Gina Garagouni-Scheerbarth:

The so-called modern western woman and her responsibility for the women with other cultural and social backgrounds in Europe

[I want to begin with thinking of some facts we western women have to thank for their present right of-freedom to develop our own personality. First there was the French revolution in 1789-1795 with its ideas of freedom, fraternity and egalitarianism. Secondly we have to think at the many brave women, who lived a life that gained the acknowledgement of all their contemporaries, like the English nurse Florence Nightingale who helped so mach to improve the fate of war-wounded men. Thirdly we must give thanks too, to the women of the feministic movements, who may have exaggerated sometimes in trying to achieve their goal of equal rights with men, but they helped us women of to-day, who can take now equal rights as granted. Fourthly after the terrible events of the second world war of the last century we Germans but with us many other Europeans, too, tried to cut with our traditions and to seek for new ways to make life more peaceful, more just and more happy. And last but not least there is the humanistic psychology with its cornerstone- theory that we all have a drive toward self-actualization'. Together with the new 'religion' of the esoterism, which allows us to believe that listening to the GOD of o hearts' we human beings can decide by our own conscience what is right and what is wrong, this new humanistic psychology assures us the right of personal happiness. Certainly in all our human history mankind fought for happiness, but now we Europeans take it as granted that it is our right to have a secure and satisfying life.]

Among us live in always growing numbers people who are taught from their early childhood that personal happiness has to be sacrificed to the honour of the family-clan. When 1 fell - almost fifty years ago - in love with n future Greek husband I, German by birth and used to the advantages of our so-called enlightened society entered such a family. The duty toward the family-clan concerns basically equally the female and the male members of the family.

As a doctor of the "doctors of the world" I see 15 years old boys of Bangladesh or Afghanistan who are sent by their families to work in Europe and to send money to their families. My future husband had been sent without one mark to study in Germany with the obligation afterwards to finance the necessary dowry for his three younger sisters, In old Greece - now the conditions have changed - there was an unwritten rule that brothers should not marry before their sisters, because an unmarried grown-up daughter was seen a shame for the family. So we had to wait with our marriage for more than nine years.

Therefore I understand that in Eastern families the sisters are bound to-obey their brothers. I understand why parents and brothers will "protect" their females from any situation that could endanger an eventual marriage of the girls. The daughter is married as early as possible. In this way children born by unmarried women - a great shame to the family - are utterly seldom, Mostly the young wife will try to love the husband who is chosen for her. And she will try to love her mother in law, because it is she who will have the power in the new family.

And because it is easier to manipulate women who arc ignorant, families often choose to keep their daughters far from profound studies. A woman who is unable to get a well-paid job, a woman who is absolutely dependent on her father, her brothers or on her husband, I want to say on the family of her husband, is bound to agree with all the decisions her family takes.

Females get their chance to be happy by having devout sons and ruling their future families. Tradition and religion are kept holy because they seem to safeguard order and law of this society.

So we have to understand that especially in countries as France, Germany and Great Britain we have to live with two totally different societies. On the one hand we have the extreme right freedom of life and personal happiness and on the other hand we have the extreme power of the family-clan which demands of the individual to sacrifice its own freedom to the well-being of the whole.

However we can't decide which system will bring in the end, more happiness to people. The tradition society grants its members the satisfaction to have lived a life of fulfilled duties. If there was unhappiness in their life, they can assure themselves, that it was not their own fault, but fate which brought it. My elderly patients, all children of the old traditional world view, very seldom experience the bitterness of consequences of own mistakes in their past. But the possibility of self-actualization, which is - after the humanistic psychology the basis for a fulfilled life - is often denied, because there is no choice in lifestyle.

The modern western society has the opportunity of real self-actualization. This can grant great satisfaction, but it can bring, too,- as I saw it in my Western patients - doubts and self-accusations in faulty lifestyles, people - in the beginning of their life - have chosen, because they were free to choose.

The young people of the traditional societies may find our European freedom in lifestyle quite enviable. The older members of the traditional societies fear our European system, and call it frankly decadent. We must understand that they learn many things about our faults and very few things about our virtues. They see in the movies and in the television - and if they are living in Europe - they see in the busses and streets our young girls wearing belly-free garments. And in most traditional societies the way of clothing has much more importance than for us in the west. For us fashion and taste decide what we wear, in the east clothing often shows one's beliefs. And they learn from movies and television our western problems with drugs. I never meet one young eastern fugitive, who drinks whine or whisky. And last not least members of the traditional societies see our churches getting empty and our young people denying they believe in Christianity.

[They don't see, and they can't experience the serene friendly atmosphere which reigns very often in a hospital or in a police station where women and men work together feeling equal and mutual respect.

They don't see and they won't see the happiness in the social work of our modern churches or social centres, where women and men provide together help and advice for their weaker fellow human beings.

They can't experience the warm satisfaction a modern woman feels, when she has won a fight against injustice, discrimination or environmental pollution etc. And they can't imagine the wonderful experience of a woman who has the fortune that her family not only loves her but is proud of her because of her work and achievements.]

