Feminism from an Equity Feminist

Though I agree with much of what Cathy Young has written on the most recent dust-up on feminism (and I believe that with but a few rejoinders many “gender feminists” would agree as well), I still find the binary problematic because it is so very reductive. Young and Hoff-Summers’ definitions of “gender feminism” don’t describe me at all, but I find little in the “equity feminist” camp that applies to me outside of the most basic philosophy.

Additionally, my post in question has been misread, often willfully, multiple times, so I feel the need to reiterate that my primary point was to vent my thoughts on the layers and layers of cultural and social politics at play in my student’s non-conformist assignment, and secondly to reconsider hijab as a cultural cue in a non-oppressive Western environment. I’m still baffled as to why my public wonderment is so controversial. Context is everything.

For me, if anything, this argument reconfirms that Americans are so uneducated about the cultural practices of others (judging from a large number of those who have chosen to weigh in on the comments here and elsewhere) that the reactionary is preferable to acknowledging that cultural cues have different meanings in different contexts.

And, for that matter, flippancy is easy.

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Lauren founded this blog in 2001.
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93 Responses

  1. Bill from INDC
    Bill from INDC December 14, 2005 at 11:22 am |

    Whatever.

  2. Lauren
    Lauren December 14, 2005 at 11:35 am |

    Oh, you suck.

  3. Jim H from Indiana
    Jim H from Indiana December 14, 2005 at 12:02 pm |

    Just a story to perhaps reinforce most Americans’ ignorance of other cultures.

    Washington D.C. is indeed a great American city and a huge melting pot of nationalities, cultures, etc. In town for my younger brother’s wedding, my other brother commented how much they loved the city, but hated the people. In response to my question of why, he said it was because too many people didn’t speak English!

    Of course, he and his family ate at McDonald’s and refused to eat at any of the outstanding ethnic restaurants in the area. [There was a top Thai place just done the road as well as wonderful Peruvian place with the best chicken!]

    Something comes to mind on this: There’s a whole lot more of ‘them’ than there is of ‘us.’

    IMHO, if you can’t understand the multi-culturality [is that a real word?] of the world, you damn sure can’t understand feminism and why it benefits men AND women!

  4. Shankar Gupta
    Shankar Gupta December 14, 2005 at 1:11 pm |

    Washington D.C. is indeed a great American city

    Washington DC reminds me of Calcutta.

  5. other ryan
    other ryan December 14, 2005 at 1:20 pm |

    I blame the suburbs. You can’t learn about different cultures when you’re so isolated that you only experience your own culture through television.

  6. flyinfur
    flyinfur December 14, 2005 at 1:44 pm |

    I am personally acquainted with people who have never traveled out of my midwestern state, much less out of the country…and of those people who HAVE traveled out of the country (or even out of state), how many have sought out different cultural experiences? There were a great number of my acquaintances who were terrified I’d be murdered, kidnapped, or raped when I went on trips to such places as France, Italy, or Mexico (no such worries when I went to Canada, I might add).

    I went on a business trip to Miami some years ago with a very tall psychologist who was terrified to leave the hotel because, in his words, he’d stick up so far above the crowd that someone was bound to shoot him.

    From what I’ve seen, people in general have little desire to experience other cultures, and in fact are frightened of other cultures.

  7. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 1:53 pm |

    There were a great number of my acquaintances who were terrified I’d be murdered, kidnapped, or raped when I went on trips to such places as France, Italy, or Mexico (no such worries when I went to Canada, I might add).

    Murder rate in Mexico: 0.13 per 1000
    Murder rate in Canada: 0.014 per 1000

    Ten times higher.

    Perhaps your acquaintances are rational risk assessers.

  8. #7buslady
    #7buslady December 14, 2005 at 2:17 pm |

    Murder rate in Mexico: 0.13 per 1000
    Murder rate in Canada: 0.014 per 1000

    Ten times higher.

    Perhaps your acquaintances are rational risk assessers.

    doubtful. especially since i’m sure our murder rate here in the u.s. is higher than canada’s. you don’t see hordes of people running for the canadian border to lower their chances of being murdered.

  9. karpad
    karpad December 14, 2005 at 2:33 pm |

    Robert, that doesn’t sound very rational at all.

    1 in 10000 aren’t very good odds for anything. You wouldn’t have surgery that had a .01 success rate.

    so, yeah, speaking in abstract statistics, Canada is 10 times safer than mexico.
    and watching TV in the living room is 10 times safer than being in the bathroom or going to the kitchen. but I’m still going to use the bathroom and maybe get another drink during the commercials.

    or do cross places off the list of areas you can live because of possible natural disasters? like “california’s out, because of earthquakes, and the east coast is out because they get hurricanes, plus I saw this documentary on discovery channel about “mega-tsunamis” and they say one is queued up to happen there any time. geologically speaking. and tornados are bad, so the midwest is out…”

  10. other ryan
    other ryan December 14, 2005 at 2:41 pm |

    Americans need to turn off the evening frightfest at 5 (FIRES! MURDERS! BLACK PEOPLE!), and actively seek out the real news. Local TV news is the most profitable media enterprise, and they have developed a literally captive audience for years by selling suburban Americans the myth of violent crime (which is much lower than polls show Americans believe), usually urban violent crime purpetrated by non-white men. Attention america – no, the boogy man is not waiting to gun you down the minute you step foot in a city or another country.

    Murder rates are hardly reletive to tourists anyway – most murderers know their victims. A more relevant stat to look at is auto deaths… touristy Ireland has a higher rate than the U.S., but people still flock there.

  11. zuzu
    zuzu December 14, 2005 at 3:45 pm |

    How do France and Italy rate?

  12. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 3:47 pm |

    Robert, that doesn’t sound very rational at all.

    1 in 10000 aren’t very good odds for anything.

    OK.

    There are two doors.

    If you walk through the first door, I will roll a 10,000-sided die (I game HARDCORE). If I roll a “1”, a mugger will blow your brains out.

    If you walk through the second door, I will roll a 100,000 sided die. Again, if a “1” is rolled, the mugger kills you.

    You must pick one door to walk through. Which door do you pick?

  13. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz December 14, 2005 at 3:58 pm |

    I’m picking which ever die lets me have access to warm beaches and margaritas. You can’t reduce the choice like that.

  14. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 4:01 pm |

    What does my alleged cultural ignorance have to do with my distaste of what is objectively a marginalizing socio-religious artifact? I admit I am also missing the connection between the supposed racists who flocked to this woman when she came forward on a more level cultural ground, and applauding the use of a cultural block as a middle finger to these folks, who actually found there was a person they could relate to there. How is that not an act of arrogantly-defiant antisocial behavior that reinforces an unnecessarily huge cultural gulf between these groups of people? Someone who wishes to convey the message that, “I could be like you, but I choose not to,” to folks who were open and accepting of them, is best categorized as an “asshole” IMO. In any case, I hope those girls become/remain friends regardless.

  15. The Countess
    The Countess December 14, 2005 at 4:02 pm |

    I noticed the same thing, Lauren, regarding the dichotomy. I wrote my own post about it. Feminism isn’t monolithic, and calling it “identity feminism” instead of “gender feminism” ignores that it isn’t monolithic. The discussion is still “views I like/views I don’t like”. I’ve tried to explain that on Protein Wisdom, but either no one understood it or they purposefully ignored it.

    I’m not even sure which type of feminism I am. I suppose I’m a liberal feminist, but I’m not sure. There are so many branches of feminism I don’t even know where to begin looking.

  16. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 4:08 pm |

    Getting back on to the thread topic:

    Lauren, maybe you’re sui generis.

    You’re an L-feminist.

  17. Thomas
    Thomas December 14, 2005 at 4:21 pm |

    Robert, are you asserting that the chance of being murdered is the only factor in someone’s choice to travel abroad?

    I’m thinking that often the most important factor is that the trip is a requirement of their business. After that, there’s the availability of entertainment, etc. Cost is a factor at some level for everyone. If people are making a rational calculation, risks in the neighborhood of one one-hundredth of a percent will factor in, but fairly low, and behind such considerations as the risk of a traffic accident on the trip to and from the airport and the risk of traffic accidents while there.

    Someone who believes that his height makes him more likely to be shot in a crowd is probably under the influence of an irrational fear.

  18. marjani
    marjani December 14, 2005 at 4:21 pm |

    Americans need to turn off the evening frightfest at 5 (FIRES! MURDERS! BLACK PEOPLE!),

    Local news is next to COPS the most depressing thing on tv. My family and I were watching the local news recently and there was this story about a man who had slept with young girls (disgusting) and new that he was hiv positive and did not use protection (twisted) AND he was black (sad). I mean who the hell wants to hear about that stuff.

    Must say though national news isn’t any better. Especially with the death row stories that seem to be filling the news lately. Oh backwards nation, how I love thee!

  19. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 4:28 pm |

    What does my alleged cultural ignorance have to do with my distaste of what is objectively a marginalizing socio-religious artifact? I admit I am also missing the connection between the supposed racists who flocked to this woman when she came forward on a more level cultural ground, and applauding the use of a cultural block as a middle finger to these folks, who actually found there was a person they could relate to there. How is that not an act of arrogantly-defiant antisocial behavior that reinforces an unnecessarily huge cultural gulf between these groups of people? Someone who wishes to convey the message that, “I could be like you, but I choose not to,” to folks who were open and accepting of them, is best categorized as an “asshole” IMO. In any case, I hope those girls become/remain friends regardless.

