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Cultures of Honor
by Janice Fiamengo
Review of Aruna Papp and Barbara Kay, Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter's Memoir on Honour, Shame and Love. St. Catharines: Freedom Press, 2012.
One of the ironies of our age is that the North American women who successfully lobbied over the past 30 years to change the public perception of marriage, sexual assault, and abortion should have shown themselves so pusillanimous and divided over the suffering of non-Western women. When I was a university student keen to understand feminism, I learned early on that white women should stay silent when the subject was violence against women in such regions as South Asia, where women are subject to strict codes of honor punishable by beatings or murder. It was racist, I was told, to point the finger at non-Western cultures for women's abuse; all patriarchies subjugated women, none more so than the North American version, and whites who criticized other cultures were exhibiting a long-standing colonial arrogance.
Two women have refused this feminist orthodoxy to co-author Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter's Memoir on Honour, Shame, and Love. Barbara Kay, the supporting author, is an acclaimed National Post opinion writer and public speaker who came to know Aruna Papp after Papp wrote to congratulate her for one of her columns. In the column, Kay had distinguished honor-based violence from normative domestic violence, and Papp was struck by her discernment and clarity. Eventually the two women decided to collaborate to write Papp's story.
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