religion

A Daily Mail story reports that women lawyers are being told by “image consultants’ that to appear “professional” they should enhance their femininity by wearing skirts and stilettos, but avoid drawing attention to their breasts.  Thoughts about the word “professional” after the screenshot (thanks to Jason S. for the link):

A spokesman for the company doling out this advice says that it’s about being “professional.”  This is a great term to take apart.  What do we really mean when we say “professional”?

How much of it has to do with proper gender display or even, in masculinized workplaces, simply masculine display?

How much of it has to do with whiteness?  Are afros and corn rows unprofessional?   Is speaking Spanish?  Why or why not?

How much of it has to do with appearing attractive, heterosexual, monogamous, and, you know, not one of those “unAmerican” religions?

For that matter, how much of it has to do with pretending like your work is your life, you are devoted to the employer, and your co-workers are like family (anyone play Secret Santa at work this year)?

What do we really mean when we say “professional”?  How does this word get used to coerce people into upholding normative expectations that center certain kinds of people and marginalize others?

Emily K. sent me a link to this story about a soccer team in Amsterdam, Ajax, known as the Jews. According to this New York Times article, the team got the nickname from opposing teams, who began calling the club the Jews because of the supposed history of Jews on the team. There isn’t any particular connection between the Jewish community and the team today–the team doesn’t have a large number of Jewish players, nor is the fan club made up of a higher number of Jews than other soccer teams.

This leads to some interesting situations. Most notably, fans (the vast majority of whom are non-Jewish) have adopted symbols of Judaism and Israel to show team spirit. Here’s a fan wrapped up in an Israeli flag:

And this fan has tattooed the Ajax logo along with a Star of David on his arm:

(Both images from the NYT article.)

Fans sometimes display gigantic Israeli flags in the stands during games (image found here):

This brings up some interesting issues about the appropriation of cultural symbols. When I first saw the pictures, I thought it was a bit disturbing that people use the Israeli flag as a prop to express support for an athletic team. But then I remembered that people do this all the time–I’ve seen pictures of soccer fans wrapped up in, for example, the Spanish flag, or wearing shirts with pictures of flags on them (not to mention people wearing clothing with American flags). Of course, that is often by people who are citizens of those countries. So is it weird to have non-Israelis using the Israeli flag in this way? I’ve thought about it, and I think maybe the strong association between Israel and Judaism makes this seem a little different than those other examples, since it then appears to be the appropriation of a religious symbol, even though the Israeli flag is not, technically speaking, itself a religious item (as opposed to, say, if fans were wearing yarmulkes or something). And clearly the people using the flag in this way are doing so because of its association with Jewishness, not because they have any particular interest in Israel or like an Israeli team.

The other problem that arises is opposing fans’ heckling. Because Ajax is nicknamed the Jews, fans of other teams often use anti-Semitic chants during games. Some examples (found at the Ajax USA site):

Ssssssssssssssssssssssssss… (the hissing sound of gas)

We’re hunting the Jews!

There is the Ajax train to Auschwitz!

Sieg! Sieg! Sieg! (German for ‘victory’, yelled while performing the Hitler’s Salute)

According to the NYT article, they have also yelled “Hamas! Hamas!”, a reference to the Palestinian political party. And there’s this, from Ajax fans themselves:

…during a game against a German team late last year, a group of Ajax supporters displayed a banner that read “Jews take revenge for ’40-’45,” a reference to the Holocaust.

Some Jewish fans now report that they have stopped attending games because they find the behavior offensive.

This would be a great example to use in a discussion of sports mascots, particularly how it compares to American Indian mascots (for examples, see this post) and Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish mascot (see post here). Critics of American Indian mascots often ask questions along the lines of “What would happen if a team called itself the Fighting Jews?” (see here and here for examples of this rhetorical strategy), but it’s always presented as an unimaginable, completely hypothetical situation. And yet it turns out not to be so hypothetical after all. My guess is students would generally have a much more negative reaction to the Ajax Jews than to teams like the Washington Redskins, and it would be useful to discuss why that might be (keeping in mind that fans of teams playing against teams with Indian mascots sometimes use images that depict violence against Indians).