    Anyone who becomes defensive when they encounter that choice is not open and accepting. Her behavior is only anti-social in a context where being visibly Muslim is considered contrary to being a member of the community in good standing in a way that being visibly non-Muslim is not, despite the community’s religious and cultural diversity. She was not being divisive, merely criticizing divisive pressures. Nor was her persona without hijab neutral or “level,” but a temporary muting of herself in order to attain a different place in a decidedly fraught, hierarchialized system of religious and cultural affiliation. They accepted her because she made herself more like them; approached her because she presented herself on their terms. That’s not tolerance.

  20. other ryan
    other ryan December 14, 2005 at 4:34 pm |

    Thomas, you are laudibly calm and patient in your comments.

  21. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 4:42 pm |

    Thomas:
    Robert, are you asserting that the chance of being murdered is the only factor in someone’s choice to travel abroad?

    No. I’m asserting that 10 is larger than 1. This is apparently controversial.

    Piny:
    They accepted her because she made herself more like them; approached her because she presented herself on their terms. That’s not tolerance.

    I think it’s a kind of tolerance.

    Tolerance is really about costs. The more it costs other people to have you around (whether the costs are material/economic, psycho/social, whatever) then the more “tolerant” they are being if they do permit you to be around, rather than driving you out into the woods or what have you.

    My baby daughter’s presence delights me; she imposes no net psychic cost to have around. I don’t have to tolerate her. My wife and I get on each other’s nerves sometimes; we do have to tolerate one another over the long haul. One of my neighbors is a real nice single lady; it’s irritating when her friends park on the street but she doesn’t bother me much, so I have to tolerate her but it’s not difficult. The other neighbor is an asshole and his kids are mean to my kids and his Christmas lights are way better than mine and he has a boat; I hate that guy, and I tolerate him but it’s a lot harder.

    Let’s assume that my bad neighbor was worse in his behavior (or I had less patience) and so I wasn’t tolerating him; I was actively working to get him kicked out of the neighborhood, calling the cops whenever he does the slightest thing wrong, etc.

    Then one day he comes over and says he’s sorry about his kids and he’s going to keep them in line and he’s giving me his boat and he won’t put up the better Christmas lights next year. And he means all of this, and he does it. Well, suddenly, he becomes a lot easier to tolerate. He’s decided to modify his behavior so as to decrease the cost to me of tolerating him. Since the cost to tolerate him is now lower than the maximum amount of flak I’m willing to put up with, I start tolerating him.

    Now, in Lauren’s hijab example, the young lady in question wasn’t odious or wicked in her previous manner of dress; she was just difficult. Nonetheless, the psychic cost of tolerating her difference was higher than it would have been otherwise. If she suddenly shows a willingness to adapt her behavior to group norms, this lowers the cost of tolerance in the group, and the group’s behavior changes accordingly; their tolerance threshold was reached.

    Her willingness to conform to group norms is an expression of willingness to lower the costs presented to others. That the group DID treat her better would seem to indicate that there was an actual psychic cost issue in play, rather than simple bigotry; bigots don’t change their behavior when the cost structure changes.

  22. marjani
    marjani December 14, 2005 at 4:53 pm |

    I’ve always seen tolernace as a dirty word. For example, when racist acts happened at my alma mater (grafitti that said nigger and other things of the sort) people cried out for tolerance of other people. As in “yes we know there are blacks and asians on campus, but you should put up with there presence and shut up” Not “you need to respect that fact and other peoples differences.” The dictionary defines it differently though

    tol·er·ance ( P ) Pronunciation Key (tlr-ns)
    n.
    The capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others.

    Yet I still feel like in the many contexts tolerance is not used properly.

  23. karpad
    karpad December 14, 2005 at 4:55 pm |

    No. I’m asserting that 10 is larger than 1. This is apparently controversial.

    no, you’re asserting that 10 in 100000 is significantly greater than 1 in 100000 to garner a change in behavior via risk assessment.

    which is only slightly more rational than thinking owning 2 powerball tickets makes you genuinely more likely to win.

    .01 percent chance, which is the murder rate in mexico, is roughly akin to the odds of a party of level 1 PCs defeating a terrasque.

    so if we’re going with the door example, behind door 1, there’s a terrasque. behind door 2, a red dragon. you have NO equipment, and you have to pick one. which do you pick? remember, if you pick neither, a dracolich drops down from the ceiling.

  24. Thomas
    Thomas December 14, 2005 at 4:58 pm |

    Robert, through door #1 is a free trip to a Mexican resort, including meals at fine restaurants; small guided tours of mayan ruins; and options to snorkel and fish for free. Drinks come with the package. There is, however, a one-in-ten-thousand chance of death. Behind door #2 is a $50 coupon for a flight to Toronto that connects through Cincinatti with a three-hour layover. Food and drinks are your problem, and Toronto is miserable this time of year. However, there is only a one in one hundred thousand chance of dying. Is the chance of dying the dispositive factor in your decision?

    Visceral reactions to small-probability risks are generally not rational, and your assertion is only tangentially related to the assertion that 10>1.

  25. Tanooki Joe
    Tanooki Joe December 14, 2005 at 5:02 pm |

    Someone who believes that his height makes him more likely to be shot in a crowd is probably under the influence of an irrational fear.

    Probably? Either he thinks there’s an epidemic of particularly tall gunmen roaming the crowds, or that Miami has a bumper crop of snipers.

  26. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 5:04 pm |

    Anyone who becomes defensive when they encounter that choice is not open and accepting.

    I don’t get what you’re saying here. Who got defensive, and what choice are you talking about?

    Her behavior is only anti-social in a context where being visibly Muslim is considered contrary to being a member of the community in good standing in a way that being visibly non-Muslim is not, despite the community’s religious and cultural diversity.

    How does this apply to this situation? Lauren suggested these were racists (?) and that the community itself was supposedly not that accepting/cuturally-diverse IIRC. You also jump past my argument here; I’m not saying that “being visibly Muslim” (a phrase I roll my eyes at) is antisocial. I’m saying that someone whose attitude is, “I *could* be like you, but I choose not to,” where the “you” in this case is some sort of Standard American Generica, is being antisocial. Lots of people embrace antisocial behavior, however; especially if they think that behavior is, for example, racist or bigoted.

    She was not being divisive, merely criticizing divisive pressures.

    Expand on this, because I think it’s a meaningless statement. The hijab itself is objectively divisive, f/e. That’s its effect, if not its purpose: to divide men from women, to remove their independence and individuality.

    Nor was her persona without hijab neutral or “level,” but a

    Level and neutral mean two different things. If these Standard American Girls were to all wear hijabs, they would be meeting on a level cultural plane as well.

    temporary muting of herself in order to attain a different place in a decidedly fraught, hierarchialized system of religious and cultural affiliation.

    If meeting fellow students on the same cultural level would be tantamount to betraying her identity, maybe she should be going to a religious school in the first place? But this is still a tangent from the initial question.

    They accepted her because she made herself more like them; approached her because she presented herself on their terms. That’s not tolerance.

    It’s better than tolerance: it’s embracing someone. The hijab is a big roadblock. When removed, they were able to see her for who she really was. This is what the hijab prevents–folks seeing the individual person inside. It’s not about “their terms”–it’s about equal terms. Terms in which they were able to see her as an individual, not a spectre in a brown cloth.

  27. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 5:07 pm |

    Lots of people embrace antisocial behavior, however; especially if they think that behavior is, for example, racist or bigoted.

    I mean, the behavior they reject is racist or bigoted.

  28. marsha
    marsha December 14, 2005 at 5:08 pm |

    I’ve labeled myself.

    Culture Fucker Feminist.

  29. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 5:08 pm |

    Is the chance of dying the dispositive factor in your decision?

    No. But note that in the original example, it is not the person assessing the risk who gets to enjoy the trip.Recall that it was the friends of the traveller who expressed concern over Mexico, but not Canada. The friends are rational to express more concern over a more dangerous destination.

    no, you’re asserting that 10 in 100000 is significantly greater than 1 in 100000 to garner a change in behavior via risk assessment.

    which is only slightly more rational than thinking owning 2 powerball tickets makes you genuinely more likely to win.

    It is, and I am.

    You are mistaking the inability of a particular mind to accurately measure distinctions in probability, with the existence of the probability differentiation itself. You are genuinely twice as likely to win with two tickets.

    Statistical thinking can be difficult.

  30. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 5:09 pm |

    (and for some reason that last paragraph of mine was blockquoted; sorry for the triple-post)

  31. Joel Sax
    Joel Sax December 14, 2005 at 6:03 pm |

    Some women choose to wear the hijab. Why don’t we complain about women who wear little gold crosses into bars and other places?

    And why do we pick on feminists and civil libertarians who defend their rights to do so?

  32. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 6:21 pm |

    I don’t get what you’re saying here. Who got defensive, and what choice are you talking about?

