Many a conversation regarding anything of a progressive nature leads to someone making a snide so-called “first-world problem” comment. For instance: who cares about women being raped here, because more women are being raped “there” (wherever “there” is—i.e., everywhere else—it is, apparently, run by barbarians). Not only are these conversations eye-roll inducing, they rely on fallacy of relative privation, at best, and Western supremacy at worst.
The dangerous narrative goes like this: Only women from the mysterious and scary non-West are raped and victim-blamed; only their wome are murdered, and no one cares; only their culture tells women they have to wear oppressive clothing based on what their men want. Besides being racist, these conversations seem to have forgotten about Nova Scotia’s Rehtaeh Parsons case; Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada; and how our western patriarchal society capitalizes on making women insecure so they will buy millions of dollars’ worth of beauty products.
A classmate of mine used a good illustration in describing this thought process: One neighbour is looking at another neighbour’s home, judging all the bad things going on within it, meanwhile, these same things are happening in their own backyard. This xenophobia is nurtured in Western culture and women are exploited. They’re used as justifications to start wars, targeted as new customers for “life-saving” Western beauty products, and generally become distractions from and scapegoats for the West’s many challenges and own sexist culture. As Farrah Khan said at a recent This Magazine event, it is treated as though acts of violence were something that were brought in, not something this country was founded on.
Since these ideas are something we in the west are raised on, even the good-intentioned may fall victim to the white saviour complex. Kathryn Mathers shares examples of this from her experience as a visiting assistant professor at Duke University, teaching global development.
“Some might ask what the problem is with trying to do good in places where you don’t live. Indeed, it is not easy to critique anyone’s good intentions … On the issue of context, it is impossible to escape the history of colonialism. That era is thankfully over, but its consequences continue to echo through ongoing inequalities that determine who gets to be the savior and who has to be saved.”
A former This intern, Hillary Di Menna is in her first year of the gender and women’s studies program at York University. She also maintains an online feminist resource directory, FIRE- Feminist Internet Resource Exchange.