Cultural Relativism


Courtship and marriage in the United States are as old as the country itself though with time it has evolved with then dynamic nature of people’s way of life. Traditionally courtship is defined as the spending time intentionally together by one man and a woman so as to know each other for the sole reason of evaluating the characteristics of the other person as a potential husband or future wife. Recently the process has taken a different root altogether with emerging issues that were not witnessed in the traditional practice. A clear understanding of cultural relativism will be attached to the topic of courtship and marriage as people take part in the practice differently. This paper is an evaluation of an etic perspective to the practice of courtship and marriage in the contemporary America as a means of understanding the cultural relativism and also to shade more light on the misconceptions and ethnocentric beliefs regarding a different culture. On the same breath, a lot of conclusions have been told about a different culture by those who do not understand the others practices. In an attempt to avoid passing judgments on other people’s culture, in the second part of the paper, I will look into the veil among the Muslim women from an insider’s perspective so as have common understanding misconceptions surrounding other people cultures (Buckley. 2013)

The article tries to analyze the evolution of courtship and marriage among the Americans since the 1800s and the changes that have occurred in the process. It examines in details how a lot of changes have taken place in the course before the 20th century, American men and women who were courting each other would spend time, that is intentional with each other so that they learn about their behaviors with the sole purpose of marriage. Around the period, a man and a woman would come from the same community, say the some social class and courting was done in the house of the woman in the presence of the parents of the woman. The mother of the woman together with the brothers of the girls played a significant role in the process of courtship since they watched the behaviors of the man.

Recently, continues the article, courtship has added a new stage before seriously evaluating a potential wife or husband who is dating. At this dating phase, the number of partners an individual has before courtship are many, from the casual ones to the important ones who they would likely court. On marriage, the literature tries to come with a definition that that touches on life crises since marriage marks a transition into a different phase of life from the former. Among the culture of the Americans, it is an important transition into adulthood. The article also tries to point out the rituals involved before marriage among the Americans which include the kind of dress worn, make ups, the hairstyle of the bride among other effects that enhances her beauty.

With time, the families and neighbors lost influence on the couple who are to get married, propriety standards which were respectable informed the courtship behaviors as individuals moved from the traditional practices to the modern dating practices. During the period of the civil war, courtship in America was an entirely different from the subsequent ones. During the period, men would make explicit calls to the house of the girl he thought was suitable. The activities that took place at this particular time included, reading out loud some phrases in a poem or novel, play games, or give recitals while playing the piano. During courtship, parents gave their children time and privacy to court alone often leaving them alone trusting that their behaviors would be informed. With the progress during the century, new opportunities emerged with the empowerment of women to join schools and colleges. Men could meet potential wives in colleges, at the place of work, entertainment joints like dance halls also offered opportunities for interaction.

With time, the traditional courtship faded away some were integrated into the modern way of wooing a partner. This was influenced by popular magazines and dating columns which led to the emerging couples to stop courting instead they started going for dates which were entirely different from courting. Dating was different with courting in that they involved the use of a lot of money in taking your partner out, they also did not focus more on the long-term commitment. In almost all the instances, dating took place in public in the view of everybody. The changes reached a peak during what is known in America as a Sexual Revolution, during the period and to the present, women started to pay the bills incurred during a dinner, the women could easily ask a man out on a date among other changes.

From an outsider’s perspective where couples are used to the arranged marriages, the system seems strange to the Indians. Among the Indians, arranged marriages are the foundation of the Indian families. Among the youth of India, they favor the arranged marriages since it helps them focus more on their vigorous activities without worrying about the relationship and the future partners. The couples argue that unlike the west and USA that you know someone’s character fast then you settle down with them, in India you marry someone first then learn after marriage to love them.

The West practice of courting to know whether the two of you have a typical live-in relationship seems strange to the people of India. The kind of marriage in America is somehow shocking when looked into from the perspective of the arranged marriage practiced in India, the latter always end up in a long and happy marriage as the couples learn to love and appreciate each other unlike meeting in schools and places of work where some people can fake loving you. Marriages in such areas are based on commitments unlike the ones in the west which are solely reliant on the feelings which might wane away thus increasing the level of divorce. When it comes to marriages among the west like America, it has always been between two consenting adults, unlike in India where it is a union between families. The relationship in the latter case is always between the girl and the man’s family while in the USA and mostly the West it is between two people who have developed some liking for each other.


This second part of the paper tries to shade more light on the plight the Muslim women undergo as a result of putting on a veil in public among the people who are non-Muslim. The debate in the Western world on the reason Muslim women are forced to wear veil has been rife in the recent decade. At any time when a female Muslim introduces herself in the western world without putting on the cover than there are some kinds of stereotypical like is she a Muslim? Wearing of veil alone make the western women who are non-Muslim to pass judgment on them as they pride themselves of not being Muslims.

Veiling is the type of clothing which covers a woman’s body from head to toe except hands, face, and feet, traditionally it included even the male wears among the Muslims but with then westernization; this has changed since men in the Arab region put on western clothes. The west view on veiling is of oppressed women whose duties were only to beautify their body at home as they wait for their husbands to come back from work. To the scholars, Muslim women were imprisoned by their husbands and acted as a source of entertainment since the only thing they did to quench the sexual need of the men, thus, they needed to awaken from the oppression the society put on them.

As westernization reached the peak due to the domination of Islamic society by the Europeans during independence struggle, the community suffered and lost self-confidence due to the biased judgment from the west. This has led to the copying of Western way of dressing, and they insisted on unveiling as a show of a free and educated woman as if unveiling has a connection with pursuing education. Western scholars have been criticizing Muslim on issues of veiling and women oppression while in the real sense, they too are victims of such practices mostly oppression of women. For example they have penned down a lot of the troubled women in Islamic society in polygamous marriages while this might be true to some extent, they ignore the troubles Mistresses undergo in their society some with children born outside the legal marriage. This clearly shows the double speak in criticizing the Islam culture as some of the practices being criticized are carried out in their society.

Among the western women, wearing of the veil is a symbol of oppression and ignorance,  this has made the Muslim women undergo through mental torture as they will have to put more energy into reasonable people, with rational and literate students, the veil is only a part of their culture. The veil to the Muslim society has remained as a symbol of their culture in the 19th century while the West sees it as an entirely different symbol. The veil is as old as the Islam religion itself, and the Muslim women have always practiced veiling since time immemorial (Wagner, 2012).


The idea of courtship and marriages vary from one culture to the other as seen in the two different case studies in the first part. The circumstances change people’s beliefs and practices, but the underlying factor that cuts across both is the social identity and responsibility that come with marriage. In the second part, Muslim women face a lot of predisposed conclusion due to the veiling that they practice as demonstrated. The differences in the two should be understood, and application of biased judgment on one’s culture just because it contradicts your way of life should not be the case. The summary of the two papers have impacted me with a clear understanding of cultural relativism and that it does exist even within the highest ranked institutions in our society.



Buckley, E. (2013). A Cross-Cultural Study of Weddings through Media and Ritual: Analyzing Indian and North American Weddings. McNair Scholars Journal, 10(1), 3.

Wagner, W., Sen, R., Permanadeli, R., & Howarth, C. S. (2012). The veil and Muslim women’s identity: Cultural pressures and resistance to stereotyping. Culture & Psychology, 18(4), 521-541.


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