What’s Culture Go To Do With It?

8 Nov

I had the amazing opportunity to attend a forum on Reinvigorating the Gender Movement in Botswana this week. It was a really valuable experience and I got to hear some great and open debate, learn more about the history of the gender movement in Botswana and meet some really interesting people.

BUT (because there is always a but) there were two comments that just irked me.

The first was: “Women have more power than men because they can say no in the bedroom. Men will never say no!” Excuse me?! In what world can women always say no? Marital rape is a sad reality. Also, maybe she would want to have sex if her pleasure was put on an equal level as his. And maybe she would want to have sex if she wasn’t tired from working two jobs every single day – her paid work and the unpaid work she does at home. Of course, I too am making assumptions with these statements, but I just want to make it obvious that a woman does not always have the power to say no, and when she does have the power – well, why shouldn’t she? And to speak to my personal experience regarding the power dynamic in Botswana – when a man hits on me by asking me how many cows my parents want, that shows me that he has put the power on him and on my parents (likely mostly my father) while giving me none of the power.

Also – why should a woman’s power be connected to her sexuality? Men are judged on their intelligence, on their work, on their ideas – so why aren’t women?

The second comment was: “I married a Kalanga woman because I think she is still more controllable. It is still in the Kalanga culture to raise a girl to be a woman that will take care of her husband.”

This reminded me a comment on my Facebook that I choose not to address at the time. Here it is:


How long are we going to blame culture for human rights violations?! Oppression does NOT equal culture. I am tired of skirting around it – but the “culture” excuse a shitty and pathetic excuse. Cultures are socially constructed and therefore are molded and changed over time. We need to carry the best parts of culture forward into the future while leaving the harmful parts in the past.  

3 Responses to “What’s Culture Go To Do With It?”

  1. Declan Whelan at 11:40 am #

    Provocative Kyla! I certainly agree with your points about women’s power.

    I sympathize with your feelings about culture being used as an excuse for human rights violation. But I don’t think the comment you received was positioning culture as an excuse. I read the comment as saying that moving towards human rights will be a tough slog when it runs into cultural barriers. This is not an excuse for inaction but a sad reality about how hard effection action can be. And the reality is that cultural change is hard – damn hard – but necessary for effective long-term change.

    And, as your father, please have any guys contact me for evaluating your worth in cows :). You can however tell them I only deal in ‘sacred’ cows – like culture. And your worth is infinite. 🙂

    • kylamckee at 1:20 am #

      Haha thanks Dad 😛

      And it is tough when you bring culture into it – for example I have had many people in Botswana tell me that cheating and having multiple concurrent partners is part of the culture, and that is the reason for the high HIV rates. It is hard to change this mindset when people believe that it is cultural and especially when people feel that the West is trying to impose on their culture.

  2. Erin at 2:33 am #

    Awesome analysis! I think you got it right!

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