    The choice to be different, communicated as a choice. You seem to be, since you describe it as a fuck-you.

    How does this apply to this situation? Lauren suggested these were racists (?) and that the community itself was supposedly not that accepting/cuturally-diverse IIRC. You also jump past my argument here; I’m not saying that “being visibly Muslim” (a phrase I roll my eyes at) is antisocial. I’m saying that someone whose attitude is, “I *could* be like you, but I choose not to,” where the “you” in this case is some sort of Standard American Generica, is being antisocial. Lots of people embrace antisocial behavior, however; especially if they think that behavior is, for example, racist or bigoted.

    “Visibly Muslim” applies here because for these people, her hijab was synonymous with her Muslim identity. She is _not_ being antisocial except if the society is defined to exclude people wearing hijab. In other words, she’s only being antisocial in the context of their racism.

    Expand on this, because I think it’s a meaningless statement. The hijab itself is objectively divisive, f/e. That’s its effect, if not its purpose: to divide men from women, to remove their independence and individuality.

    Muizza would disagree that she wore hijab for that purpose, or took it off to reject that purpose. More importantly, that has nothing to do with the dichotomy set up between a young Muslim woman and a group of male and female non-Muslim classmates. I doubt very much that they had much sense of the gender politics in play vis-a-vis her decision to wear hijab. The hijab does not necessarily divide her from them except in the context of their racism: if “Muslim” and “member of the community in good standing” are seen as mutually exclusive.

    Level and neutral mean two different things. If these Standard American Girls were to all wear hijabs, they would be meeting on a level cultural plane as well.

    Absolutely not. By acceding to their mode of dress, she accepted a lower position than them–immigrant to native, petitioner to arbiter, copy to standard. She was not on level ground, having agreed–in this case for the sake of argument–to the idea that their mode of dress was better, and that they deserved to see someone more like them sitting at her desk.

    It’s better than tolerance: it’s embracing someone. The hijab is a big roadblock. When removed, they were able to see her for who she really was. This is what the hijab prevents–folks seeing the individual person inside. It’s not about “their terms”–it’s about equal terms. Terms in which they were able to see her as an individual, not a spectre in a brown cloth.

    The hijab, representing as it does her religious and cultural affiliation, is inseparable from Muizza the person. It is a part of her, just as their uncovered heads speak to their religious and cultural affiliation. Seeing her for who she “really was” would have meant seeing and accepting Muizza the young woman and Muslim student, not forcing her to abandon any Muslim cues in order to seem human and accessible. The hijab only symbolizes “freak,” “outsider,” and “spectre” to racist people: people who see Muslims as aliens.

    Tolerance means tolerating difference that challenges your prejudices. It does not mean tolerating people who are exactly like you, or requiring them to become more like you for the sake of acceptance. If they change themselves to serve your comfort, you’re not making any generous effort. If you pressure them to change for your comfort, you’re being hateful.

  33. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 6:29 pm |

    Now, in Lauren’s hijab example, the young lady in question wasn’t odious or wicked in her previous manner of dress; she was just difficult. Nonetheless, the psychic cost of tolerating her difference was higher than it would have been otherwise. If she suddenly shows a willingness to adapt her behavior to group norms, this lowers the cost of tolerance in the group, and the group’s behavior changes accordingly; their tolerance threshold was reached.

    Her willingness to conform to group norms is an expression of willingness to lower the costs presented to others. That the group DID treat her better would seem to indicate that there was an actual psychic cost issue in play, rather than simple bigotry; bigots don’t change their behavior when the cost structure changes.

    It seems like a specious kind of tolerance, since it doesn’t extend to tolerating anything that isn’t perfectly agreeable.

    I can’t equate antisocial behavior like, say, being an asshole with asshole kids–which I assume means being purposely rude and insulting in person–with behavior like being different. You’re right: Muizza was never rude, odious, or wicked; she just wasn’t enough like them for them to feel comfortable around her.

    I also object to your statement that they were not bigots. Bigots frequently change when the quality they’re bigoted against is made less conspicuous. That’s how assimilation works.

  34. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 6:55 pm |

    “Being different” can very easily be antisocial behavior, Piny. That’s the problem with the strong multiculturalism you’re espousing; it elevates “difference” into a holy class, which cannot be questioned or poked at, lest the dread assimilation take place. And that’s hooey; some differences ought to be extirpated at the point of a gun, if need be.

    It’s a good thing to cultivate our individual and collective ability to tolerate difference. It’s a bad thing to forget that it is toleration – not equality. I don’t think Muslim culture is as good as Western liberal culture; I think it is inferior. But we tolerate it within reason because the costs of not tolerating it within reason are, well, unreasonable.

    One of the things that makes our culture better is that we are better at tolerating difference. Western cultures can synergize the contributions of a huge range of atomized cultural participants, far better than the rigid cultures where those participants originated can. And that’s a good thing. It makes us freer and richer.

    Like all cultural goods, however, there are upper limits on how much tolerance is good for us. Does tolerating distinctive dress pass that limit? I don’t have any empirical reason to think so; we’ve had no real difficulty with yarmulkes and turbans and gold cross necklaces and such. The hijab may be an exception, in that – cross-cultural feminist wishes aside – it is generally a garment of oppressively enforced gender roles. People don’t throw acid on their sons for declining to wear a yarmulke.

  35. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:12 pm |

    “Being different” can very easily be antisocial behavior, Piny. That’s the problem with the strong multiculturalism you’re espousing; it elevates “difference” into a holy class, which cannot be questioned or poked at, lest the dread assimilation take place. And that’s hooey; some differences ought to be extirpated at the point of a gun, if need be.

    What? Of course not; don’t employ a slippery-slope fallacy. There’s nothing wrong with criticizing Islam or any of the traditions it holds. The problem is rejecting it simply because it’s unfamiliar, as was the case here.

    It’s not that being different cannot involve anti-social behavior, but that they’re not synonymous. Your analogy equates offense at simple difference with offense at deliberate rudeness. Muizza’s conduct wasn’t giving anyone any just reason for offense. She never hurt anyone. I’d also be very surprised if the students in her class were ostracizing her out of sympathy for the Muslim women oppressed by sexism. They didn’t like her because her tradition was different from theirs; a cost-benefit analysis of Christian vs. Muslim treatment of women–or adherents in general–never entered their minds.

    The problem with assimilation is that it is not simply the intergrowth of two cultures that happen to meet each other, but the explicit delegitimization of one culture simply because it is held by a minority group. In this calculus, Muizza’s religious devotion is less important than her classmates’ comfort. Her right to exist is less important than their right to exist alone and unchallenged. That is intolerance, and a terrible limit to set on Muizza or anyone like her.

  36. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 7:14 pm |

    The choice to be different, communicated as a choice. You seem to be, since you describe it as a fuck-you.

    Lauren described it as a “fuck you,” IIRC.

    “Visibly Muslim” applies here because for these people, her hijab was synonymous with her Muslim identity.wearing hijab.

    You said it *was* synonymous with her Muslim identity.

    She is _not_ being antisocial except if the society is defined to exclude people wearing hijab.

    Of course she is, because as you said she’s making a statement re: her cultural affiliation; that it is inseparable from her identity.

    I doubt very much that they had much sense of the gender politics in play vis-a-vis her decision to wear hijab.

    This is immaterial; the reality is, what I am saying is accurate, and in any case I doubt very much you can actually make that statement one way or another re: what these students do or do not know, or what their opinions would be one way or another.

    By acceding to their mode of dress, she accepted a lower position than them

    This is BS. Be who you want, dress how you want, but please.

    The hijab only symbolizes “freak,” “outsider,” and “spectre” to racist people: people who see Muslims as aliens.

    Fuck off with your calling me a racist. I didn’t call her a freak or outsider, and you better believe it’s accurate–visually and intellectually, morally and rightly–to call throngs of clones legally forced or socially/religiously mandated to cover nearly every inch of their bodies “spectres.” People can’t “see who you really are” with a roadblock that literally prevents that from happening. Is she an individual, or a Generic Muslim Woman? It seems to me, when she showed she really was a real person, and not some sort of icon or symbol, people actually accepted her. WHAT A CONCEPT. I hope that, even though she’s continued to hide behind her religiously-mandated wall of conformity and sexist removal of her individuality, the students who approached her during the period where she actually tried to remove those obstacles continue to be her friends/accept her.

  37. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:16 pm |

    The hijab may be an exception, in that – cross-cultural feminist wishes aside – it is generally a garment of oppressively enforced gender roles. People don’t throw acid on their sons for declining to wear a yarmulke.

    You’re equating a symbol of the group privileged by sexism with a symbol of the group oppressed by sexism. Jewish men aren’t the only adherents who wear clothing symbolic of their devout observance. “Modest” clothing on Jewish women–and Christian women, for that matter–is also symbolic of an oppressively enforced gender role.

  38. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:32 pm |

    You said it *was* synonymous with her Muslim identity.

    Sorry to have been unclear; I meant “to them;” it was the most visible, defining symbol of her adherence.

    Of course she is, because as you said she’s making a statement re: her cultural affiliation; that it is inseparable from her identity.

