Category Archives: Non-Assigned Blogs (rants, if you will)

Disrespect of the Hijab and Non-American Cultures in General (Ugh…just ugh)

A few weeks ago, my W&G studies class watched a video about the burqa (oh hey look, that word isn’t in the Microsoft Office 2013 dictionary) and life for Muslim women in a particular country (can’t quite remember which).

I tried finding the title online, but alas, it was one among many in the long line of videos and articles documenting the Western fascination with clothing of religious modesty—a fascination that often has Westerners stumbling clumsily in its attempt to understand.

After nearly 20 minutes of various key-word searching I found nothing except some additionally annoying article. Like this one, for example. It was one of many, “non-muslim girls going out in hijab” articles. Now, some of these articles are enlightening and non-offensive, but alas, this one was the opposite.

The writer compared a burqa wearer to the Grim Reaper and scoffed at the idea of a burqa with fashion sleeves. (Un)fortunately the writer was an equal-opportunity offender, stating that she dressed up as a pregnant nun for Halloween. Classy. Another gem among the awfulness was something I’ll add in full quotes for emphasis.

“I didn’t realize the significance of visiting one of the tallest buildings in New York dressed in Islamic garb until we reached the entrance. I felt like a jerk.”

So, I’m getting that the implication is Muslim women shouldn’t visit tall buildings?

To add a bit more richness to the crap that was this article, a response article by Vice staff and the original author was made against the criticism. They mock their critics by claiming that it was a sociological experiment. As a student of Sociology, I find this to be total bullshit. There was barely an ounce of scientific methodology in what they did. It is frustrating that an academic discipline I find so wonderful was dragged into this mess and made to seem unscientific (as if being a social science hasn’t given it enough crap to deal with already).

Also, big surprise here, the garment she was wearing wasn’t even a burqa. Despite her claim that she extensively google-searched the subject and she specified in her article that it was an abaya, she continued to refer to it as a burqa (she also added a niqab, which isn’t an actual part of the abaya, but an additional piece of clothing).

Let me school you up, guys. “Burqa” is not a catch all term for any form of Muslim female dress. If you must mash them all up into one category, at least use the term “hijab.”

Now, some of you that have slight knowledge of the subject may be thinking, “but wait, I thought that’s just a headscarf.” Well, no. The term hijab generally refers to the idea of a sense of modesty that Muslim women (and, as I understand it, men) should possess, and specifically to the kind of scarf that serves only to cover the head. The burqa is a form of hijab, as is the niqab (covers the face except for the eyes).

In her big ‘ol response to critics she admits that she incorrectly called the garment a burqa, so I guess that’s a minor plus, but she argues that if it had been a burqa she would have gotten the same response. She tries to make the point that if people had reacted differently, then it would have been simply a fashion blog. This explanation just seems to fall short. Derailment anyone? And she tries to say she “was in no way making any kind of statement about Muslim women or Islam,” but her irrelevance for their culture shone through the whole article.

Personally removing the symbolism of something does not achieve a thing. No matter what one’s personal belief is, to a large number of people, the hijab has weight and meaning, just Catholic rosaries, Native American headdresses, U.S. purple hearts, white wedding dresses, and Olympic medals carry weight and meaning for many. Failing to hold the proper reverence for something important to a culture simply offends. For some reason, being irreverent and offensive, or mocking political correctness, is cool now. People seem to believe that being confident and not caring what other people thing is an excuse for ignorant actions that make other people uncomfortable. This is incredibly frustrating.

Every hipster wearing war bonnet, pop-star wearing a bindi, or white girl covered in wedding henna she got from a festival is contributing to a culture that disregards and disrespects other cultures (these examples are specifically examples of cultural appropriation, which you can read more about it here  and here and see here).

This just further emphasizes the “AMERICA IS #1” attitude these “totally multicultural appreciation appropriation” people are trying to dispel.

*Sigh*

I think my next post will be about my personal journey with the hijab, or my initial struggle accepting the idea of white privilege and cultural appropriation.

