Religious symbols

The discussion about banning “religious symbols” from public schools in France* made me wonder, how the fuck does one tell what is a religious symbol? Does government have to issue ginormous books with pictures of all possible religious clothing and symbolism, and all students have to go through a “religion detector” every morning, similar to the metal detectors in some American schools?

Probably not. So, how the hell does one tell what is or isn’t religious? And how does one avoid discrimination, when something worn by one person is a fashion statement, but worn by another is a religious statement**? I mean, “everybody knows” that a cross is Christian, a Yarmulke is Jewish and a full hijab is Muslim, but what about other symbols? Imagine for a second this sort of thing being introduced into American schools. Which of the following would qualify as a “religious symbol” and which wouldn’t***?

It seems to me that there’s a whole bunch of “religious symbolism” that would fly under the radar because it’s so rare, or because it’s close enough to mainstream culture. This sort of thing would be guaranteed to promote established privilege against the visibly “other”.

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*and, much closer to home: Niedersachsen’s new Integration-Minister Aygül Özkan has made comments about removing religious symbols, as well. If I understand her correctly though, she’s talking about classroom decorations and staff, not students; which is something slightly different.

**well, I possibly already have an answer to that, if the reports of several Muslim girls being sent home for wearing standard bandanas are true…

***And let’s hope none of the students end up with a Latino boyfriend named Jesus, either :-p


You will be assimilated; resistance is futile.

Say what you will about Capitalism, but it has the probably most effective and universally applicable method of conquering its enemies: subversion, assimilation and substitution via mimicry.

pseudo-punk: one and two

pseudo-hippie: one and two

pseudo-communist: one and two

pseudo-green: one and two

point being, if it costs you that much money to be an anti-consumerist/anti-capitalist rebel, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s cool to be a rebel right now. But really living without stuff, wearing the same pair of jeans for decades until they’ve become unfixable, fighting the peer-pressure to buy-buy-buy, go to demonstrations, organize, boycott, fight, etc… well, that’s hard work. So much easier to just buy into the look and believe that that is what the whole thing is about. This dilutes the real counterculture and assimilates it into the mainstream, consumerist culture; it becomes a mere fashion statement.

And it’s really fucking tough to resist, too. I’m guilty of it, too… but I want to do better, because I hate feeling like a poser and hypocrite. I’m getting there, in baby steps, but I get the feeling that baby-steps just aren’t fast enough.

Being good is hard; and disgustingly caffeine-free *pout*

Less clothing doesn’t mean less oppression

We Westerners easily identify the clothes of other cultures as oppressive. And certainly, when dress-codes are enshrined in law and the non-compliance is punished with more than mere social ostracism, this is indeed true. But in many circumstances, this is not the case, and yet we identify this “other” clothing as oppressive, even going so far as to ban it, without seeing the irony of saying “Poor subjugated women, we’d better tell them what to wear”. And at the same time, we miss that our own culture has clothing rules that also serve to limit women, starting with the fact that most fashionable clothing is extremely uncomfortable and limits movement (I’m reminded of various actresses in dresses into which they had to be sown; or actresses wearing dresses in which they couldn’t sit down). I actually remember the idiotic uproar when there was some special edition barbie in muslim dress, and everybody suddenly whined about the oppressive clothing. As if teetering on the tips of her toes, and wearing clothes that would never permit a real woman any room for movement(if you bend a barbie at the waist, she will occasionally fall out of her western dresses, too), wasn’t already oppressive to begin with!

And the next person who tells me how horrible it is that those poor Muslim women have to go completely covered up in the summer heat will be dragged to Minneapolis on a Friday night in February, to watch women run around in open-toed heels, miniskirts and tank-tops in -20F/-29C weather (an experience very similar to what a friend of mine reported was standard in NY high-schools: you’ll wear “sexy” clothes, no matter how fucking cold it is; also, see women’s Halloween costumes, most of which are not designed for October weather anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line) As much as I prefer the cold, I’d say the latter is much more likely to be uncomfortable and health-damaging than the former.

And then there’s high-heels, which have well known detrimental effects on health, but are still considered a requirement for femininity. It’s not foot-binding, but the difference is one of degree, not kind.

Anyway, my point is that it doesn’t matter whether women are pressured into wearing more or less, or whether they’re pressured by religion or some other social-pressure mechanism; as long as women are expected to wear certain things, and these things are restricting them, and not wearing them results in social punishment, it’s oppression. And it’s not just “the other” that oppresses with clothing; it’s us, too. We are not the height of enlightenment in this regard, not by a long shot. Especially if you also add economic oppression to this, since a proper “female uniform” costs a lot of money: almost all clothes are more expensive for women than for men, and women are expected to have more clothes (a man can get away with a single formal suit, but a women will earn scorn for always wearing the same fancy dress, or even the same work clothes too often).

The economic part of this has to do with classism, too though. I remember the ridicule heaped on Evo Morales for wearing his sweater all the time. And for what? It’s a fucking sweater, what’s so funny about it? well, it’s obviously that a sweater isn’t the proper uniform for the class of people he was meeting with, all of which tended to show up in formal wear (oh, and it was the same sweater over and over again, compounding the offense of lower-class appearance)