    Uh huh. And that cultural affiliation is only contrary to her group membership if group membership is defined to exclude Muslim people. In other words, if that group is defined in racist terms. If the group were not racist, her behavior would not make her an outsider.

    This is immaterial; the reality is, what I am saying is accurate, and in any case I doubt very much you can actually make that statement one way or another re: what these students do or do not know, or what their opinions would be one way or another.

    Their understanding of gender politics is very relevant to any description of their behavior and its repercussions around gender and religion. I know that they saw her as a human being–by your own description–because she took off her scarf. That says a great deal about their level of consciousness.

    This is BS. Be who you want, dress how you want, but please.

    Well, I’m convinced!

    Fuck off with your calling me a racist. I didn’t call her a freak or outsider, and you better believe it’s accurate–visually and intellectually, morally and rightly–to call throngs of clones legally forced or socially/religiously mandated to cover nearly every inch of their bodies “spectres.” People can’t “see who you really are” with a roadblock that literally prevents that from happening. Is she an individual, or a Generic Muslim Woman? It seems to me, when she showed she really was a real person, and not some sort of icon or symbol, people actually accepted her. WHAT A CONCEPT. I hope that, even though she’s continued to hide behind her religiously-mandated wall of conformity and sexist removal of her individuality, the students who approached her during the period where she actually tried to remove those obstacles continue to be her friends/accept her.

    So when I put on a shirt, the inability of people around me to see my breasts makes it impossible for them to see me as different from other women? When Jewish men wear yamulkas, they blur together? When Hasids wear black hats and pe’ot, they turn into “clones”? She has a face.

    The inability to see difference within a foreign or minority group is racism. The inability to individualize beyond a defining racial or cultural characteristic is racism. It means that you aren’t familiar enough with any given group to differentiate between them. The belief that every individual from a minority group is an icon or a representative is racism. It has nothing to do with conformity on any objective level. It has to do with prejudice, and with the unwillingness to attribute full human complexity to a foreign group.

    The only reason they couldn’t “see past” her headcovering–or rather, see her within it–was that they didn’t know enough Muslim women to see them as people rather than as a type. And they weren’t interested in letting her teach them anything different. I guarantee you that people who live and work with Muslim women have no problem seeing them as different people simply because they cover their hair.

  39. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 7:37 pm |

    Fine, I’m a racist. You win. I’m a fucking racist.

  40. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:39 pm |

    Oh, I’m sorry. Did you mean to say that you have trouble seeing Muslim women as people because they cover their hair? I thought we were talking about the students. Well, then, yes, you are a racist.

  41. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 7:39 pm |

    Muizza’s conduct wasn’t giving anyone any just reason for offense. She never hurt anyone.

    Hurting isn’t the only just reason for offense, so let’s leave that one. I am not so sure that wearing an oppressive symbol isn’t “just reason for offense”.

    a cost-benefit analysis of Christian vs. Muslim treatment of women–or adherents in general–never entered their minds.

    Probably true. But of course, we don’t have to consciously think out psychic cost-benefit analyses for them to take place.

    They didn’t like her because her tradition was different from theirs;

    And what, at bottom, is wrong with that? Her tradition sucks.

    The problem with assimilation is that it is not simply the intergrowth of two cultures that happen to meet each other, but the explicit delegitimization of one culture simply because it is held by a minority group.

    Leaving aside the oversimplification – assimilation is a two-way process, not a binary actor-acted dichotomization – again, what’s wrong with that? Two cultures collide through demographic overlap. One of them has a home-field advantage; much of what is good from the minority culture is given a wider field of play, and most of what is unacceptable from the minority culture is eliminated. It’s evolution, made more palatable by the fact that much of the demographic overlap was voluntary – “let’s invite these people in”, “let’s go to America”.

    My Sicilian ancestors assimilated into a culture that required them to internalize that marrying your 11 year old cousin isn’t cool, and my Irish ancestors assimilated into a culture that required them to internalize indoor plumbing. Good. Would you prefer that Sicilian and Irish immigrants had preserved our disgusting folkways? I don’t want to shit in a trench toilet just because my great-great-great grandfather did.

    In this calculus, Muizza’s religious devotion is less important than her classmates’ comfort.

    Yeah, pretty much.

    Which is not to say that she should not pursue the religious devotion. It is to say that she cannot expect this to be a costless good.

    Her right to exist is less important than their right to exist alone and unchallenged.

    You’re conflating that right to exist with the right to be accepted without accomodation to the larger society. She has every right to exist. She has every right to follow her faith tradition. Her classmates have no obligation to endorse these choices.

    That is intolerance, and a terrible limit to set on Muizza or anyone like her.

    That’s what societies are FOR – setting limits and imposing costs on behaviors that undermine the group’s ability to function as a group.

  42. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 7:43 pm |

    Conformity is individuality! Empowerment is racism!

  43. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:47 pm |

    Conformity is individuality! Empowerment is racism!

    If you think that they were ostracizing her because they had a beef with conformity, and if you think that a woman who takes off her hijab because no one will speak to her while she wears it is empowered by that choice, you’re insane.

  44. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 7:53 pm |

    Right, I’m an insane racist. And I should continue to take you seriously because…?

  45. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:54 pm |

    Hurting isn’t the only just reason for offense, so let’s leave that one. I am not so sure that wearing an oppressive symbol isn’t “just reason for offense”.

    But they weren’t rejecting her because she was wearing an oppressive symbol–even accepting for the sake of argument that that is the proper response in the service of that belief.

    And what, at bottom, is wrong with that? Her tradition sucks.

    Yes, but like I said: that didn’t enter into the equation. A transgendered student, an observant Wiccan, or a goth teenager would have encountered the same ostracism.

    My Sicilian ancestors assimilated into a culture that required them to internalize that marrying your 11 year old cousin isn’t cool, and my Irish ancestors assimilated into a culture that required them to internalize indoor plumbing. Good. Would you prefer that Sicilian and Irish immigrants had preserved our disgusting folkways? I don’t want to shit in a trench toilet just because my great-great-great grandfather did.

    My Irish ancestors immigrated into a culture that was perfectly fine with wifebeating. Like I said, any arguably objective worth or injurious nature of these traditions is immaterial. If Muizza’s hijab signified that she was the pride of her parents and the inheritor of their wealth, it would still have made her an outsider. Why? Well, most American women don’t cover their heads.

    You’re conflating that right to exist with the right to be accepted without accomodation to the larger society. She has every right to exist. She has every right to follow her faith tradition. Her classmates have no obligation to endorse these choices.

    They aren’t endorsing her decisions by remaining on speaking terms with her.

    That’s what societies are FOR – setting limits and imposing costs on behaviors that undermine the group’s ability to function as a group.

    How does her hijab impair their ability to function as a group?

  46. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 7:55 pm |

    Right, I’m an insane racist. And I should continue to take you seriously because…?

    I’ll continue to pretend to do the same for you? I’m not calling you racist.

  47. other ryan
    other ryan December 14, 2005 at 7:55 pm |

    Back to sublabeling feminists… Just a ploy to chop up this body of thought into little, factions, so it’s easier to dismiss altogether?

  48. Marjani Isreal
    Marjani Isreal December 14, 2005 at 7:55 pm |

    It’s a good thing to cultivate our individual and collective ability to tolerate difference. It’s a bad thing to forget that it is toleration – not equality. I don’t think Muslim culture is as good as Western liberal culture; I think it is inferior. But we tolerate it within reason because the costs of not tolerating it within reason are, well, unreasonable.

    One of the things that makes our culture better is that we are better at tolerating difference. Western cultures can synergize the contributions of a huge range of atomized cultural participants, far better than the rigid cultures where those participants originated can. And that’s a good thing. It makes us freer and richer.

    To me this is such a scary statement and the very reason that people hate us. So you say that we tolerate difference “better” and that it makes us “freer” and “richer” so what your basically saying is that we could give a fuck about other peoples culture but hey if we can profit off it bring it on! Maybe I’m being extreme but I wouldn’t call that tolerance, I’d call it exploitation. Gotta love capitalism!

  49. Eva
    Eva December 14, 2005 at 8:21 pm |

    Back to sublabeling feminists… Just a ploy to chop up this body of thought into little, factions, so it’s easier to dismiss altogether?

    Oh, no, no, it’s the already extant little factions that are the problem. It makes it so hard to mop them all up and dispose of them.

    Whereas, if those messy little factions could all somehow be swept into one pile marked “the bad kind of feminism,” while the kind of feminism that’s become so burdened with mission creep as to be unable to serve any worthwhile function for women is held up as “the only true feminism,” what would you have then?

  50. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 8:35 pm |

    They aren’t endorsing her decisions by remaining on speaking terms with her.

    Sure they are.

    How does her hijab impair their ability to function as a group?

    By serving as an external signifier of the fact that she is choosing not to be a part of the culture that the group is loyal to.

    Analogy. You say that it doesn’t matter how objectively good or bad the cultural values being signified are. Frank moves to Miami Beach and settles into a retirement home populated mainly though not exclusively by Jews. Frank’s cultural values happen to be skinhead white supremacism, born and bred. So Frank goes around Miami with swastika tattoos, a flat top, and Hitler t-shirts.

    Is Frank impeding the ability of the nursing home residents to think and act as a group?