Advertisements

The Girl that was Raised by…BOOKS! Part 2 of 3

As I grew older, my historical novels became more in-depth and realistic. My literary choices in other genres also matured.

I read almost every book by Meg Cabot. Her books are like chocolate chip cookies: the majority of the stories are a romance plot, but there are little nuggets of feminist topics here and there. These bits of difficult topics included discussion of female masturbation, birth control access, and politics  (in the novel All American Girl), peer pressure (How to be Popular), model culture (Airhead), and full-on obvious feminism (The Princess Diaries, the books didn’t involve Mia’s dramatic transformation, her Grandmother is not portrayed as the stereotypical nurturing matron, and there are a handful of self-identified feminist characters). I also loved The Mediator and 1-800-Where Are You series, but that’s another topic.

Creative Commons Attribution: Farrahsanjari, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/farrahsanjari/with/5674100812/ It's okay, these stereotypically feminine items are probably the work of Mia's awful (in the book) grandmother :P

Creative Commons Attribution: Farrahsanjari, flicker
http://www.flickr.com/photos/farrahsanjari/with/5674100812/

It’s okay, these stereotypically feminine items are probably the work of Mia’s awful (in the book) grandmother 😛

In middle school, my librarian granted me permission to read Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak because, to paraphrase greatly, she thought I was more capable of handling the mature themes than most other students. It was one of the first books that taught me what violent mental damage rape does. My first knowledge of date rape came from a book titled The Earth, My Butt, and other Big Round Things, which also dealt with body image.

Above all books in the “serious life stuff” genre that seems to be sweeping across young adult literature, is 13 Reasons Why. It was a book that truly illustrated how every encounter with others shapes who a person becomes and what they do with their future, and its message lives deep within my psyche.
I believe this novel had an impact on my path to feminism (and sociology, for that matter) because it showed how interactions others see as small and insignificant (“is calling someone slut really all that bad?”) have consequences that reach far beyond the simple actions. The book and its ties to issues of feminism are incredibly complex. The main plot of the book is that a girl, Hannah Baker, commits suicide, but before she does, makes a set of cassette tapes explaining the reasons that led her to that choice. It begins with a story about the boy who she shared her first kiss with making up a rumor that she did more. Throughout the book her reasons (that are very related to gendered expectations) pile on. Some of the reasons she gives are her humiliation about public judgment of the sexual appeal of her body, a peeping tom, a boy who assumes she will do more with him sexually because of her reputation as a “slut”, her guilt for not stopping the rape of her friend, public dismissal of her potential suicide, and unwanted sexual contact from a boy who doesn’t ask if she wants it or not (because of her reputation). The book is a haunting example of the dangers of slut shaming.

My literary tastes took also took a big turn that is, in hindsight, quite political and philosophical. I acquired a taste for post-apocalyptic and dystopian future books. The Shadow Children series was arguably the beginning of my formulation of opinion about a woman’s rights regarding her pregnancy. The Giver also made me think about my own culture’s model of childbirth (though the book was very much not in favor of alternatives). I also ate up The Uglies series, which contains several complexities, among them beauty standards, ethics, and a theme of questioning the judgment of authorities.

Stick around! There’s one more post in this series, and I have some school blog assignments left!

The Girl that was Raised by…BOOKS! Part 1 of 3

A few weeks ago my W&G studies class did an exercise that involved listing the people who had part in socializing us into our genders. It was through this exercise that I realized something big on a personal level: books and other media had more influence on my higher mental growth than the people I had face to face interaction with as I grew up.

I’m not saying they had a bigger influence on who I am overall: there are parts of my essential being that became rooted in me long before I could read. Basic survival and academic skills were taught by my family and teachers, as were experiences that cannot have the same effect on an individual if simply read in a book.

There is, however, something about the way I grew up that made me different from my family. A large portion of my values are different from the people I was in contact with from childhood to the brink of young adulthood. An even larger portion of my knowledge was gained from sources other than my family or my school. My ambition and expectations for my life and my beliefs about existence are alien from the surroundings I had.

