Fighting with the Sky

Have You Heard? Ms. is Using Religious Imagery

Posted on: July 20, 2009

The blogosphere has been abuzz the past couple days about Ms. magazine’s summer cover. This cover uses Hindu imagery of multiple arms to portray what modern moms are juggling.

Bitch was the first that I saw that commented on this cover. Mandy Van Deven at Bitch was not pleased that Ms. appropriated Hindu religious iconography, especially when they didn’t seem to do their research…

The multiple arms on a god or goddess represent their strength and ability to multitask, and the multi-armed representation is not one that is appropriate for a human form, as the pose is intended to convey that these abilities are super-human. Another question that begs to be answered is which god or goddess is this woman supposed to be depicting? The number of arms in this cover (8) is quite uncommon. This seems to demonstrate a lack of knowledge on the part of the cover designer about depictions of and difference among Hindu deities, as well as confirms this use for solely aesthetic purposes.

It is a shame that a) Ms. didn’t do their research to at least appropriately represent a Hindu god or goddess and b) that the appropriation of South Asian religious imagery is so common in the United States today.

Choices Campus Blog then responded to this article on Bitch. Laura at Choices Campus Blog defends the Ms. cover saying…

In fact, the cover reads “Mom 2.0: She Blogs, She Tweets, She Rises up!” There is no indication of religion, but instead Ms. is trying to point out the many responsibilities that the modern woman (or mother) has, between balancing a typical “mom” with a career.

Laura even shows how this recent cover is a remake of a Ms. cover from 1972.

While I don’t know that showing that it is a remake of a previous cover shows that it isn’t an appropriation of Hindu imagery and isn’t offensive, I do think it is important to look at both sides of the responses to this cover.

Bitch blog then had another post about the cover from Veronica I. Arreola, again defending the Ms. cover.

the image of a multi-armed woman in relation to motherhood is most likely as old as motherhood itself. I imagine this is why women papoosed or slung their infants to them as they worked the fields. As some in the comments of Mandy’s post pointed out, their own mothers use to say “I wish I had another set of arms!” or “I don’t have 8 arms missy!”

For Arreola, this imagery is appropriate for the multitude of tasks that mothers have to handle. Not being a mother myself, I can only imagine the demands that mother’s have one them. But I don’t think that using Hindu imagery is necessarily the most appropriate way to represent this, as Arreola does.

Afer Arreola’s post at Bitch, RMJ at Deeply Problematic decided to join the conversations. She saw Arreola’s response as lazy and even more offensive for trying to portray the Ms. cover as an octopus.

Just because something is commonly seen in popular culture does not make it an okay reference to reify. No, not even if you’re doing it to support moms. Come on. Privilege blinds, and appropriation in imagery and language is not okay if you’re on our side
…Women can be shown to multitask with hydra heads, or with blurred hands doing many things, or… I don’t know, something. There’s no need to mock and appropriate the imagery of a religion that millions of people currently practice.

So far, I have been trying to show how others have been discussing the matter of this cover. But now it’s time for me the throw in my two cents…

This cover shows the lack of cultural sensitivity in the United States. Seeing as how people defend the cover as an appropriate representation of multitasking, oppression of religions other than certain forms of Christianity is still (obviously) a problem in the United States. Using Hindu imagery shows that people do not view Hinduism as a “legitimate” religion, instead mocking or mimicking Hindu deities for the purposes of selling magazines.

I was shocked to see this on the cover of Ms. I love Ms. and I’m sure that all of the content of this issue is outstanding, as usual. But I was surprised that Ms. fell into this trend of appropriation of cultural and religious imagery at the expense of an oppressed population. So, ultimately, I agree with what Van Deven at Bitch and RMJ at Deeply Problematic had to say about this cover. It is a gross way of representing mothers by oppressing Hindus. Like RMJ said, there are many other ways to show all of the demands placed on mothers in today’s society.


2 Responses to "Have You Heard? Ms. is Using Religious Imagery"

Thanks for the mention! And what a great wrap up of some of the posts about this that have followed my own. 🙂

I'm a Hindu, and I honestly don't see anything offensive about this cover. Sure, the idea seems 'inspired' by the goddess Kali, but is it "representing mothers by oppressing Hindus"? I really don't think so. I think *you* need to learn more about Hindusim before imagining offence where there isn't any.

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