Tag Archives: sociology

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.

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Women in Government–If this were a survey, the results would be rubbish!

Women are dramatically underrepresented in our government. They share this under representation with other minority groups (and I’m using that term in its sociological definition—a group that is subset from the social majority which holds most of the power in a society—and not it’s “popular” definition [and I say that with as much feigned-butsortofactual-disdain as possible] of numerical majority, since, you know, women are the numerical majority *phew*).

This is a problem. It’s sad that I even need to say that. Or that there may be people reading this that disagree.

In 2013, women make up 18.3% of the U.S. Congress. There are only 5 female Governors. That’s 10% guys.

50.8% of the U.S. population is female!

Oh, and don’t sit nice and comfy in front of your computer thinking haughtily “at least the U.S. is better than other places.” Oh no…Oh no honey, it isn’t though. According to the UN’s infographic Women in Politics 2012, we place 78th in a ranking of countries by women in congress. That’s 78th place after other places tie with each other. We actually tie too–with Turkmenistan.

If you’re one of those people who think Muslim women are super oppressed in “their own” countries, I’ll be glad to burst your superiority bubble. Of the 15 countries with the highest populations of Muslims in the world, 9, (N-I-N-E!) beat us when it comes to female representation in government. In fact, most of the nations we deem “developing countries” beat us as well!

Now, discussions like this tend to start leaning towards the idea of biological and set femininity—that women are better at handling issues related to women because it’s something inherent in them. I’d like to break that part of the discussion right now. According to Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children 2007,

“Women are often exposed to different patterns of socialization and have different life experiences than men and are likely to bring their experience and expertise to bear on their political decisions. While important changes have been taking place over the past few decades, in most countries, women still bear the main caregiving responsibilities for their families, including children and the elderly” (54).

These patterns of socialization are also why women are less likely to run for office. Many women aren’t socialized to think they can hold a political office, so they don’t strive for it as much as men who are socialized to think they can. The effect of this socialization floods into many other fields (STEM, I’m looking at you! >.>)

A good way to think about the problem of under representation of women in government lies in sociological research. The idea that a sample must be an accurate representation of the total population being researched is constantly drilled into the Sociology student’s head. In order to collect data from a sample (the group of people who were picked to participate) that actually represents the total population, you need to make sure that it’s made up of individuals that actually match the characteristics of the population.

If you’re doing a study that isn’t about gender or race, and you want to make sure these variables don’t disproportionately affect your results, there are sampling methods to help you do this.  One is especially good at representing the ideas of the total population as a whole, by making sure the proportions of people in the sample are the same as in the population—it’s called proportionate stratified sampling. If 10% of a certain population is female, 10% of your sample should be randomly selected females. If 20% of the population is white, 20% of the sample is white.

If, however, a researcher wanted to know how the opinions of different genders or races differ, you need to have a sample size of each category so you have enough data from each to do a comparison (this could be used if, say, you wanted to do a survey on women’s vs. men’s opinions in the field of engineering). This is called disproportionate stratified sampling.

The key with disproportionate stratified sampling is, you want more opinions from a certain group.

Hehehee, the only public domain picture I could find was of one of former President Bush's State of the Union addresses, though, he did appoint Condeleeza Rice as Secretary of State, so perhaps he applies more positively than one may think to this post.

Hehehee, the only public domain picture I could find was of one of former President Bush’s State of the Union addresses, though, he did appoint Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, so perhaps he applies more positively than one may think to this post.

Hopefully, you can see how I think this applies to the government. If the sample (elected officials) is unrepresentative of the population (the U.S. citizens), how can their ideas truly represent the whole? Spoiler: they can’t. No, the “sample” has a disproportionate number of men than the total population, and that metaphorically makes it a disproportionate stratified sample. Their opinions are inordinately overrepresented. Unfortunately, “unrepresentative” in that first sentence applies to literal government representation—elected officials are meant to carry out the will of the citizens who elect them.

Some may say “Men can represent women just as well as women can!” That could be and in some cases is very true! Unfortunately, most of the men in government simply don’t pay enough attention to issues that affect women. That Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children 2007 thing from earlier also stated,

“A study of legislatures in the United States, for example, found that women feel a special responsibility to represent other women and consider themselves more capable of representing their interests ” (54).

Women don’t just think they are more capable of representing other women’s interests, they really do represent them. According to the UN’s infographic Women in Politics 2012, of the 1065 portfolios held by Women Ministers (in government, of course), in 188 countries, 98 fell in the category of “Social Affairs” (9.2%), 79 in the category of “Family/Children/Youth/Elderly/Disabled” (7.4%), 73 in the category of “Women’s Affairs/Gender Equality” (6.9%), and 68 in “Education” and in “Employment/Labour/Vocational Training” (6.4%).

Women in government truly do advocate for other women (though, it should be noted, although women are more likely than men to advocate for women’s issues, not all women advocate for women’s issues.)

So don’t let your subconscious prejudices hold you back—go out and vote for your qualified female mayors, representatives, senators, and governors!

Shakespeare: Covert Sociologist? [edited to add a response to Tough Guise]

[The bit of this post in brackets was added after I realized it didn’t quite fill a class requirement. This post was apparently meant to be a response to the film Tough Guise, a movie about the ways men are gendered in Western society, and the negative products of that gendering.