This other influence was, as I said, the books, magazines, movies and TV shows whose information I consumed with a voracious appetite. An anecdotal demonstration of the volume of books I read is that, one summer, my local library allowed me to check out 100 books at once, all of which I read (except for the Gossip Girl series, which I skimmed). When I came home from school, my free time was spent watching TV, and, as I grew older, reading.

Creative Commons Attribution: Wonderlane, www.flickr.comphotoswonderlane3909074244

Creative Commons Attribution: Wonderlane, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/wonderlane/

Media was an escape from my unpleasant station in life. There were many times when my reality literally slipped away from my perception—I was left behind in the library several times until my elementary school teacher realized she had lost a kid. Through the pages of books and the smooth glass of the television screen, I gained perspectives that I could not have encountered in my reality.

It was these media that introduced me to feminism. The most obvious example of a feminist influence on my young mind, was a magazine my elementary school inexplicably stocked (I grew up in a conservative area) that I only recently realized was explicitly feminist: New Moon. It featured an advice column that gave healthy advice to young girls, a section called “herstory”, information about physical issues girls face, and articles about important issues that were written purely by the young readers of the magazine. (If you want to get a subscription for a little girl in your life, just click the link here!)

There were countless, less obvious examples as well.

I burned through my libraries’ copies from the Dear America and The Royal Diaries series, and many miscellaneous historical fictions. Nearly all were written from the point of view of female protagonists, and though they were fictional representations of girls during their times, they were strong, brave, smart, and important. They faced obstacles related to their gender that often seemed foreign, but sometimes hit near to my reality. The injustices they faced made my fragile and developing sense of injustice boil.

It was through these books that I learned about my culture’s history with gender—from the treatment of women in Greece (discovered through a Magic Tree House book)—to the treatment of female factory workers. In a side note, the latter was learned in one of the most poignant novels in the young adult historical fiction genre that I have ever read: Uprising. It was about three girls who perished in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (the story still gives me goose bumps thinking about it today).
Throughout my reading, I encountered strong female role models. The widely adventurous Ms. Frizzle, teacher in The Magic School Bus series, was a favorite character of mine in elementary school. Leslie from Bridge to Teribithia was different and not afraid of her difference. Ella from Ella Enchanted did not need the prince to save her, she did it by her own will.

Creative Commons Attribution: electrictuesday, flicker www.flickr.comphotosdiscodoll4247118823

Creative Commons Attribution: electrictuesday, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/discodoll/

Above all, Hermione from Harry Potter was my greatest fictional role model. She was intelligent, clever, strong, and fiercely loyal. These were not just additions to an already conventionally pleasing character either. She wasn’t initially a conventionally pretty young girl, and she wasn’t well liked by her peers (she was a teacher’s pet and a know it all). Despite the initial low esteem she had among her peers, she did amazing and brave things. By the end of the series matured into a well-rounded individual and maintained her identity even as she began to develop romantic relationships. She was my hero.

These texts are where the feminist in me was born.

The Skirt: Like seriously guys, grow up.

Ni hao! (I’m learning Chinese, let me practice!).

So, with all this talk in class and readings about gender, socialization, and all that jazz, gendered clothing has really been at the forefront of my mind.

I wear skirts. A lot.

I think maybe a reason this topic has been sticking in my brain is because I’m getting a bit defensive. There’s this idea in my head of judgmental feminist overlords that will chastise me for my clothing decisions, or perhaps do so internally with a *tisktisktisk* about how naïve and incapable of breaking free of gendered standards I am. I know this is (probably, for the most part, I hope) a fictitious creation stemming from my own insecurity, but nevertheless, I am defensive.

Judgey person
This…this is what the overlords look like. Feel the disdain?

