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Comprehensive Child Marriage Research Library

Blaming Culture for Bad Behavior


Object Type:

Volpp, Leti


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Editions Antipodes

Peer Reviewed


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Students Against Child Marriage's Object Summary:

This article makes an argument against multiculturalism on the grounds of cultural judgement and misogyny. Volpp uses child marriage as a case study to explore the phenomena of casting judgement on cultures for individual actions when perpetrators or victims are people of color and/or immigrants. While white child marriage is viewed as the product of indivual choice and behaviour, non-White child marriages are viewed as a cultural byproduct. Volpp attributes this to the “racialization of culture,” in which culture is viewed as fixed and becomes almost biological. While this phenomenon is not usually applied to White people, it is significant when it comes to White people experiencing poverty, who are viewed as anti-normative in a similar way to people of color. Racialization of color also implies that people of color are somehow subservient to their culture and that they can’t act outside or resist it in order to fit into a colonial narrative. She explores a case where a forced marriage among White Mormons in Utah was not viewed as oppositional to Western ideals while the forced marriage of a Iraqi girl in Nebraska was considered “barbaric” and “anti-American.” Anti-immigrant sentiment colors the way these cases of child marriage are viewed and discussed, women’s bodies become the battleground in which “American values” are defined and enforced as they stand in for nations themselves. She closes with a call to end misogyny in all communities and to stop using it as an excuse to perpetuate racism and anti-immigrant sentiment.

Article Abstract (If Available):

The author examines cases of voluntary and forced adolescent marriage in the United States to demonstrate how the perception of ''bad behavior'' depends upon the identity of the actor. Behavior that is troubling tends to be ascribed to individual deviance when the actor is a white American; when the actor is an immigrant of color, the behavior is assumed to characterize the culture of entire nations. The author argues that this results in an exaggerated perception of ethnic difference that equates this difference with a moral difference on the part of immigrants, leading to the feminism versus multiculturalism debate. Extraterritorializing problematic behavior by projecting it beyond the borders of American values has the effect both of equating racialized immigrant culture with sex subordination, and denying the reality of gendered subordination prevalent in mainstream white America.

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