What exactly is the Western World?

The term Western is a loaded word. In contemporary usage, it refers to Western civilization. It includes writing, art, culture, and much more from the Greeks, Romans, Germans, and Americans among many others. However, it is important to note its exclusionary connotations. For example, in the Twitter Moment above, a headline about the potential decline of the “human” race, a study shows the decline in sperm levels of Western men. The crux here, as CNN points out, who exactly is a western man?

The exclusion of Asian men (Eastern culture) is almost—I tread lightly here because there have been massive contribution to Western thought, literature, and civilization by Eastern culture—a given. As connotated by the cultural binary between the West and East there is an immediate division drawn between the two. Not that this division is all that clear in certain respects but we are focusing on who the term West or Western encompasses or excludes. It is a given that it would exclude the East. However, does the term Western automatically exclude South America and Africa as the above Moment and several articles from sources like CNN and BBC represented in their reporting?

Using the term West or Western to denote a certain culture is complex and misleading. If the dichotomy of East and West is a natural one, then why don’t we have Northern and Southern dichotomy? This Northern/Southern cultural division would encompass the contributions of Southern society and Northern society as separate entities or bodies of work. It doesn’t exist because geography has rarely stopped the shared expression of cultural, linguistic, and artistic expression. Geography can isolate communities, but the greater anthropological forces of movement and communication have tended towards sharing and borrowing ideas, words, and technology across geographical chasms. That said, including Australia and New Zealand into the Western canon while excluding Indonesia, for example, is extremely problematic geographically speaking. Clearly, the East/West divide is not based on a geographical notion.

Another notion that many people fail to comprehend immediately when they hear the term West is that it is a multicultural, multilingual term. One would never think of excluding German, English, French, Greek, Italian or Latin from the term Western civilization. However, Spanish seems to be excluded from this Newsweek’s article “Western Men Could Struggle to Become Fathers as Sperm Count Halves in 40 Years.” The article states:

“The trends observed applied only to Western men, defined as coming from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Researchers did not observe a similar decline in non-Western men — those from Africa, Asia and South America”

BBC’s reports “Sperm count drop ‘could make humans extinct,’” apparently “humans” only inhabit, “North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand,” where, “Dr Levine, from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, found a 52.4% decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3% decline in total sperm count in men.”


Returning to the idea of excluding Spanish from the Western world, we see these articles apparently do not differentiate the West geographically because they include Australia and New Zealand. The exclusion then might be based on linguistic patterns as South America speak mostly Spanish and Portugues with pockets of indigenous languages and French, Dutch, etc. However, this demarcation for Western culture does not pass muster either if Western culture has been defined and sculpted by multilingualism.

If South America or Spanish/Portuguese do not qualify for Western culture or their men are not considered Western men, then do we exclude poets, actors, and painters from Western Culture. Pablo Picasso was a Spanish (Europe sure but he spoke Spanish) painter. Francisco Goya was a Spanish Painter. Shakira is a Colombian singer. José Marti was a Cuban poet. Che Guevara was Argentine. These are household names in Western culture. They are contributors to modern “Western” identity. They are not considered Eastern contributors nor do they come from a different tradition other different from North American or Europe. They simply speak or spoke Spanish.

On the exclusion of Africa, we would find it hard pressed to exclude Cleopatra and Egypt from the Western canon. Sure, Cleopatra was Greek, but papyrus, the precursor to paper, was an Egyptian contribution to Western culture. Not to mention, the religious implication of Egypt in Western Culture. Egypt is in Africa. Rome, indisputably connected to the West, conquered most of North Africa. Remember Carthage, that was Africa. Are we excluding, South Africa from the West? Mandela is an icon in Western popular culture.

Clearly, what that Twitter Moment and articles on the impending demise of humanity were speaking about was not Western men in general. It is a subsection of those Western men—if we can even use that term on a specific group. They were speaking about the affluent and, self-described, white men. Let’s be clear here, the alarmist language in those headlines isn’t about humanity. These headlines are a form of dog-whistle intended to be exclusionary by nature. Also, let’s be blunt here, the terms West and Western are not the sole property of the white man nor should they be used as such.