    Fuckin’ A he is. He’s rejecting their norms of decency (and ours) and they’re not going to put up with him, nor should they. But you say that’s immaterial – the mean Jewish residents who won’t speak to Frank are being racist, or something, because they’re rejecting his culture.

    Fie on that. Bad cultures should be rejected.

    — ———–

    There’s two things going on here. One is that there’s an argument against cultural judgmentalism as a discretionary factor. You aren’t making that argument; I think you believe it, but you’ve said basically “I’m not gonna argue that now”, which is cool. But it’s out there; see Marjani’s belief that “they hate us” because we don’t recognize that their 12th century culture as equal to our own.

    Two, is there’s an argument which you are making, against the basic group dynamic structures of the human animal. It’s wrong to exclude, etc. The problem with this argument is that there is no alternative structure. We exclude the different; we reject the alien. We can mitigate this inherent pattern (and should, because it provides benefits to do so) but there are limits.

    You may argue that there is an alternative – that the conscious cultivation of difference-acceptance and toleration can lead us to a place where all cultures can be valued blah blah blah – the multicultural project. But that project fails in the presence of us unreconstructed humans, the people who don’t and won’t spend 90% of their mental cycles on the sensitivity setting. The uber-tolerance culture is not itself capable of tolerating people who reject its premises – and there are plenty of people who consciously and specifically reject its premises. It has to exclude those people to make the project work – and it can only work in isolation from and in parallel to the standard “look, a weirdo, let’s get him” cultural default model.

    And in the act of that exclusion, the multi-culti culture destroys its very reason for existing in the first place – avoiding judgmentalism and accepting diversity.

  51. piny
    piny December 14, 2005 at 9:24 pm |

    By serving as an external signifier of the fact that she is choosing not to be a part of the culture that the group is loyal to.

    Why does a failure to adhere to all of their beliefs make it impossible for them to interact with her and admit her?

    There’s two things going on here. One is that there’s an argument against cultural judgmentalism as a discretionary factor. You aren’t making that argument; I think you believe it, but you’ve said basically “I’m not gonna argue that now”, which is cool. But it’s out there; see Marjani’s belief that “they hate us” because we don’t recognize that their 12th century culture as equal to our own.

    Well, you’re wrong in thinking I believe it. But hey, let’s not argue that now.

    Two, is there’s an argument which you are making, against the basic group dynamic structures of the human animal. It’s wrong to exclude, etc. The problem with this argument is that there is no alternative structure. We exclude the different; we reject the alien. We can mitigate this inherent pattern (and should, because it provides benefits to do so) but there are limits.

    And here again, you’re wrong. This is the same slippery-slope fallacy you engaged in earlier. Exclusion isn’t always wrong. I would have no problem with, say, excluding your neighbor from the annual cookout in your backyard because all he’d do is show up with his asshole kids and make everyone miserable. I have a problem with rejecting the alien merely because it’s alien.

    That doesn’t hold true with the example you provided above, where the Jewish seniors are rejecting the white supremacist because they take moral issue with his beliefs and because they see them as denying their personhood and right to live their lives. A strong analogy would be refusing to speak to or interact with Frank the Quaker because Frank the Quaker isn’t Jewish. The kids in this classroom did not feel threatened by Muslim religious beliefs, but by difference. She would have faced similar pressures if she had been a baby butch, and may well have achieved some inclusion by femming up for a day.

    Moreover, I did not say that “it doesn’t matter how objectively good or bad the cultural values being signified are,” full stop, but that it doesn’t matter in many cases to the group doing the ostracizing, and that it doesn’t matter in this case. I did not say that there are no value judgments to be made about cultural traditions and religious beliefs, or that I refrain from them myself.

    You may argue that there is an alternative – that the conscious cultivation of difference-acceptance and toleration can lead us to a place where all cultures can be valued blah blah blah – the multicultural project. But that project fails in the presence of us unreconstructed humans, the people who don’t and won’t spend 90% of their mental cycles on the sensitivity setting. The uber-tolerance culture is not itself capable of tolerating people who reject its premises – and there are plenty of people who consciously and specifically reject its premises. It has to exclude those people to make the project work – and it can only work in isolation from and in parallel to the standard “look, a weirdo, let’s get him” cultural default model.

    You were wrong the last time you put thoughts in my head, and you’re wrong now. Why is it that every time anyone talks about what something is–whether or not something is racist, for example–your concluding response is always about the logistics of getting everyone else to believe that and change their behavior accordingly, as though it had anything to do with the original issue being debated? Of course people will not always be tolerant of all things; they probably won’t ever be tolerant of the things I see as tolerable. That has nothing to do with the justice or utility of racism and xenophobia, or with whether or not any given exclusion is racist or xenophobic.

  52. Robert
    Robert December 14, 2005 at 9:55 pm |

    Why does a failure to adhere to all of their beliefs make it impossible for them to interact with her and admit her?

    It doesn’t make it impossible. It makes it more difficult. It makes it more expensive in terms of the emotional/mental energy they will have to expend in order to keep her integrated into the group.

    Your original question, remember, was “How does her hijab impair their ability to function as a group?” Now that you’ve been answered, you want to talkabout it not being impossible for them to function. OK, it’s not impossible – just harder.

    Well, you’re wrong in thinking I believe it.

    OK. My bad assumption. Assumption, unmade.

    Exclusion isn’t always wrong…I have a problem with rejecting the alien merely because it’s alien.

    Why? Alien-ness increases costs. Saying it’s wrong to exclude the alien merely because it’s alien is saying that people have to ignore costs in order to live correctly. That’s nuts.

    A strong analogy would be refusing to speak to or interact with Frank the Quaker because Frank the Quaker isn’t Jewish. The kids in this classroom did not feel threatened by Muslim religious beliefs, but by difference.

    So why shouldn’t this community of (let us assume) perfectly decent Jews be cold to Frank, with his odd ways? Presumably there is a reason that this community formed itself,and presumably that reason had overtones of identity. Here is someone breaking that identity. Why should they welcome Frank’s imposition of uninvited costs upon them?

  53. zuzu
    zuzu December 14, 2005 at 10:47 pm |

    How does her hijab impair their ability to function as a group?

    By serving as an external signifier of the fact that she is choosing not to be a part of the culture that the group is loyal to.

    Wow. Would you say the same thing to someone who chose to, say, wear a bindi? Or who was the only black kid in class?

    Muizza and her sister are the new girls in school. It’s the job of the kids who already go to that school to accept them. But they weren’t able to do that until she took off her hijab — which, really, is no more than a scarf. Why in the fuck *shouldn’t* she resent that? She’s in high school, and she just got the message loud and clear that she is only acceptable if she conforms. And it doesn’t even have anything to do with her being Muslim; this is a persistent theme of high school life. Or did you miss Clueless or Heathers or She’s All That? Or, hell, Lord of the Flies?

    In any event, Robert, I wouldn’t be so smug about the “12th Century” thing. When Europeans were squatting in the mud and eating with their hands, Arabs were doing things like inventing the zero. Things of course have shifted since then, but empires rise and fall.

  54. APF
    APF December 14, 2005 at 11:52 pm |

    High Schoolers excluding others who don’t fit in? OH NO TEH WORLD IT IS COLLAPSE!!! Poor baby having to deal with the same crap every other person had to deal with, only to be instantly accepted the moment she removed an obvious and voluntary social roadblock.

    If only nerds were a protected group back in the day, then I could have been all “middle fingering” them with my pocket protector; rather than, you know, getting swirlies and shit.

    NERD RACISTS WHO ARE RACIST AGAINST NERDS

  55. zuzu
    zuzu December 15, 2005 at 12:10 am |

    No, I think you would have always been intolerable.

  56. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 1:19 am |

    How sweet of you to attack me personally.

  57. Jeff G
    Jeff G December 15, 2005 at 1:33 am |

    I still find the binary problematic because it is so very reductive.

    Well, I addressed this on Trish’s site and in an update to my most recent post on the issue, so I may as well post my answer here, as well — not that it’s likely to convince people like Eva that I’m not operating in bad faith:

    Perhaps it will help Trish, Lauren, et al—those who are worried that we’ve simply replaced one binary with that same binary rephrased— to think of it this way: Feminism as they imagined it last week—the whole of it—hasn’t been “reduced”; instead, feminism has accepted into the movement those men and women who the establishment feminists (previously “gender feminists”) were last week calling “anti-feminists.”

    To make the distinction between the erstwhile “anti-feminists” (who were as averse to that term as establishment feminists were to being called “gender feminists”), we’ve set up new labels.

    This doesn’t imply that feminism is now divided into a binary. In fact, my terms make it clear that what was once “anti-feminism” is the strategic outlier of the feminist movement—a strain of feminism whose followers are critical of the strategies of the greater body of feminism (which includes all the feminist subgroups that had already been accepted into feminism proper). In fact, I decided on “establishment feminism” precisely because it aggregated all of what was feminism last week, before the then “anti-feminists” were accepted into the fold.

    So yes, we’ve just changed the terms; but no, we haven’t kept the two meaning. If this is a binary, it is a binary that is heavily weighted on the establishment side.

