Over the weekend, with many hours to spare while I was waiting for my car to undergo servicing, I started on this book – a collection of papers on gender relations in South East Asia, which I procured for a whopping RM10 at a book sale. The introductory passage is about how a lot of studies on Asian gender relations have been mostly viewed through western/Eurocentric lens, resulting in a skewed perspective of the male-female power balance in Asia. E.g. the writer posits that for both men and women, a lot of power in Asia is expressed/manifested informally in matters of the economy, politics and religion, such as, at the most basic institutional level, the woman being the one in the family who manages finances while the man is the breadwinner, and both these roles are important to the economy of the family. However, Western measurements of power tend to skew more towards the visible, formal, ritualised, such as the State – i.e. more men in politics, more men in formal jobs equals men are more powerful. So the writer believes there is a lot of social/historical/cultural context misunderstood. To qualify, however, the book is quite old – written in 1997, so I’m not sure whether this view still holds any water, but it made me think of something a friend said the other day when we were traipsing around Hanoi.
The West (I hate labelling sides but okay…) tends to think that whatever worked for them, whatever is right for them, must be right for the rest of the world too. So they think, for example, that their model of political and economic development, is “right” and therefore countries who have not undergone the same process or have not achieved the same institutional framework should tread the same path. But how do we know that this is necessarily true? My personal views aside, maybe liberalisation and democracy and unbridled capitalist values are not the be all end all, and there are other models that work too, like authorities compelling businesses under their regulatory purview to make their bottom line a double one, even if it is at the expense of innovation, because arguably efficient, high-tech provision of key services vs. exclusion of certain population segments from using these services in the first place IS a very difficult tradeoff. For instance, and this is purely an example, assuming all the reserves available for investment can only be used for a single purpose, is having banks pump money into coming up with fancy innovative services that only a minority of the population fully utilises really better than banks pumping money into expanding branch/agent bank networks to rural areas/financial education for the poor/excluded, resulting in our financial services being a bit more backward than advanced countries?
This is a bit less important, but I realise that I should be a bit less afraid of typing out thoughts such as these that cross my mind, because wrong or not, there is always an opportunity to learn – plus, it’s always fun to look back when you’re older and wiser and go ha ha I was such a retard.
Here goes confidence in sunshine!