The Clash of Tradition and Modernization


The image of the Circassian kitchen depicts the traditional and the modern in stark contrast with one another. In the foreground, partially prepared food rests on a floral patterned cloth in a wooden box. In the background, a large metal refrigerator holds ingredients for future cooking. Functionality likely plays a large role in the decision to incorporate new pieces or retain old ones. The use of modern kitchen equipment makes the creation of food more efficient, and keeps unfinished product from spoiling as quickly. The retention of the wooden trays and fabric gives them a connection to the way making food used to be, and converting to another newer system would probably not significantly improve their productivity or the quality of their product, but may make these Circassian women feel somewhat disconnected from their heritage.

The way that the women are dressed also represents a blend between traditional and modern attire. Aside from their traditional head coverings, the women are clothed head to foot in Western style clothing. Incorporating pants into their wardrobe allows these women to retain their modesty while also quickly and efficiently cooking large quantities of food. Wearing a long skirt instead would probably become tedious and difficult relatively quickly, which is probably why this aspect of the traditional clothing is not adhered to.

One might look at a kitchen manned entirely by women as being sexist, yet this setup may provide the women with a safe area to relax and conduct themselves as they choose. The women working in this kitchen have shared experiences and hardships, and the fact that they have a place that is free of men to bond and feel safe is probably quite important and reassuring to them. In this way, the tradition that women belong in the kitchen may seem rude and sexist to a Westerner viewing this image, but may create a safe haven in which these Circassian women are able to let down their guard and be themselves. This is a place where the traditional interpretation of being a woman meets with the modern one, and a place where stereotypical gender roles serve to create a safe space for women to embrace who they are and how they feel.

5 thoughts on “The Clash of Tradition and Modernization

  1. Peter Fonda

    For my research I wrote about the Uighur peoples of Xinjiang Province, China, and the challenges they face in maintaining their culture in the face of religious and cultural oppression. Like the Circassian peoples, the Uighur’s attempt to maintain their culture in the modern world, with industrialization, mining, technology, and, in their case, government oppression standing in the way of preserving their heritage. Two extremely important cultural components of Uighur culture, and two of the best known, are their worship of Islam and their Persian-inspired carpets. This picture reminded me of the crossroads that many of their carpet-makers find themselves in, with many of the most talented ones being moved from their familial shops to state-run factories to mass-produce carpets and rugs for domestic and international consumption. Both groups, along with many other ethinc groups find themselves at a crossroads between further modernity, and the possible erosion of their culture, and the benefits that globalization and possible higher standards of living affords.

  2. Tyler Greening

    Your analysis of this image is intriguing and I like the points you bring up. In relation to your functionality comment, I think the phrase “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” really applies even though it’s very American. I also was interested in their clothing here and wondered how common it was for women today to mix traditional clothing and modern (like the jeans you mentioned) or if this is a thing that was specifically adopted into a working woman’s lifestyle. Do many Jordanian women work? If so, do they work in what we would consider to be traditionally female roles or are they allowed more freedoms?

  3. Justin Waite

    You bring up several very good points in the Western ideology of this image as compared to the truth meaning. One of the big ideas in regards to ethnic minorities in China, is how do you define modern as compared to authentic? As Westerners, we often view people that are not as “modern” as us, as backwards individuals. In regards to this image, when you make the claim “In this way, the tradition that women belong in the kitchen may seem rude and sexist to a Westerner viewing this image”, I think you are absolutely correct. But the thing is, we as Westerners don’t know what their culture is, and why they do what they do. You quickly support the justification in this image, which is important and really helps identify this image as more of a cultural authenticity in the way in which women are employed in their culture.

    Of course, some women may feel oppressed in their own culture, which certainly drives towards the issue of becoming more “modern” and culturally aware. I just feel that for so long of the same practice, in the same culture, breaking authenticity of a culture to satisfy the rest of the worlds modernization is destructive to that culture as a whole. Very good analysis of this image, and I like that you acknowledge both sides in interpretation of the image.

  4. Kyra Daniels

    I find your perspective on this topic to be very interesting. It’s hard to tell if this image truly is inductive of sexism or not. The only way I feel we would be able to truly tell is from interviewing the women and asking their opinions on the subject. As you point out we can’t just label it as sexist without understanding their culture and opinions first.

  5. George Foss

    Overall, I think you did a excellent job with your dissection of the image and the conveyance of its themes. It is very intriguing to the ways in which a culture is able to utilize modern technology whilst retaining its core values and practices, as well as how the classification of what is “sexist” is truly dependent on the culture it is observed in.


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