And of course there’s also the whole issue of the appropriation of Jewish culture and the trivialization of the Holocaust and Nazism by both Ajax and opposing fans. The whole thing is creepy.

Thanks, Emily!

Telefono Donna, a rape crisis hotline in Italy, designed a poster to raise awareness of rape in honor of November 25, the International Day to for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Some conservative politicians in Milan object to the Christ-like pose taken by the bare-breasted model in the poster. From the UK Telegraph:

“We’re calling for the poster to be withdrawn because an important day like this should not be debased by such a sexual provocation,” said councillor Carlo Fidanza, a member of the right-wing National Alliance party.

But the president of the Telefono Donna rape helpline, Stefania Bartochetti, said she was surprised by the controversy because the poster had raised no objections in other Italian cities.

“As a Catholic I can’t see anything offensive or blasphemous. We chose a strong image to encourage more rape victims to break their silence,” she said.

The poster poses the question: ‘Who Pays For Man’s Sins?’ and a caption which reads “Only four per cent of women who suffer sexual violence report their assailants.”

Left-leaning politicians said their opponents’ concerns were out of step with contemporary Italian society.

“If you applied these standards to Italian television, you’d have to get rid of 70 per cent of what the main channels broadcast,” said Pierfrancesco Majorino, of the Democratic Party.

Small reproduction of the poster, showing bare-breasted woman [NSFW], below the cut. more...

In her book, The Averaged Americans, Sarah Igo talks about the development of statistical methods.  Their development allowed for the emergence of the idea of an “average American.”  An idea that carried moral weight; “average” was “good.” 

Looking at the famous “Middletown” study, the Kinsey Reports, and the invention of polling, she discusses how methods aimed at identifying the average Amerian often reproduced preconceived notions of who was a real American.  In the Middletown study, Blacks were ignored because the researchers decided they didn’t count as average Americans.  Similarly, polling methodology is aimed at getting a representative sample, but representative of who?  Deciding who is being over- or under-represented in a sampling strategy is always a choice.

The invention of the “average American” as an idea is interesting in light of the McCain/Palin rhetoric about “main street” and “real America” and the way in which being a “typical” American is being framed as morally good (image from Stuff White People Do)

 

As with Middletown, the idea of the average American used by McCain/Palin is still racially-coded.  We Are Respectable Negroes lists 69 terms–including “regular folks,” “responsible Americans,” and “good hard-working people”–used by speakers in this election to mean middle-class white person.  Here are Palin’s words:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vob9vFvojN8[/youtube]

Which brings me to Joe the Plumber.  Joe the Plumber, of course, is supposed to represent an “average” American.  But every in-group needs an out-group and, like all incarnations of the average, Joe has to be differentiated from the extremes, the non-average, the tails of the distribution: the blacks, the traitors, the poor, the Muslims, etc.  Here he is making exactly such an argument about Obama:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw2Wczp9yOc[/youtube]

Indeed, convincing us that Obama is Other has been a central part of the McCain/Palin strategy (see here, here, a here, a here, here, here, here).

Elizabeth Dole (R) is running for Senate against Kay Hagen (D) in North Carolina. In the campaign ad below, Dole’s argument against electing Hagen is that she is supported by “Godless Americans” who believe in the separation of church and state. It is a nice example of the demonization of athiests (which, as we have seen, exceeds even the demonization of Muslims these days). (If the video doesn’t embed, click here.)

Found at The Daily Dish.


The video “The Great Schlep,” featuring Sarah Silverman, is part of The Great Schlep campaign, which, according to the website,

…aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor. Don’t have grandparents in Florida? Not Jewish? No problem! You can still become a schlepper and make change happen in 2008, simply by talking to your relatives about Obama.