  58. cooper
    cooper December 15, 2005 at 1:44 am |

    High Schoolers excluding others who don’t fit in? OH NO TEH WORLD IT IS COLLAPSE!!! Poor baby having to deal with the same crap every other person had to deal with, only to be instantly accepted the moment she removed an obvious and voluntary social roadblock.

    This is a great bunch of commentary on an issue which seems to have stumped some very fine minds. Obviously some people feel this issue is a simple as a high schooler changing from nerdy clothes to cool clothes. I think that at that age when someone can say – fuck you I am what I am- to a bunch of culturally clueless ignorant fucks so much the better.

  59. Anna in Cairo
    Anna in Cairo December 15, 2005 at 2:47 am |

    Wow. I used to wear the hijab in the US and I never heard such ridiculous statements as that I was being divisive because i was dressing different than the norm. This conversation should not be happening. This summer I had to have a long converstation with a relative about the fact taht you cannot ascribe your own assumptions to someone else. You think a head scarf is a symbol of oppression or whatever, but that does nto mean that your asusmption is the reason she’s wearing it ; and the oft repeated assertion by several in this thread that to assert a form of idnetity with a religion is divisive or a “fuck you” is completely incomprehensible to me. Men who wear ties are differentiating themselves from women thorugh their dress; are they telling the women “fuck you, I am a man, see my tie, you bitch”? If not, then why assume that this is what Muslim women in the US are doing? Incomprehensible.

  60. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 3:02 am |

    It’s late, so this’ll be meandering:

    I think that at that age when someone can say – fuck you I am what I am- to a bunch of culturally clueless ignorant fucks so much the better.

    Actually, that’s exactly what I did in HS, and I have the scars to prove it. (and in fact I’ve moved on, and have, over time, taken a broader perspective that has allowed me to become *more* the real “me” than I ever was back then when I was fighting against those social pressures, and the pressure to fight those pressures, and so on)

    But no, that’s not exactly what happened in this story, and the social/cultural/religious symbolism/etc involved with nerdy clothes are not exactly what we’re dealing with re: the hijab in the first place. That’s the point. *You* want to focus on the alleged horrible White Folks who are Racist and Evil because of their Cultural Ignorance. And obviously I must be one of those folks, because otherwise what’s my problem–AM I RITE? But this isn’t a black-and-white issue (it certainly wasn’t cast that way by Lauren in the first place), regardless of how you folks in the comments appear to want to argue–because how DARE I take a side where I can be called an insane racist at the drop of a hat, and not let that Silence me Once And For All? That’s intolerable! Calling me a racist, and insane, for daring to think marginalizing anachronisms like the hijab shouldn’t be applauded? No. That’s intolerable.

  61. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 3:04 am |

    Take it up with Lauren, Anna–that was how she characterized it, IIRC.

  62. Anna in Cairo
    Anna in Cairo December 15, 2005 at 6:02 am |

    Calling the head scarf that Muslim women wear an anachronism that needs to be marginalized by non-Muslim societies is kind of – well – interfering of you. It’s not your religion. Who are you to decide it’s an anachronism or it is good or bad or a sign of this or a sign of that? It’s not your sign. It belongs to the person who wears it, only she can decide what the meaning is.

    It is incredibly strange to me, and has always been (I have been wearing a head scarf since 1993 and have had this conversation many times) that people think they have some sort of right to inform women what they should or should not wear. Period. I find it weird.

    When I was in Saudi Arabia I refused to let them dictate to me that I should cover my face. In the US I refuse to let you dictate to me what the head scarf means or that it is bad and I should take it off. What is the matter with people that they cannot see this? Why on earth do they spend so much energy on a piece of cloth I choose to wear on my head? Fighting windmills would make more sense.

    Furthermore, I notice that it is always women’s clothes that are judged and assumptioned to death in this way. When male Muslims wear the little caps on their heads. or Sikhs wear turbans, I dont’ hear people telling them it’s oppressive and anachronistic – and what the hell is wrong with headgear anyhow, whether women or men wear it? Get a life and let other people wear whatever the hell they want, why can’t you.

  63. La Lubu
    La Lubu December 15, 2005 at 8:27 am |

    Furthermore, I notice that it is always women’s clothes that are judged and assumptioned to death in this way. When male Muslims wear the little caps on their heads. or Sikhs wear turbans, I dont’ hear people telling them it’s oppressive and anachronistic – and what the hell is wrong with headgear anyhow, whether women or men wear it? Get a life and let other people wear whatever the hell they want, why can’t you.

    Boomshot!

    I can’t help but think that folks who equate ‘Muslim’ with ‘backwards/oppressive/marry-your-twelve-year-old-cousin’ stereotypes have never actually held a conversation with a typical urban Muslim. It’s simple bigotry, really, to assume that Muslims are more sexist, more backwards, more violent, etc. than Christians. Period.

    Hey Robert….eventually, your little girl is going to grow up. She might experience ostracism from her peers for not fitting in. Are you going to recommend that she take on the ways of the majority of her peers, or that she be herself? How far are you willing to go with yourself and your family to achieve assimilation? Because honestly, we’re talking about more than clothing here. How much self-changing are you willing to engage in, and how much self-changing are you willing to pressure your family to engage in, to increase the comfort level of others who really don’t give a damn about you to begin with? And what happens when taking on the mantels of assimilation doesn’t work—when after rejecting yourself and your ancestry, you still aren’t accepted?

    Is it wrong of me to go to the grocery store after work wearing my construction clothing (which gets negative responses), instead of going home and changing into blue jeans and a sweater (not much different, but no negative responses)? I’m still the same person behind the clothing—behind the skin, even. Why do other people assume that my clothing is some sort of socio-political statement, instead of my work uniform? Why is a headscarf considered to be more of a socio political statement than wearing a crucifix?

  64. AndiF
    AndiF December 15, 2005 at 9:00 am |

    People focus on the headscarf because it’s easy, obvious, and can be used to give western cultures a pass. Despite all the discussion here on the meaning of the hajib, no one has addressed the underlying issue — the overtly patriarchal attitudes of almost all organized religions. Christians and Jews, for example, can act superior to Islam but their religions (disclaimer: I was raised a Jew) are laden with beliefs about the religious, moral, and legal inferiority of women and also force women to accept the responsibility of being the gatekeepers of male sexual behavior. The chief difference is that Judaism and Christianity are “ours” and that some sects have decided to ignore the more blatant anti-woman attitudes that abound in their religions.

  65. evil_fizz
    evil_fizz December 15, 2005 at 9:21 am |

    A strong analogy would be refusing to speak to or interact with Frank the Quaker because Frank the Quaker isn’t Jewish. The kids in this classroom did not feel threatened by Muslim religious beliefs, but by difference.

    So why shouldn’t this community of (let us assume) perfectly decent Jews be cold to Frank, with his odd ways? Presumably there is a reason that this community formed itself,and presumably that reason had overtones of identity. Here is someone breaking that identity. Why should they welcome Frank’s imposition of uninvited costs upon them?

    So people who have some kind of legitimately formed group identity (however you’d define *that*) have a perfectly valid reason to exclude others? i.e. Westerners’ rejection of outward signs of Muslim practice is a priori valid? Your reasoning seems to serve to validate the creation of cultural ghettos: small isolated bubbles of group identity where outsiders are rejected because they impose a “cost”? Please.

  66. Matan
    Matan December 15, 2005 at 11:03 am |

    Karpad says:

    and tornados are bad, so the midwest is out…”

    Want to hear something funny about this? Well, when my family was moving to the US from Israel when I was 7, I put down two conditions:
    1) That we NOT move to Kansas.
    1) We live close to my maternal grandparents (this was, of course, the plan anyway, and since they lived in Pennsylvania, #1 was irrelevant).

    Why did I want nothing to do with Kansas, you ask? Because of the wizard of Oz. I was terrified that my house was going to get tossed around like a toy.

  67. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 11:13 am |

    Why is it that one cannot make an obvious statement w/o 1) being accused of some sort of colonial oppression, 2) racism, 3) ironically, sexism, 4) being accused of hypocrisy because other religions exist (whether or not you actually said one thing or another about those religions), 5) wanting to dictate how one should practice their religion?

    It is incredibly strange to me, and has always been (I have been wearing a head scarf since 1993 and have had this conversation many times) that people think they have some sort of right to inform women what they should or should not wear. Period. I find it weird.

    The fact that you cannot see the irony in this is beyond comprehension, IMO.

  68. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 11:16 am |

    Despite all the discussion here on the meaning of the hajib, no one has addressed the underlying issue — the overtly patriarchal attitudes of almost all organized religions.

    What business is it of yours to tell other people how they should practice their religion? To do so is the act of an insane racist, who is insane.

    AND RACIST.

  69. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 12:08 pm |

    What business is it of yours to tell other people how they should practice their religion? To do so is the act of an insane racist, who is insane.

    I’m only gonna say this once more: I did not call you racist. We were discussing the actions of the students, remember?

  70. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 12:10 pm |

    High Schoolers excluding others who don’t fit in? OH NO TEH WORLD IT IS COLLAPSE!!! Poor baby having to deal with the same crap every other person had to deal with, only to be instantly accepted the moment she removed an obvious and voluntary social roadblock.

