“Girl, you look gorgeous…but a bit too much like a Muslim.”

by Matilda Branson. Matilda is a passionate feminist currently working as a gender and development consultant with a feminist NGO in Nepal. With a Master in Gender and Development from the University of Melbourne (in Australia, mate), her favourite past times include stalking beach destinations on GoogleEarth (the Himalayas are a long way from the sea), fishing and singing Disney classics.

“Girl, you look gorgeous – but a bit too much like a Muslim.”

These were the words delivered to my white Australian friend by a random man as she was walking down the street in a long skirt, t-shirt and a sweater tied around her head – a little unorthodox, to be sure, but a means by which to protect her delicate complexion from the burning rays of the Australian sun (those rays really, really burn). This man walked up to her, voiced his concerns, and walked away. My friend was outraged but also unwilling to hurl abuse at the stranger in case he did something unexpected.

This is not the first time I’ve heard of this kind of thing happening – it really worries me though – what on earth does this say about Australian society and prevailing attitudes towards Muslims and Islam generally? And even if such views are harboured, who said it was ok to share such beliefs with girls in the street wearing sweaters on their heads?  The general outlook is not particularly inspiring.

Such a peculiar but all-too-common occurrence highlighting such attitudes lurking within the Australian psyche makes me think of Spivak’s (1988) sceptical observation on the phenomenon of ‘white men saving brown women from brown men’. Thank goodness that guy saved my friend from her near-Muslim experience.

Rhetoric regarding concern by Western liberators for helpless women from their foreign cultures or religions isn’t a new thing. The colonial French in Algeria were uncharacteristically obsessed with the unveiling of Algerian women (Scott, 2007); the British in India outlawed sati (a religious funeral practice among some Indian communities in which a recently widowed woman threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre (not to say that the dying out of self-immolation customs isn’t a bad thing). From whence (yes, whence) did such attitudes come? From a perceived imperialist responsibility to educate and redeem the ignorant savage and the uncivilised from their own harmful cultural customs?

I suspect that similar attitudes persist in Western societies today, cloaked in new terms, evident in bureaucratic weasel-words referring to ‘harmful cultural practices’ of ‘Other’ cultures on issues of ‘cultural differences’. Didn’t Laura Bush say that ‘the fight against terrorism is also a fight for the rights and dignity of women’ in Afghanistan?

Post-September 11 I think the cultural ‘Other’ has become synonymous with ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ in popular culture.This is evident in debates surrounding the sartorial hijab, honour killings and female genital mutilation, all of which (of course) centre on women’s bodies, the eternal sites of contests for these debates.

What bothers me, is that this little saviour-victim complex persists to the extent that a stranger thinks they can go up to someone in the street and advise them on the dangers of being too close to that cultural Other.

My point?  Next time a stranger admonishes you for dressing too much like a Muslim – deck him.

Posted on by Matilda Branson in Feminism, Racism Leave a comment

FFFF: Sh*t Canadians Say to Aboriginal Women

A group of Canadian feminists in a Women’s Studies class put together this addition to the Sh*t People Say meme after watching a documentary by Stolen Sisters.


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, FFFF, Racism 1 Comment

What Makes a Man? 2012 Conference Recap

What Makes a Man Conference Imageby Jasmine Peterson

A Discussion of the Constructed Roles of Men in a Patriarchal World (and how we can resist and redefine manhood)

Flying home after a rather busy weekend in Toronto, I’ve finally got time to reflect on the What Makes a Man: White Ribbon 2012 Conference that I attended Saturday. This was the second annual conference organized by Jeff Perera, a co-founder of the Ryerson chapter of the White Ribbon Campaign.

It was a day packed full of powerful speakers, which makes it a bit difficult to succinctly collect my thoughts about all of the important discussions that were initiated. The thing I most enjoyed about this event (other than the surprise guest appearance by Michael Kaufmann) is that it was a dialogue between panellists and guests – instead of a lecture.

I think this is particularly important in feminist spaces: we’re all experts of our lived experiences, and we all have valuable things to bring to the conversation. It’s a collaborative process, a dialogue, and that’s important in addressing issues of equality so all voices can be heard. Read more

Posted on by Jasmine Peterson in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism Leave a comment

Heritage Minutes II: Part of Whose Heritage?