A big part of the movie is that men are taught to “perform” their gender a certain way (thus the long post on dramaturgical analysis. Though we didn’t watch the whole movie in class, the bits that we did watched seemed decent in terms of basic facts and figures. Nothing we watched really surprised me much (I was already relatively familiar with gender statistics on crime, and many of the other subjects he mentioned), but one point seemed quite interesting: when crime committed by a male is reported in the media, his gender is rarely brought up as a topic of conversation. However, if a crime is committed by a female, it is seen as less common because of her gender, and this piece of information is often brought up.

Overall, I’m sure the movie has done a lot of good by opening up the eyes of students unfamiliar with the topic. A downside to the movie, though, was the speaking style of the man who lectured through it (Jackson Katz). His speech was full of pauses and abrupt stops that made it difficult to focus on what he was saying, because how he was saying it was distracting. I fear that this could affect how receptive students are to his message, because it makes him sound like he’s not confident about his subject matter.

Now, onto the performance of gender!]

 

In my Intro to Sociology class, taken at a community college near my high school (dual counting credits, yay!), we were taught the concept of “dramaturgical analysis, the study of social interaction in terms of theatrical performance” (Macionis 2011:101).
It is the idea that people interact with one another through social scripts they have been taught. Macionis says that we use different costumes, props, and demeanor to carry out these roles, and that we change these things depending on our set.

Basically, it’s a sociological theory for what Shakespeare meant when he said “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”

This idea may seem silly to people that have just heard of it, but with examples, it becomes more tangible.
If your friend raised their hands to be called on while you were hanging out, it would be out of place. Why is this? What if a stranger started telling you about their love life? Would this be different than listing to the same information from a close friend? If your Chemistry teacher suddenly decided that, today they will lecture on religion, would that seem odd?
Have you ever seen a girl wearing “party” clothes during the day, and judged her for her seemingly out of place clothing? What if your professor came to class in academic regalia, or the student serving your lunch today was wearing a ball gown? What if your doctor wore jeans and a t-shirt instead of scrubs or lab coats?
What if that same doctor was carrying around a boombox? Would it be weird to see someone chillin’ in the club wearing a fully packed backpack? If someone in your lecture hall held up a sign cheering on the teacher, would that be strange?

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/

Creative Commons Attribution: Sarah G, flicker
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dm-set/
If your doctor has this in his office, he’s using the wrong script altogether.

Do you change your voice when you talk to babies and animals? If you ever “mouth off” to your parents, would you use that tone with your teachers? When you’re walking with a group of friends do you pay as much attention to your surroundings and walk as quickly as you would if you were walking home at night?
Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. There are specific “scripts,” “costumes,” “props,” and “demeanors,” for specific social situations.

Hopefully you can also see why this applies to a Women’s & Gender studies class. Our social performances are often very related to our genders, in fact, gender itself is regarded as a performance (as a disclaimer, my discussion of this is very Western-centric).

Our costumes are obviously different—any trip through a department store (especially the children’s section) can show you that. Women may wear jeans these days, but most of our clothing is thinner, tighter, and shows more skin than “men’s wear”. Even plain t-shirts are different in the men’s in women’s sections, with men’s t-shirts usually reaching the very base of the neck, and women’s t-shirts sitting along the collarbone. Detailing such as lace, scallops, ruffles, bows and ruching are virtually nonexistent on men’s clothes these days. Colors are often softer in women’s clothing, and pinks and purples are definitely harder to find in the men’s section. If you want to read more from me about gendered costuming, head over to my article on skirts and printed-ts!

Women carry purses, but it was a huge cultural push just to make men carrying messenger bags seem normal (you know, the “man purse”). If a woman grabbed out a compact mirror on the bus, she would definitely not get as much attention for it as a man doing the same. Many men carry folding wallets, but a large trend these days for women is long billfolds that need a purse to transport, or function as a small clutch. In a wedding, women carry a bouquet (why?), and her bridesmaids may also carry one, but the groom and his groomsmen don’t carry such a “prop.”

Women are taught to carry themselves differently—their role’s demeanor is different. Women are told to cross their legs when they sit, but men may be ridiculed for this. A highly prized trait in a woman is grace of movement, while boys are taught the ideal is to be gruff, ruff&tumble sorts. Women are taught to take up less space, and men are taught to take up more (though I personally think we should all be taught to take up less space because it’s polite >.>). “Feminine” voices are supposed to be soft, lower pitched, and pleasant, but “shrill” and “loud” girls are annoying. “Masculine” voices are deep and powerful. A man with a lower pitched voice may be accused of being gay because our culture associates certain vocal qualities as traits of gay men.

An important and incredibly gendered social script is the marriage proposal. The man gets the ring. The man gets on one knee. The man asks the woman to marry him. The woman excitedly cries yes. This is a western idea fed to us from childhood.

These ideas about gendered performance limit both men and women. When there is a set list of ideas about the character of men and women, it makes any variations jarring and seemingly out of place. We humans don’t like to be made uncomfortable, and we’re also very good at separating people that are different from the “normal” and dominant group. If these set lists and expectations for male and female social performances were loosened, if we were taught not to expect them so much, we would lessen a source of discomfort, intolerance, and hatred.

I try to make a conscious effort to understand what I am thinking, and to recognize when I am acting based on my expected gender role. I heard somewhere I can’t quite place (and would cite if I could remember), that even if you continue to do something you know is gendered (like shaving your legs if you’re a girl), it’s better (maybe even okay) if you at least question yourself and try to understand the reason you’re doing it. I think this helps break down “the rules” of social performance, because if you can understand why you perform the way you do, you can try to understand another person’s reasons for doing things differently.

So go forth and question your performance!

(Macionis, John J. 2011. Society: the basics. 11th ed. Boston: Prentice Hall.)