    If only nerds were a protected group back in the day, then I could have been all “middle fingering” them with my pocket protector; rather than, you know, getting swirlies and shit.

    NERD RACISTS WHO ARE RACIST AGAINST NERDS

    Actually, according to Lauren, Muizza was subject to ostracism above and beyong what “every other” student had to deal with. And even if that weren’t true, are you condoning bullying, either because the target is a “nerd” or a Muslim?

  71. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 12:15 pm |

    But no, that’s not exactly what happened in this story, and the social/cultural/religious symbolism/etc involved with nerdy clothes are not exactly what we’re dealing with re: the hijab in the first place.

    You made the analogy in the first place, dude. Own it.

    Why is it that one cannot make an obvious statement w/o 1) being accused of some sort of colonial oppression, 2) racism, 3) ironically, sexism, 4) being accused of hypocrisy because other religions exist (whether or not you actually said one thing or another about those religions), 5) wanting to dictate how one should practice their religion?

    That “obvious” statement amounts to apologizing for simple racism on the part of others by describing it as some ennobling aversion to misogynist religious traditions. That’s horseshit, and it does dictate the terms under which Muizza may practice her religion: unless and until it becomes a problem for ignorant non-Muslims whose conduct can be justified by the flimsiest of speculative rationales.

  72. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 12:22 pm |

    High Schoolers excluding others who don’t fit in? OH NO TEH WORLD IT IS COLLAPSE!!! Poor baby having to deal with the same crap every other person had to deal with, only to be instantly accepted the moment she removed an obvious and voluntary social roadblock.

    Also? Let’s see: brainy feminist, brainy feminist, feminist lawyer IIRC, queer transsexual, feminist tradeswoman, Muslim woman who at one point wore hijab and who has commented re: the social punishment meted out in response. Like you said, you’re not the only person who’s had to deal with ostracism; the people who have a problem with it being thrown at others are speaking from experience, too.

  73. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 12:52 pm |

    There’s a difference between saying something is an obvious social/cultural roadblock, and excusing abject racism. The fact that you can’t understand that difference, even in conversation, just comes across as defensive IMO.

    I’m not sure why we’re talking about “brainy” queer transsexual Muslim tradeswomen lawyers now…? Are you left-handed too? Because you know, there’s a lot of racism against left-handed folks out there.

  74. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 1:07 pm |

    There’s a difference between saying something is an obvious social/cultural roadblock, and excusing abject racism. The fact that you can’t understand that difference, even in conversation, just comes across as defensive IMO.

    Defensive? Moi?

    Whatever you say.

    You did not just say that something is an “obvious social/cultural roadblock.” You said that it was an obvious social/cultural roadblock because it removes individuality from Muizza in the eyes of her classmates because it’s a symbol of a misogynist religious tradition that mandates conformity in its women.

    …You better believe it’s accurate–visually and intellectually, morally and rightly–to call throngs of clones legally forced or socially/religiously mandated to cover nearly every inch of their bodies “spectres.” People can’t “see who you really are” with a roadblock that literally prevents that from happening. Is she an individual, or a Generic Muslim Woman? It seems to me, when she showed she really was a real person, and not some sort of icon or symbol, people actually accepted her. WHAT A CONCEPT. I hope that, even though she’s continued to hide behind her religiously-mandated wall of conformity and sexist removal of her individuality, the students who approached her during the period where she actually tried to remove those obstacles continue to be her friends/accept her.

    In other words, you place the blame for their inability to see her as a person rather than a stereotype–or “icon”–on her religious tradition and the meaning it (supposedly) attributes to the hijab, and not on their prejudice and the meaning it attributes to her difference.

    The actual reason it removes individuality from Muizza is that they’re too racist to see Muslim women as individuals; like most bigots, they reduce minority groups to amorphous mobs rather than seeing each member of a minority as an individual in her own right. Their aversion to her in her hijab had nothing to do with the underlying rationale for that particular distinctive article of clothing. They would have been averse to any distinction. Nor did it have anything do with this particular kind or degree of covering. People who do not have limited contact do not have any problem seeing Muslim women as individuals even when they cover their hair. When you attribute these higher motives to ostracism motivated by nothing but racism, you’re apologizing for racism.

  75. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 1:08 pm |

    I’m not sure why we’re talking about “brainy” queer transsexual Muslim tradeswomen lawyers now…? Are you left-handed too? Because you know, there’s a lot of racism against left-handed folks out there.

    Because you pulled the whiny-baby card when people here implied that it was a bad thing for a student to be ostracized.

  76. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 1:41 pm |

    You said that it was an obvious social/cultural roadblock because it removes individuality from Muizza in the eyes of her classmates because it’s a symbol of a misogynist religious tradition that mandates conformity in its women.

    You’re inferring a “because” where I did not assert one.

    In other words, you place the blame for their inability to see her as a person rather than a stereotype–or “icon”–on her religious tradition and the meaning it (supposedly) attributes to the hijab, and not on their prejudice and the meaning it attributes to her difference.

    I placed no “blame” at all. I explained the reality, and made a comment on the social/cultural/religious effect of the hijab that could easily have been made about many similar devices that remove individuality and/or marginalize groups of people within the cultures they were invented, and serve as cultural and social barriers between foreign/”alien” groups–especially within the framework/perspective of a Manistream Generic American High School.

    they’re too racist to see Muslim women as individuals;

    Actually, they did; the instant she removed an obvious social/cultural “block” that’s designed to prevent it, and signals a willingness to let that happen.

    Because you pulled the whiny-baby card when people here implied that it was a bad thing for a student to be ostracized.

    The point was to say that people in HS get ostracized for far less than something completely voluntary, something that when removed actually causes people to immediately accept them. Black kids can’t remove their skin and have folks see the “real them.” Gay kids can’t just remove their sexual preferences, nerds can’t just remove their lack of social or athletic/etc abilities, etc.

  77. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 1:54 pm |

    Actually, they did; the instant she removed an obvious social/cultural “block” that’s designed to prevent it, and signals a willingness to let that happen.

    There’s your “because.” “Designed to prevent it” means that they could not see her as an individual because of the hijab, not because of their racism.

    The point was to say that people in HS get ostracized for far less than something completely voluntary, something that when removed actually causes people to immediately accept them. Black kids can’t remove their skin and have folks see the “real them.” Gay kids can’t just remove their sexual preferences, nerds can’t just remove their lack of social or athletic/etc abilities, etc.

    Oh, but the baby butch can grow her hair long. She can start wearing makeup and leave her baseball caps and baggy t-shirts at home. She can stop openly crushing on girls. She could even fake a few boy crushes, maybe get herself a beard. The fey kid can butch up. The transgendered kid can give up any cross-gender behavioral or appearance clue. The nerdy kid or brainy girl can stop speaking up in class when they know the answers, and cultivate an interest in sports. The Jewish kid can take off his yarmulka. The foreign kid can adopt the habits of his American and Americanized classmates. Heck, the African-American kid can use skin-bleaching cream and straighten her hair. Of course it won’t work. Of course it won’t lead to actual acceptance on equal ground. But sometimes the willingness to obliterate oneself in order to be more palatable is enough to achieve a “kind of tolerance.”

    It makes no difference whether this is “voluntary” or not. Their religious expression is voluntary. The First Amendment doesn’t protect religion because it’s congenital. Muizza shouldn’t have to make that choice, shouldn’t have to volunteer to sacrifice her religious adherence in order to get her classmates to treat her as a classmate. No one, queerly dressed or queerly oriented, should face that kind of pressure to conform.

  78. APF
    APF December 15, 2005 at 2:02 pm |

    Muizza shouldn’t have to make that choice

    She does, and did, make that very choice. Everyone does. Everyone must decide what is important to them, and what sort of balance they want to draw for themselves, both in cultivating their own lives and in how they relate to other people.

  79. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 2:07 pm |

    I explained the reality, and made a comment on the social/cultural/religious effect of the hijab that could easily have been made about many similar devices that remove individuality and/or marginalize groups of people within the cultures they were invented, and serve as cultural and social barriers between foreign/”alien” groups–especially within the framework/perspective of a Manistream Generic American High School.

    The hijab only works to remove individuality in the context of a larger culture unwilling to individualize a minority. People who deal with Muslim women on a daily basis don’t have this problem, so the hijab doesn’t work to depersonalize Muslim women. The reality is that every distinguishing marker acts this way, from Amish bonnets to buzz cuts on butch dykes. “They all look the same” has been applied to every minority different in some noticeable way from the mainstream. It’s not that their distinctive dress or mannerism or diet or hair color de-individuates them in some objective sense or is intended to make them indistinguishable, since they tend not to have any problem distinguishing among themselves. It’s that people unfamiliar with those cues are unable to get past them and form a picture of each person as a person. Like I said, that there is racism.

    Actually, they did; the instant she removed an obvious social/cultural “block” that’s designed to prevent it, and signals a willingness to let that happen.

    And the “block” was what made her Muslim, as far as they were concerned. It would be like saying that they accept a teenage dyke’s lesbianism as soon as she grows her hair out and does everything else in her power to stop reading as a lesbian. Just as that would still qualify as homophobia, this qualifies as racism.

