manifest. A key component of the concept of “othering” is context. Feminist author, Uma Narayan explains this best through her example of Indian dowry-murders in juxtaposition to domestic violence in western society. What is most important about this example is first looking at the way in which each of these topics are framed by our national media, talked about within our social circles, and portrayed in special interest groups. Both of these issues deal with physical violence against women, but many westerners would not connect the two to see their cultural similarities, even though thousands of western women are killed each year due to relationship violence. The example of dowry-murder is immensely efficient in elucidating the concept of “other” because it is assumed to correspond with the commonly stereotyped “backward, traditional, third world,” Indian culture. Immediately, westerners take a stance of opposition, because to them this issue is connected to Indian culture, and in no way correlates to how women are treated in the United States. Furthermore, Narayan uses the phrase “death by culture” to illuminate the connotation some Westerners create from a complex issue such as Indian dowry-murder. Here the issue of “othering” is used to deny the obvious parallels seen in the treatment of women in both the United States and India.
In teaching the concept of “other” as a vehicle of empowerment, horizontal comradeship is key. Uma Narayan defines horizontal comradeship as the act of reaching above country/culture/community lines and connecting ourselves with women across the globe by asking questions, and listening with open minds to understand what is best for each woman and each community. It is important for one to be aware of the looming possibility of dualism and “othering” within each society. Empowerment through “othering” is not feasible, but empowerment through dismantling the concept and realizing that you are apart of a much larger community—a global community—is empowering.
Upon teaching the concept of “other”, it is evident that these binaries not only construct the world we live in but also the words we use to describe the world we live in. In order to deconstruct this, social change has to occur. We must squander the isolating vocabulary we use, as well as the “us against them” mentality that eliminates the likelihood of horizontal comradeship to take place. Implementation of a comprehensive pedagogy, as well as an inclusive vocabulary will engender more fruitful dialogue and a more peaceful environment.