(Go here if the video isn’t working.)

The Great Schlep’s Facebook page has a link to talking points (titled “Obama Talking Points for Jews”), including,

*He is a Christian and has never been a Muslim.
*Obama ran the business side of his primary campaign significantly better than any other candidate of either party…
*His love for the United States is similar to that of generations of Jewish immigrants, who loved America for giving them an opportunity to succeed if they worked hard enough…
*Obama represents a different kind of black leadership, less interested in the confrontational tactics favored by many who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s…
*Biden’s knowledge of Middle Eastern affairs and his decades of strong support for Israel (he identifies himself as a Zionist) are well documented.

It’s an interesting list, drawing on the “up by your bootstraps” immigrant ideal (“…an opportunity to succeed if they worked hard enough”), the idea of Obama as a non-threatening Black leader, and that Jewish voters would be particularly impressed by Obama being able to manage the “business side” of his campaign.

Now watch this clip of Dave Chappelle’s “Reparations” skit:(Go here if the video isn’t working.)

These would be great videos for discussing humor and the way that in-group members may be allowed to make jokes that others would be criticized for. Both of these videos are full of images and statements that, should a non-Jew or non-African American say them, would almost certainly be considered incredibly offensive. Are they necessarily not offensive simply because the person presenting them is a member of the stereotyped group? How can we distinguish between humor that pokes fun at stereotypes and humor that just uses them for a cheap laugh?

On the one hand, Whites often use the “it’s just a joke” disclaimer to deny responsibility for racist content in jokes; on the other hand, minorities may use the “I’m a member of the group I’m making fun of; how could the jokes be racist?” argument to deflect criticism. And of course, we may legitimately feel differently about a joke depending on who said it (the whole “are you laughing with us, or at us?” phenomenon). But at the same time, I think it’s sort of fascinating that we’re often allowed, or encouraged, to laugh at racist stereotypes, as long as the person saying them is a member of the stereotyped group–and in fact, we often wouldn’t really know how to go about criticizing them if we felt it was warranted.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.


Shoshannah F. sent in this video of a group singing what is titled “Eid Mubarak India Song.” Shoshannah says,

“Eid mubarak” is a traditional Muslim greeting reserved for use on the festivals of Eid ul-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr.

Eid al Fitr, by the way, is the festival celebrating the end of Ramadan; it was celebrated last week.

There are several things in the video I think are interesting. First, it might be a good example of the diversity that exists in the Muslim world. As we’ve talked about before on Soc Images (see here and here) , in the U.S. Islam is often associated very strongly with “the veil” or even “the burqa.” This is used as evidence that Islam is automatically and uniquely oppressive to women. Yet in this video we see some women wearing scarves that cover some of their hair and other women whose heads are completely uncovered. It might be a useful video to show (at least a bit of it) if you’re talking about stereotypes of Islam and the idea that all Muslim women have to wear head coverings.

I can also imagine using a short clip from it to illustrate the fact that students’ frequent belief that Muslim = Arab = Middle Easterner is actually inaccurate. I assign a reading in my race class by Nadine Naber titled “Ambiguous Insiders: An Investigation of Arab American Invisibility” (2000, Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies vol 23, number 1, p. 37-62). She argues that Islam has been racialized in the U.S., such that most Americans assume all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims are Arabs, and negative stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans are extended to Muslims in general. On a global basis, only a minority of Muslims live in the Arab-speaking world (which is, by the way, the definition of “Arab”); the largest Muslim population lives in Indonesia, and though they are predominantly Muslim countries, neither Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, nor Afghanistan are Arab countries. I might show a small portion of this video as part of a lecture on the inaccuracy of equating Muslims with Arabs.