  80. piny
    piny December 15, 2005 at 2:10 pm |

    She does, and did, make that very choice. Everyone does. Everyone must decide what is important to them, and what sort of balance they want to draw for themselves, both in cultivating their own lives and in how they relate to other people.

    From what’s just to what’s possible, just like Robert. As with the “everyone is ostracized!” comment, don’t presume to tell me that everyone has to make deals with a largely intolerant and suspicious society. I’ll reiterate: she shouldn’t have to make that choice between devotion and basic acceptance, just as a butch dyke teenager shouldn’t have to choose between being honest about her sexual orientation and being treated as a human being.

  81. Robert
    Robert December 15, 2005 at 2:25 pm |

    Hey Robert….eventually, your little girl is going to grow up. She might experience ostracism from her peers for not fitting in. Are you going to recommend that she take on the ways of the majority of her peers, or that she be herself?

    Both.

    She will have to learn to balance and adapt to the pressures of group living, same as all the rest of us.

    To thine own self be true…but you don’t have to be an asshole about it.

    How far are you willing to go with yourself and your family to achieve assimilation?

    A reasonable distance.

    Adapting the language, social mores, and basic mode of dress of my new home would seem to be a reasonable accommodation.

    When I lived in Iran, we were taught a long list of things that were important to do, in order to show a modicum of respect to the people among whom we were living. Today, US troops being assigned to the Middle East make similar accommodations.

    What’s wrong with that?

    And what happens when taking on the mantels of assimilation doesn’t work—when after rejecting yourself and your ancestry, you still aren’t accepted?

    Then the problem wasn’t my adaptation to the social matrix, was it? Instead, it would be something external to myself – some unreasoned bigotry on the part of the surrounding society, at a guess. Maybe they’re jealous of my amazing sexiness.

    She does, and did, make that very choice. Everyone does. Everyone must decide what is important to them, and what sort of balance they want to draw for themselves, both in cultivating their own lives and in how they relate to other people.

    Bingo.

  82. zuzu
    zuzu December 15, 2005 at 2:55 pm |

    Adapting the language, social mores, and basic mode of dress of my new home would seem to be a reasonable accommodation.

    From what it sounds like, the only difference between Day 1 and Day 2 in her manner of dress was the headscarf. Without the headscarf, she passed for a Western teenager, which she is.

    If I’m not mistaken, Muizza and her sister, and possibly her parents, were born and raised in the US. So for her, she doesn’t really have the added barrier of “foreignness” between her and the other students in that she’s from another country.

  83. Darleen's Place
    Darleen's Place December 15, 2005 at 4:02 pm |

    On Feminism: a quadrant answer to a binary question

    The discussion and debate over “authentic” Feminism continues with especially noteworthy posts from Jeff Goldstein and Cathy Young. Certainly the volume of recent writing and the long comments threads have yielded much heat (and some light), even if …

  84. run.ltw
    run.ltw December 15, 2005 at 5:11 pm |

    Delayed Reaction

    I had trouble responding to a post by Lauren on Feministe entitled “Consider the Hijab: Blogging Against Racism” – or rather, it wasn’t the article itself I had so much difficulty reacting to, it was the discussion that followed. Par…

  85. Shannon W.
    Shannon W. December 15, 2005 at 7:25 pm |

    Although no one called APF a racist, here’s a useful link. However, I still don’t understand his argument. Me, my mother, and many other Christian black women wear scarfs on our heads. I wear one because I sometimes have bad hair days- does that mean people have the right to be horrible to us, for not being exactly the same or does that extend only to Muslims?

    I don’t get what the big deal is. If I see one of my classmates wearing a hijab I think either “she must be warm” or “she must be hot”. It’s my own fault if I want to spend my time thinking about the possible temperatures of other people.

  86. Sina
    Sina December 16, 2005 at 10:42 am |

    Shannon: That’s a great point.

    But don’t you know you’re purposefully cutting yourself off from others, making it “cost” more for them to acknowledge your presence, being antisocial and divisive, and making yourself indistinguishable from all other, um, Muslim women, or women, or something?

    That’s what I don’t understand about this argument. Many people have asked what makes wearing hijab different from wearing crosses, or wearing yarmulkes, or wearing Hassidic dress, and no one has argued that these things also make these ethnic/religious groups difficult, or not loyal to American culture, or excessively hard to assimilate, or whatever. And I think that there’s a reason for that, and it’s not because the hijab means anything in particular, *objectively*. It’s bound up with these womens’ ethnicity or race and with their being women, and not because as white (or otherwise) Americans we must rescue them from their pathetic 12th century oppressive head scarves and school them in the ways of freedom. Or wait, maybe it is that.

    Also: I heart you, piny. You make teh good argumentz.

  87. La Lubu
    La Lubu December 16, 2005 at 2:48 pm |

    To thine own self be true…but you don’t have to be an asshole about it.

    Muizza wasn’t being an asshole by wearing her hijab; it was the other students being assholes to her and her sister.

    A reasonable distance.

    Adapting the language, social mores, and basic mode of dress of my new home would seem to be a reasonable accommodation.

    When I lived in Iran, we were taught a long list of things that were important to do, in order to show a modicum of respect to the people among whom we were living. Today, US troops being assigned to the Middle East make similar accommodations.

    What’s wrong with that?

    This makes sense. However, your analogy with the skinhead is ludicrous. See, the headscarf has not traditionally been viewed by those of European heritage as being a sign of disrespect—on the contrary, headscarves have been worn for centuries by those of European heritage, and have traditionally been seen as very respectful garments—just try being a female and entering some of those beautiful old European cathedrals without one! Assuming that someone is being an “asshole” by wearing one makes about as much sense as assuming that a woman who prefers dresses to blue jeans is being an “asshole”, or trying to assert a superiority trip.

    Robert, I’m old enough to remember when headscarves on women were a common sight in inclement weather and in churches during all seasons. You’re Sicilian? Well, then your grandmother (possibly even mother) wore (or wears) one. Mine still does (grandma, I mean). I wear one when the weather is bad (and I’m not in my workclothes), because it looks much more attractive than a ball cap. I’m seeing a little headscarf-as-fashion-accessory action around here too, although not generally in women under 25. Are we all being “assholes” by wearing scarves instead of baseball hats?

    How is Muizza’s headscarf different from her WASP classmate with the “WWJD” bracelet, or some version of rock-n-roll Jesus T-shirt? To call one an “asshole” and not the other, is frankly racist.

  88. tigtog
    tigtog December 16, 2005 at 7:35 pm |

    they’re too racist to see Muslim women as individuals;

    Actually, they did; the instant she removed an obvious social/cultural “block” that’s designed to prevent it, and signals a willingness to let that happen.

    How does hijab prevent seeing the individual? Women in hijab have their facial expressions fully on view. Several of your (APF) statements have led me to believe you are confusing hijab with the burka. You are aware of the difference, aren’t you?

  89. Robert
    Robert December 16, 2005 at 7:43 pm |

    How is Muizza’s headscarf different from her WASP classmate with the “WWJD” bracelet, or some version of rock-n-roll Jesus T-shirt? To call one an “asshole” and not the other, is frankly racist.

    I didn’t call Muizza an asshole. From what Lauren has said, which is the only data we have been provided, she seems a perfectly nice young woman.

    Her headscarf is exactly the same as a WWJD bracelet – if the WWJD bracelet was being worn by a Christian girl attending school in Riyadh.

  90. tigtog
    tigtog December 16, 2005 at 8:16 pm |

    Her headscarf is exactly the same as a WWJD bracelet – if the WWJD bracelet was being worn by a Christian girl attending school in Riyadh.

    And so long as that girl was wearing that bracelet as a quiet expression of personal faith, what would be wrong with that? If the bracelet was perceived as a social barrier by her classmates, then they would be racist in exactly the same way as Muizza’s classmates are being racist when she wears hijab.

  91. Robert
    Robert December 16, 2005 at 8:31 pm |

    And so long as that girl was wearing that bracelet as a quiet expression of personal faith, what would be wrong with that?

    Nothing at all.

    If the bracelet was perceived as a social barrier by her classmates, then they would be racist in exactly the same way as Muizza’s classmates are being racist when she wears hijab.

    Whatever.

    Someone didn’t want to be my friend because I dress funny, they’re racists.

    Versus

    Someone killed my family and burned down our house because they hate us, they’re racists.

    Perhaps you can have a coherent theory of racial relations that uses the same label for ordinary human suspicion of difference, as for democide. I don’t find the conflation cognitively useful.

  92. zuzu
    zuzu December 16, 2005 at 9:10 pm |

    Her headscarf is exactly the same as a WWJD bracelet – if the WWJD bracelet was being worn by a Christian girl attending school in Riyadh

    Ah. So public schools in the US are equivalent to schools in Saudi Arabia, where a particularly conservative brand of Islam is part of the curriculum.

  93. Chris Clarke
    Chris Clarke December 16, 2005 at 9:44 pm |

    Perhaps you can have a coherent theory of racial relations that uses the same label for ordinary human suspicion of difference, as for democide. I don’t find the conflation cognitively useful.

    Shorter Robert: My racism isn’t racist.

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