Friday, October 22, 2010

Overcoming Prejudices Against Muslims?

Washington Post opinion writer Kathleen Parker, really gets on my nerves. The first time she did, she accused Obama of not being 'manly' enough.

This time, she's arguing that we are overreacting to prejudices against Muslims, rather than trying to talk through it and overcome our prejudices. She's speaking specifically regarding comments made by (former) NPR analyst Juan Williams about how he gets nervous sitting next to presumed Muslims on airplanes, and about Bill O'Reilly's recent comments on The View that "Muslims killed us on 9/11."

I do agree with her in the sense that yes, we should be able to talk about our prejudices. I really do think that's the only way we can get over them. Most of the time we don't even recognize the prejudices we have, or why it is we have them. These are things that need to be addressed.

But were these overreactions? No. What Kathleen Parker doesn't understand is the effect that these comments and beliefs have on the people they are directed towards. It's as simple as trying to step in someone else's shoes for the day. How would you feel if someone you were sitting next to on an airplane didn't feel comfortable next to you because you "looked" like a potential terrorist? And this may not necessarily even be what you are wearing, but it could be the color of your skin, or what your name is. So no, it's not an overreaction, because it is placing the blame on people who aren't responsible for your prejudices.

Also, the language that she uses throughout her piece shows her lack of understanding of Islam and the difference between culture and religion. She otherizes Muslims by using phrases like "Muslim attire," and using the word "Allah" rather than God.

First of all, what is "Muslim attire?" Is it shalwar kameez, as common in Pakistan? Is it the thobe seen in Saudi Arabia? Is it all clothing that we seen worn in Muslim-majority countries? What about the religious minorities in Muslim-majority countries that wear the same clothes as Muslims in their country? Is it still considered "Muslim attire" then? What about Muslims in the West that wear western clothing? And of course, the hijab. That is likely a giveaway, isn't it? But what about in countries wear the hijab is mandatory (ex: Iran), and is not necessarily a sign of piety, or of adhering to Islam at all? Clothing in these examples is more about culture, not religion. The point is, she (although she is explaining Williams' comments, she still uses this in her own words) is making assumptions about how to identify a Muslim based on clothing, when they may not necessarily be an indicator.

Next, she uses "Allah" instead of God. Most people (including Parker, apparently) don't realize that "Allah" is merely the Arabic word for God. Arab Christians (gasps! yes, they exist), pray to Allah as well. According to Islam, God is the same in all three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), but this idea has not been so readily accepted by Christians. So, when we hear Christians (or even non-Christians, but perhaps just Westerners in general) continually referring to "Allah," when referring to the "Muslim God," it only reflects either a lack of understanding of both the word itself and the concept of God in Abrahamic traditions, or an unwillingness to accept the similarities between Islam and Christianity. (I am only referring to Christianity because this is where it has been the biggest issue, at least to my knowledge).

The point is, Parker's choice of language reflects an 'us vs. them' attitude and demonstrates either her lack of understanding of Islam, or her unwillingness to dismantle the religious hierarchy that she is perpetuating.

So yes, I agree that we do need to engage in dialogue if we ever want to overcome our prejudices. But at the same time, that doesn't mean we can dismiss these incidents as "overreactions." Doing so only permits the idea that it is ok that these prejudices exist, and as long as we keep doing that, it will be difficult to overcome them.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Gender and Politics

A recent Washington Post article details several incidents lately in which congressional and gubernatorial candidates have accused their opponents of not being ‘manly’ enough.

Then-Republican senatorial primary candidate Christine O’Donnell told her opponent Representative Mike Castle that “this is not a bake-off - get your man-pants on.” Similarly, Jane Norton, Republican senatorial primary candidate, accused her opponent of “not being man enough” to do his own bidding. This has also been true among men, such as when Carl Paladino accused his opponent of not having “cojones” to face him in a debate.

All these comments demonstrate not only how there is a certain ideal of masculinity that men need to live up to, but also it is necessary to have in politics. By accusing other men of not being “manly” enough, it is a direct attempt in emasculating a man. This way, politicians are reinforcing the idea of the necessity of a specific form of masculinity—strength and bravery—and subsequently discouraging voters from supporting them by shaming them for “failing” to live up to this ideal.

Masculinity is something that is constantly changing and taking new forms. Where it was once only acceptable for men to be the main breadwinner and let women maintain the household and the family, there is now increasing support for men to take more responsibilities within the family, that this is the new masculine ideal.

With this in mind, we can see how masculinity is shaped and reshaped in order to put pressure on men. Whereas there are more varied forms of acceptable femininity (although women also face criticism for stepping outside of typical gender roles, outside of the home), this is not as true for men. If a man is unable to prove himself as “manly,” he will be ridiculed as weak and feminine.

As the public sphere is generally a man’s world, especially in politics, anyone that is not masculine enough—strong, unemotional, rational, and brave—will not be accepted. This is seen with the above accusations, in attempt to get rid of anybody that does not fit.

As we can see, women perpetuate cycle. Women in politics often have more to prove than men do, since they are stepping out of the private sphere and into the public sphere, where they have not always belonged and so still struggle to fit in to. By accusing men of not being “manly” enough, women are able to not only show that they can play the same games in a man’s world, but also they also reinforce the idea that there is one certain masculinity that men must live up to, or else they will not be suited for the world of politics.

This just goes to show how deeply embedded gender is in our society, and until we are able to live in a gender-free world, it will continue to be the case that one’s assumed capability for being in public office is not based on actual credentials or leadership skills, but rather on meaningless gender stereotypes that maintain the superiority of masculine over feminine. While gender neutrality is ideal, it is nevertheless difficult to resist, and when we do resist, we are punished. Men are punished for not being “manly” enough, and women for not being “feminine” enough. Gender resistance may vary in how they affect political candidates, but if nothing else it is used as a weapon in attacking one’s character and potential as a politician.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

New form of dating violence: text messaging

Wrote this a few months ago and it's shorter than it would be ordinarily, since I was going to send it into a blog but never did...

A recent Washington Post article ( describes how text messaging is being used as a form of harassment among dating couples. Jealous partners will text their significant others at all times of day and night to find out what they are doing, who they are with, or simply to demand attention. They do so repeatedly; in one case in the article, a woman would receive up to 30 messages at a time from her boyfriend. Similar stories have surfaced, and have resulted in death.

As the article suggests, because texts are easier to hide, it makes it more difficult to know about the problem and help the victim. This is only more reason to find programs that prevent these situations in the first place. There are two basic approaches to reaching young people directly: addressing the potential perpetrator, or addressing the potential victim.

While the mainstream media tends to blame the victim in gender-based violence—i.e. a woman walking alone at night is at fault for taking such a “risk”—feminists fight to ensure that perpetrators receive the blame they deserve. Going along with this, it is important to understand how victims (most often women) end up in abusive relationships to begin with. Although a relationship may not be physically abusive, constant harassment and threats is also a form of abuse.

Women and girls grow up surrounded by a society that essentially persuades them to seek male approval. In other words, we are taught that we are only beautiful if we are able to get a boyfriend. This is at least partially to blame for how women and girls get into abusive relationships—because they want to fit in, no matter the cost. To make matters worse, it is even more difficult to leave an abusive relationship.