The Silence of Our Friends

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I'm curious, is it always off-limits?

In the most recent firestorm, Amanda of Pandagon posted a picture of the Clinton blogger lunch where Jessica was covered in a burqa, many people of color (POC) protested the use of a muslim cultural symbol being used in a dust up between two white middle class women. Both Amanda and the image creater Auguste apologized and explained that Ann Althouse has condemned the use of the burqa for muslim women, while telling Jessica to stop bringing attention to her breasts, which considering Jessica is in a normal pose for a photograph one can assume Ann wants her to cover herself up.

My question is, what if Pandagon had posted contrasting pictures of both American sexism and Afghan sexism? What if instead of demonizing muslims for wanting women to be covered they also had a photo of the male American plasticized ideal, Pamela Anderson, wandering an Afghan market in a bikini or nude? And the caption reads: This is what Ann Althouse wants!

I think that by turning the spotlight on both types of sexism it would have mitigated the appearance of muslim bashing to some extent, and would have better drawn attention to the actual object of the joke, Ann Althouse and her hypocrisy.

I'll admit I haven't completely thought this through, so I would really like more input on what others think. Is using muslim cultural symbols completely off limits for Americans? It has been noted, Americans are involved in the colonial occupation of Afghanistan. Women's rights in Afghanistan has been used as an excuse for this occupation and therefore further devastation of women and their families there. So the argument could be made that we should stay away from it at all times. On the other hand, by contrasting it with sexism in the west, it wouldn't be pointing the finger at "the other" while ignoring ourselves, it would be pointing out that sexism is universal...while also having the added bonus of displaying Alhouse's confused thinking on the subject.

6 comment(s):

Congrats on the blog, Donna! Well done, and don't worry about 'keeping up' with it, everyday. Just say what you have to say, when you have the time and inclination to say it. That'll work.

You pose an interesting question which I am not sure how to answer. My objections to the use of the burqa in the photoshopping were fairly narrow... although the discussions that rose up around bfp's points were fascinating and ones I will want to read over again soonish, to get the full flavor and understanding.

But anyway, I think (am not at all sure) my reaction to the photo, combined with the text, was more from a humanist point of view, as opposed to a feminist one, although there are definitely intersections. So what struck me first was not the othering, or the colonialist stuff, but the fact that there was just not even a itsy bitsy hint of any of the people who would normally be behind the symbol, burqa, style of dress, whatever. She/it had no more significance than that of a doll or a stage prop. And, basically, that is exactly how she/it was used... a stage prop to signal the punch line in what was essentially a private joke between two or three groups of either squabbling or supportive privileged people.

So, in light of that, I am not really sure that, for me, a scenario such as you discribe, with the contrasting of sexism in the East and the West, would make much of a difference unless the entire thing - both photo and text and so on, was framed differently and the voices of all sides were brought into the conversation and the essential humanity of those who wear (thru force of choice) or don't wear (same) the burqa or other symbols were presented ... or present themselves, as actual people instead of props.

By Blogger Nanette, at 10/05/2006 5:11 PM  

I've been thinking about this all day and came to the same conclusion, nanette. Unless there are muslim voices included in this piece it really isn't complete. It's still a joke made by a colonial country towards those we are colonizing, and there is no way around it. We can't use them as props towards our goals as feminists while at the same time using them as props in our power grab. Until we are out of Afghanistan and Iraq and working to truly improve women's lives there we can't both be in on the "joke" instead it's like one of us is making light of the situation while the other is the butt of the joke.

By Blogger Donna, at 10/05/2006 10:41 PM  

I am thinking that ebogjohnson could concievably be kept busy for the forseeable future making follow-ups to the hilarious "Should I Use Blackface on my Blog?"

(in case anyone still hasn't seen it)

By Blogger belledame222, at 10/06/2006 4:46 PM  

LOL I hope ebogjonson comes up with something for this one too and saves us all some trouble!

A good conversation on this is going on over at Bitch|Lab, saying that we try to find commonalities without knowing our differences first. That is basically what I tried to do with my question here and why I am wrong.

Two thoughts and questions on Burqagate

By Blogger Donna, at 10/06/2006 11:19 PM  

I mean in a way i understand the urge to find commonalities first; it is true that if there isn't -any- sort of shared framework then dialogue isn't going to be possible.

but...well then, maybe it's not a question of actively looking for commonalities -or- differences, just doing one's best to neutrally first find out exactly -what- the other is saying and where sie's coming from. -Then- you both decide if there's enough to keep going on.

iow: ask real questions, really listen to the answers.

By Blogger belledame222, at 10/07/2006 8:43 AM  

The problem with commonalities is that we here in the US think we can understand sexism in other cultures since we have it here too, but it takes different forms and has different meanings in the different cultural contexts. Like this whole blow up over clothing, burqas etc. I bet the Afghani women think that burqas are the least of their problems, but the whites especially are acting like its the worst think in the world. I think not being able to leave their homes or work or go to school is much worse than a piece of clothing. Not to mention worrying about a bomb landing on your home or soldiers barging in guns a blazin at any moment.

By Blogger Donna, at 10/08/2006 12:26 AM  

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