Another element that really struck me was how certain aspects of the type of masculinity on display here differ from our ideas of how men should act in the U.S. The men are wearing pastel colors that are generally only worn by women in the U.S. (though as this post shows, men are, under certain circumstances, allowed to wear pink). The men also dance closely and hug in ways that would not be acceptable between straight men in the U.S. The video could be used as an example of the social construction of gender, and how the things considered appropriate for men or women to do in one culture may not be viewed the same in others.

Now, I have no idea what the meaning of the guys looking all aghast at the guy in the business suit (at about 3:45) until he starts dancing is. I don’t know what that is supposed to signify–that he’s Westernized and might not take part in the festival? If any readers have any insights on what the meaning of that exchange is, I’d love to hear them.

Thanks, Shoshannah!

UPDATE: Commenter Silviu G. makes a good point:

What struck me was that, in commenting the video, the blogger didn’t emphasize the strict segregation of women and men.

Indeed I didn’t…thanks for pointing out the oversight in my analysis, Silviu! That might add to an interesting discussion of how, in the U.S., we would view men who interacted primarily with one another, hugging and dancing together, and remained entirely separate from one another. In the U.S., such behavior would almost certainly lead to the men being defined as gay; however, I don’t think that is in any way implied in this video, which again points to the variation in norms of gender behavior.

Also, just to clarify…Silviu suggests that I was “praising” Muslim TV for showing women with uncovered hair. That was not my intention–in fact, it would be terribly condescending of me to be all “Hey, look! How nice! They let some women be in public with no headscarves!” My point in mentioning that the women’s heads aren’t covered was just that, at least among my students, there’s often a belief that all Muslim women cover their hair all the time (I’ve had them ask if they have to cover their hair while they sleep), and that this video might be used just to get the point across that there’s no single way that Muslim women dress, any more than all Christian women dress the same, which many of my students found very surprising.

Tony S. brought my attention to this yard sign about Obama that has become quite famous (found at BlackPoliticsontheWeb):

A Florida man put it up in his yard, and it has, not surprisingly, led to some complaints and a lot of online discussion.

Obviously this is fascinating for a discussion of how Obama’s race continues to be emphasized by some opponents, despite the chorus of media voices saying that we’re a “post-racial” nation now. This is a bit of a new twist, in that most examples of opponents referring to Obama’s race have tended to focus exclusively on his Black ancestry. Here he’s referred to as a “half-breed.” Whereas highlighting his Blackness brings up one set of stereotypes that might seem threatening to White voters, “half-breed” brings up a whole other issue that might make some voters uncomfortable–racial mixing. There’s also the association with Islam.

Aside from the specific reference to Obama, there’s an interesting linguistic element here. Why would calling someone a half-breed Musli[m] be automatically recognizable as a slur? It says something about how Muslims are currently viewed in our society that, for at least some Americans, all you have to do is refer to someone as a Muslim to imply that they are unworthy of office. Similarly, the word half-breed is stigmatizing in a way that, say, “multiracial” isn’t. Imagine a similar sign that said, say, “Obama: Multiracial Lutheran.” Doesn’t have quite the same effect, because being multiracial and Lutheran aren’t stigmatized the way half-breed and Muslim are. It might also be good for a discussion of how groups might adopt new terms (such as multiracial) to try to counter the negative associations of others, like half-breed.

However, the other thing I found interesting about this was how every account I could find of this sign online mentioned that he misspelled Muslim as “Muslin.” I’m a stickler for language and misspellings actually give me pain in any kind of formal writing, but I was struck by the fact that many of the comments about the sign focused not on the offensive racial element, but on the misspelling. It seems many people dismiss this guy as a nutjob not because he’s trying to draw on the old knee-jerk fear of racial mixing, but because he misspelled something on his handmade sign. That’s…well, weird.

Thanks, Tony!

NEW!  In our comments, Zach also pointed us to this picture he took in Ohio:

ALSO NEW!  Velanie W. sent in this clip from Al Jazeera English where people associated Obama with Islam and terrorism:

Thanks, Velanie!