Heritage Minute Canada Screencap

by Jarrah Hodge

In my last post I wrote about how Canadian Heritage Minutes talked about (white) women’s history. I did a quick calculation based on Wikipedia’s list of the ads and estimate that the number of ads featuring women was about 22%. So not amazing but not insignificant.

Where we get into more problematic areas are the Heritage Minutes that feature people of colour, particularly those dealing with First Nations history.

Heritage Minutes on Race

But let’s start with some more positive examples. In this first one, a man tells a First Nations legend to his (I’m guessing) granddaughter. While the production values are about at the level of an original series Star Trek episode, it nevertheless is one of the few Heritage Minutes that is actually told in the voice of a First Nations person:

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Racism 3 Comments

Fighting Sioux Part II: The Science

University of Illinois mascot Chief IlliwinekThis is part II of a post by Adrienne K. of Native Appropriations. Find Part I here. The original version of this post can be found here.

Part II: 
So, still unconvinced after my Part I emotional plea? You can refute my “feelings” all you want. But how about a real, peer-reviewed scientific study? You can’t mess with a one-two punch of emotions AND science, right?

In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology, Dr. Stephanie Fryburg (Stanford Almuna and one of my professor idols) took the mascot issue head-on. The paper can be read, in full, here.

Her article, “Of Warrior Chiefs and Indian Princesses: The Psychological Consequences of American Indian Mascots”, consisted of 4 studies, using Native youth from an Arizona reservation as her subjects.

Study 1: Students are given images of Pocahontas, Chief Wahoo, and a list of negative stereotypes. Afterward, they are asked to generate a list of word associations. For Pocahontas and Chief Wahoo, ~80% of their word associations were positive. (I know, that’s backwards, right?) for the negative stereotype list, only ~8% were positive (about what you’d expect). But before you get on my case about proving mascots aren’t bad… Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Pop Culture, Racism Leave a comment

The Fighting Sioux Are Back: A Passionate Plea Against Indian Mascots

Fighting SiouxThis is a two-part post by Adrienne K. It was originally posted at her blog, Native Appropriations.

Adrienne K. is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and a graduate student in Boston, where she studies access to higher education for Native students. In her free time, she blogs about cultural appropriation and use of Indigenous cultures, traditions, languages, and images in popular culture, advertising, and everyday life at Native Appropriations.

As of last Wednesday, University of North Dakota (UND) has reinstated their use of the “Fighting Sioux” mascot, which was banned last year. Residents of the state gathered over 17,000 signatures to put the issue on the ballot in the upcoming elections, and the UND administration says that they wanted to show that they “honor the refrendum process” by reinstating the mascot.

I, of course, think this is messed up beyond belief. Not only does this put UND in risk of violating NCAA rules that won’t allow post-season games at schools with Indian mascots, it sends a huge “eff you” to everyone in the Native (and ally) community who worked their butts off to get the mascot removed in the first place.

So, because my mascot posts tend to draw mascot defenders from the dregs of the internets, let me refute your claims right off the bat (excuse me as I plagiarize my own hipster headdress manifesto):

But mascots are HONORING the bravery and fierceness of Indians! 
No. They’re not. Honoring someone does not consist of taking their culture, reducing it to a one-dimensional racist stereotype, and representing them however you see fit. It’s about power and who has the right to represent whom. Also, this cartoon helps. I don’t consider a dude in warpaint and feathers making a mockery of my culture honoring. At all. Also, not all Indians are “fierce” and “brave,” just like not all white (or Black or Latino) people are “<insert stereotype here>”.

I’m Irish (Norwegian, Catholic) and don’t get offended by the Fighting Irish (Vikings, Padres)! Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Pop Culture, Racism Leave a comment

MLK Day – How to Be a Racial Transformer

I loved this chart from Colorlines on how to be a racial justice hero, “on MLK Day and all year long”.

And I’ll finish this very brief but hopefully thought-provoking MLK Day post with a classic Jay Smooth video: Ten OTHER Things Martin Luther King Said:

My favourite? Number 10:

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. And justice at it’s best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”


Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Racism 2 Comments