I often feel invisible. When I tell people that I grew up on an Aboriginal reserve, they look at me like I’m a mythical unicorn, even though more than a million people in Canada identify themselves as First Nations, Métis or Inuit. I probably wouldn’t have thought we existed either if I hadn’t grown up on the Six Nations reserve in Southwestern Ontario. Back then, I only saw people who vaguely looked like me on CBC’s North of 60. It was slim pickings as far as cultural references were concerned.
But today, instead of homages rooted in realism like the CBC offered in the ’90s, all I see in the mass market is a shiny commercial version of “Native Americans” rooted in stereotypes from westerns, Disney cartoons and sports mascots.
It’s disheartening that so few people are aware that headdresses, bonnets and totem poles are still spiritually relevant to vibrant Native cultures. To glamorize—or make light of—the misuse of dated and cartoonish images is to support a legacy of genocide and racism. The after-the-fact apologies aren’t enough. While groups like No Doubt may say they never meant to “offend, hurt or trivialize Native American people, their culture or their history,” they did.
How can anyone assume that referencing “Indian” motifs without care or caution wouldn’t be hurtful, trivial or, indeed, racist? I was dumbstruck when I saw the spring/ summer issue of AnOther Magazine. The biannual fashion and culture publication photographed Michelle Williams wearing black braids, a sad expression and what could arguably be considered redface. (Imagine your reaction if she’d been wearing blackface and cornrows.) In response to an immediate backlash, the magazine echoed those other apologies, writing “While we recognize the seriousness of this debate, the image in question in no way intends to mimic, trivialize or stereotype any particular ethnic group or culture.”
My team doesn’t ask to try to wear a hijab. They are smarter and more respectful than that.
But, wearing a scarf while playing may give them COMPLETE INSIGHT into the lives of half a billion Muslim women. Right? RIGHT?!? *hijabdesk*.
My mates are also acutely aware that if they want to wear a head covering, they can get a scarf – yes, any random scarf – and put it on their head. No pixie dust, no blessing from an Ayatollah, no chanting or incense.
This is the part where I get to be thankful that my teammates don’t want to liberate me. They don’t insult and patronize me inquiring as to how my hijab “makes them feel”. It’s not exotic and interesting. It just is.
They don’t care about my hijab and what it represents to them. They are not that shallow.
Because NEWSFLASH: I am more, way more than my hijab.
They have realized that I am a person whose identity lies, not in a piece of cloth, but in the way I believe, speak, act and play.
This exercise reduces a Muslim woman to one yard of material. It is not an action that one can adequately educate and put another woman in their position. It’s completely disingenuous to think so.
Will having my teammates wear a hijab for a one hour match allow them to understand a lifetime of stares, barriers, “No, sorry you can’t play with that on” decisions, struggles and then my own strength and confidence to embrace it and keep going?
No. No, it won’t.
Just like wearing a hijab for one day will not provide a woman will contextual understanding of challenges and the realities that a woman in hijab may face: misogyny, cultural stresses, financial problems, prejudice, racism and even effects of war.
Does it realistically give people a glimpse of struggles faced by millions? Of a religion that is marred and scarred by stereotypes and assumptions, that is rife with misogynist practices? That has incredibly intrepid people working for the benefit of the world? That has kindness and millions of women who are Muslim who do not wear hijab?
Do we celebrate International Paghra Day with Sikhs? Or International Habit Day with Peruvian Nuns? International “Wear a Wig to Shul” Day with Orthodox Jews? Nope. Because that would be minimizing and politicizing their choice.
This dress-up activity is no more effective than having me wearing a firefighter outfit. I respect First Responders and love red. Does it give me full insight into their plight, intensity, committment, courage and years of training?
No. No, it doesn’t.
This week Urban Outfitters added yet another epic fail to the clothing company’s laundry list of misdeeds.
UO has been selling a greeting card that reads: “Jack and Jill, Went up the Hill, So Jack could see Jill’s fanny, But Jack got a shock, And an eyeful of cock, Because Jill was a closet tranny.”
Angry Redditors called UO’s nursery rhyme “blatantly transphobic” with its use of the much-debated “t-word”and its objectification of trans bodies. But that’s not the only reason why UO’s “charming” card is such a slap in the face.
For years UO has been gobbling up gender-bending style and regurgitating queer fashion for the masses.
In 2009 the New York Times identified androgyny as the “it” fashion trend of the coming decade. Psychologist Dr. Diane Ehrensaft told the Times a new peer culture made gender-bending “not only acceptable, but cool.”
The cool-factor of androgyny has been amplified in recent years by icons like Lady Gaga, who performed in drag at last year’s VMA’s and played up media rumors that she is intersex in her “Telephone” music video (the pop star has since revealed that she’s not). Androgynous models like Andrej Pejic have been walking the runway for Marc Jacobs, and the andro-hot heroine of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo has inspired a clothing line at H&M.
UO stores are cropping up in suburban malls everywhere, selling hip, gender-neutral accessories like beanies, tees, hoodies, plastic-framed glasses, and skinny jeans. Last year the comapny, which includes Anthropologie and Free People, opened 57 new stores, competing with preppy retailers like American Eagle, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Gap.
UO stands out with is self-proclaimed “funky” (queer?) threads. I’m not suggesting that all “funky” and “androgynous” fashion is queer fashion, nor am I suggesting that all queer folks wear the same things. But come on now, where do you think UO got the idea for this photo in their winter catalogue?
In a culture that punishes princess boys and fears Chaz Bono, why is androgyny considered fashionable, even sexy? And how did gender-neutral/gender-bending clothing go mainstream? It’s no secret that what scares, sells. So when the queers go bump in the night, the scaredy cats behind UO swipe our clothes and duck under the covers.
UO has no problem taking without giving back. The company has been outed a number of times in the past few months, first for ripping of independent jewelry designers, then for selling culturally-appropriative “Navajo” clothing and accessories. But sometimes, UO co-founder and CEO Richard Hayne is in the spirit of giving, so hedonates to anti-gay politicians like Rick “gay sex equals man-on-dog humping’” Santorum.
Hayne might think the gays are scary, but his customers are probably less likely to be spooked. Now more Americans support gay marriage than ever before, and among the young, “funky” folks who buy their leggings and Bill Cosby sweaters at UO, I’d guess that the percentage is probably higher.
Since the gays aren’t so scary anymore, UO has resorted to a “tranny” jokes to get that extra “edge.” And it’s just not funny.
While the the young and hip prowl the streets in their androgynous attire, it might look like the “end of gender” is near. But as Coco Chanel reminds us, fashion fades. UO’s darling greeting card brings us back to harsh reality: When it comes to understanding and respecting the spectrum of identities beneath the clothes, we have a long, long way to go.
- Bitch Magazine
This is a really smart post.
I hate UO’s politics/actions and as much as it pains me to not shop there or at anthro - fuck them.