Whenever I’m in a tiz about something, or I’m afraid of people’s judgment, I think about conversations I would have with someone that confronts me. A conversation with the imaginary force I described in the paragraph above goes something like this:

Them: Why are you wearing a skirt? That is sooo gender normative.
Me: Oh yeah? Well that’s pretty ethnocentric. Where did you even get that t-shirt and those jeans? Was it from the juniors section? The women’s section? Maybe the petites? Why do you buy clothing in specifically gendered areas? That sparkly batman logo sure looks androgynous. Why is it a problem that I wear a skirt? That implies that females are gendered incorrectly, what if it’s men who are gendered incorrectly into not wearing skirts? Do you know skirts actually make more sense for men to wear because they’re better for sperm count?…

Aaand so on until I make myself actually angry at the imagined foe I am hurling my words at.

So, this is not so much of a conversation, and is probably something I would never do in real life.

I guess my worry is that even if I did have logical well thought out reasons, I would be so taken aback by someone tactless enough to say something like that to me, that I just want to have something prepared so I don’t stare back in gape-mouthed stupidity.

But I think my word soup of indignant anger up there actually has some good points.
1. Almost every single clothing item someone wears is gendered.
Even plain, solid colored t-shirts are altered to be feminine. Different fabrics are used, different edge detailing, different shades of colors, different cuts (though that part may be because of the shape the “average” female has that differs from men). Women’s jeans have different sizing logic, colors, detailing, and styles (as well as different names for similar styles). Shoes are either “female sized” or “male sized”.
The worst example of gendering clothes, to me, is the altering of licensed clothing for the female market. Licensed clothing is clothing items that feature elements from TV shows, movies, video games, etc. Color differences are huge. Pastel blue for superman shirts (because god forbid a woman wears bold blue), pinks in the batman logo and the Big Bang Theory “BAZINGA”, etc. etc.
It seems worse that people think something that already exists isn’t feminine enough, and purposely alters it so it will be “appropriate” to grace a female body.
I actually buy my nerdy t-shirts in the “men’s” section. I want my Spock to stay Spock, with shirt colors that reflect his Starfleet division, not colors altered to be “girly” enough for my oh-so-fragile body.
2. I think I could successfully argue that it is not so much that people are taught to understand skirts as something girls are supposed to wear, as much as something boys AREN’T supposed to wear. It is the socialization of the male gender that is incorrect. Skirts are objectively an advantageous form of body covering. They are cooler than shorts in the summer (shorts just mean more fabric is smothering my poor body), they’re easy to put on and to move around in, and they require less fabric, skill, and time to make (and thus should be cheaper). I’ve even read that they are better for sperm count in men, which makes them seem the logical choice as a gendered item for men. Which brings me to my next point…
3. It is a modern, western idea that skirts are for girls.
Think about the ancient Greeks, Romans (and though non-western, Egyptians). Picture what someone in that culture looked like. What are they wearing?
Then there’s the obvious: kilts.
Furthermore, varieties of sarong-like “skirts” are worn by men in India and parts of Africa, and pretty much every “loincloth” is, in essence, a skirt.
This article does a much better job of explaining the “only women should wear skirts” fallacy. It’s apparently information for hikers, but the first bit is all about the history of the masculine skirt. Seriously, it’s super interesting. Click on it. Here it is again, just to make sure you have tons of opportunities to click on it.
4. Some of the rigidity of gender is still being held up by the feminist side of thing, though not in the dynamic of my imaginary fight. No, it is not the women still wearing skirts that are holding us back, but the people like this author that use stereotypes as humor and accidentally reinforce gender norms (and accomplish extra horribleness by vulgarly making fun of other cultures in the process). Ohhh, the problematic Jezebel, full of articles written by the very people I am afraid to meet in person (possibly the kind I run through imaginary fights with, like the above). From white lady savior complexes about hijabs, to *tisktisking* about how naïve the participants in Lolita fashion are, to pretty much anything they don’t understand and take from the point of view of Western ideas values. But this is all for another article.

Whelp, that’s enough for now.
Keep reading guys. I promise I’ll work very hard to make it interesting and more like a real conversation than a regurgitation and summary of ideas on a half-hearted homework assignment.