So people of other cultural societies seeing often only the negative sides of our western culture will try their utmost to protect their own traditional ways of their lifestyle and to isolate their members, mostly their female members, from the influences of a culture they find only menacing and dangerous. Very often they have no idea about the great unhappiness; I may say desperation, which their own culture might produce. There is always the exaggerated fear of the gossip of the neighbourhood which makes them hide their problems. There are the handicapped children who are seen as punishment of God or creations of the devil and are shut away. There are the often almost cruel punishments of children who deny the strict obedience to their parents. There are the punishments of honour, when Young girls had dared to follow their hearts and had fallen prey to men who abused their trust. There are the old people, who wait from their daughters or daughters in law that they sacrifice their own life and their family life to the sometimes twenty-year long nursery of an ill humoured parent. There are the women who are forced to tolerate a violent husband only because their families are afraid of the shame of a divorce. Homosexually feeling young men must emigrate to other countries, because their family clan will shut the door to them.

But I must repeat, because all these problems are anxiously hidden, traditional societies honestly believe that their culture is superior to our western culture. Because their culture is based on the effective functioning of their family, they never think about the often terrible fate children find, who orphaned or abandoned by their families are forced to live in institutions. And because in a traditional society almost all old people are nursed by their daughters or daughters in law the few institutions for the few old people, who have no own family, are often places of misery. People of the Islamic and traditional societies who live in Europe are often poor, at least they live under greater poverty than their western neighbours. Poverty of the family goes very often together with low school training of the whole family clan.

I remember a very clever girl in a state institution for handicapped children I used to visit in Athens. Her doctors told me the girl would be worth to be trained, to achieve once a university job. We paid private lessons and she was the first of the institution, who could attend high school, and she gained quite good grades. But this seems to have estranged her from her other room mates, who were partially mentally handicapped. So - 1 remember the day very clearly - she declared me, that she was not longer interested in further schooling. This highly intellectual young woman is now only working in some bars, and because of her handicap - she has lost one foot -, she won't be able to do so for many years, and she will end up as one of the many people paid by the state. Her fate taught me that young people who never experience the motivating examples of parents who read books are bound to be again reluctant to most spiritual progress. And in the traditional society where many families regard the higher school training of their females as a handicap to their future life as obedient wives and daughters in law these conditions are quite frequent.

So 1 try to convince my young patients of the Eastern societies that mothers influence chiefly their children and that they - returning to their countries - must insist that the girls get good school training and help their countries to prosper. People of traditional societies are inclined to envy the western richness but they are inclined, too, to explain this richness by accusing our culture to be based only on materialism. We must always keep in mind they learn about our faults and not about their own. They read in their newspapers about our historical and present scandals, because we discuss all these things in our Medias. Traditional societies avoid strictly criticizing their tradition, their religion and their history. They teach their children the highlights of their history and skip the dark features. [We must not forget, that 100 years ago - at least in Germany- we did the same].

I must refer to another reason of the many misunderstandings between Eastern and Western societies I learnt living with my Greek husband. When he discussed with people of Western countries he tried to adapt his reasoning to their way of thinking. So he seemed to agree with them and to be as tolerant and open minded as his German partners. On the same day, being only together with his brother and me he was able to discuss the same subjects in quite another way. This possibility to change the way of thinking in analogy with their environment must not be seen as a sign of dishonesty of Eastern people. It is a consequence of their upbringing. They are taught from early childhood to avoid direct confrontations and to adjust to the world view of the others. We people of the western cultures are often shocked by the difficult conditions people of traditional societies are forced to live in. We see the often very great poverty.

So we western people and very often we women want to try to help. But this is often misunderstood by the others who misinterpret such helping as a wish to show up our superiority or worse they try to interpret this helping as an obvious way to convert them. There is very much mistrust to any western influence and we must understand, that this mistrust is not only the fruit of present politic faults - as the faults of Mr Bush for example - but also a way of finding their own roots , their own identity and building up their own new states.

So we return to our subject of the westernized modern woman with her responsibility to the women of other cultures. How can we live this responsibility? I think the first step must be to learn as much as possible about the world view, the way of thinking and reasoning of members of other societies living with us. Because 1 think we can't try to help them without understanding. But then we must help them to understand our world view because there is no way to deny it, people who want to stay in Europe must comply with our laws with our way of thinking, because they must work in our world.

[Once the times should have gone, that future parents in law seeing their children in love with partners of different backgrounds almost faint by the prospect, that - I speak of Germany - Turkish youngsters feel humiliated by their richer German neighbours, and that. Greek people refuse the foreign coloured fugitive the polite "kupie-'mister as form of address.] My idea is - and now I am coming to the aim of my small lecture - to invite and to beg the educated ladies of my own age but the ladies of the younger generations, too, to think of ways how to make people of traditional societies trust us and understand the western ideals and their values.

Actually 1 see this as one of our basic noble duties as Christian intellectuals. Perhaps this is one way to avoid further fanatics and to lessen future terrorism and wars.




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