Fighting with the Sky

Posts Tagged ‘religion

This week’s episodes of Bones made me feel a little uneasy.  There are sometimes that I can’t quite get a handle on the intentions of the writers.  In this episode, the team is investigating the death of man with horns who is found on fire on an altar in a church.  Don’t worry, the horns were coral implants, not real horns.  It turns out that the victim was the patient at a mental hospital where he as being treated for schizophrenia.  Brennan, Booth, and Sweets spend a lot of time at the mental hospital interviewing patients, staff, and doctors.

The intern on this case is Mr. Vaziri, the Muslim intern whose story lines always center around him being Muslim, and this episode was no exception.  While Mr. Vaziri is explaining his belief in Satan, he makes a comment about looking at the Devil everyday.  Of course, Cam takes this to mean “The Great Satan,” as in how some Muslims refer to America.  But, as you can imagine, he is just talking about how he has to wrestle with a past decision that haunts him everyday and that he sees evil/the Devil in himself because of this.

So, where to start with this episode.  It seemed like they just wanted to have a bunch of things that Dr. Brennan doesn’t agree with and doesn’t see reason in in one episode: religion and psychology.  Let’s start with religion.  Now, I’m not a religious person.  There are a lot of things that I don’t understand about religion.  But I always feel uncomfortable when Booth, the faithful Catholic, and Brennan argue about religious beliefs, which happened a number of times throughout this episode.  I did like at the end, however, when Booth and Brennan were talking about faith and Dr. Brennan talked about her faith in reason in much the same way as Booth talked about his faith in God and church.  I think this put Dr. Brennan’s beliefs in a light that Booth could understand and also helped Dr. Brennan understand Booth’s beliefs a tiny bit better.

And then there’s the portrayal of Islam on the show.  How many episodes has there been an instance where one of the team members, usually Cam, thinks that Mr. Vaziri hates Americans and Christians because he is Muslim.  There are at least two that I can think of off the top of my head and that already seems a little unnecessary.  One I can understand: Cam has to learn her lesson about assuming things about Islam and Muslims.  But two.  Really?  And there have probably been smaller situations that I can’t think of off the top of my head right now.

One thing that frustrates me about Bones is that I can sometimes not tell when the writers are trying to make some sort of social commentary by playing into stereotypes or if the writers are just writing these stereotypes without thinking much about it.  I like to think that they are trying to make a social commentary, but I’m not always sure.  And not everybody would see it as social commentary.  Some people would agree with the assumption that Cam jumped to during this episode, where as I just assumed that he had some sort of dark past that he regretted (which is what the case was) and that’s why Cam was freaking out.  I just can’t tell sometimes what the writers are intending for people to get out of their story lines.

Now, onto psychology.  When it comes to the psychology vs. sociology debate, I would probably fall far onto the side of sociology.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have respect for psychology and the work that psychologists/psychiatrists do on a daily basis.  Dr. Brennan, on the other hand, has very little respect for the field or the people that work in the field.  I liked what Dr. Copeland (the head of the mental hospital) said to Dr. Brennan: that he helps people on a daily basis who are living in hell and that is probably a more noble profession than finding out what happened to dead people who are already past pain and suffering.  I think it really put Dr. Brennan in her place and made her realize that there could be some value in the work of psychiatry.

And speaking of mental hospitals, can we talk about the portrayal of mental illness in this episode.  Booth kept referring to the mental hospital as the “loony bin,” which is already insulting, and then asked why people weren’t in straight jackets when they got there.  I think that the writers were trying to break down some of the assumptions about mental illness and mental hospitals with Booth making remarks like this and how they differed from their portrayal of the mental hospital, but they didn’t do a great job.  They really didn’t do a good job at showing how people with mental illness can function on their own.  All the people in the background were usually just shown with a blank stare on their face doing absolutely nothing or fighting nurses.  I know that this is the case for some people and for some mental institutions, but I didn’t really think it was necessary for the show.  Especially watching this episode with my mom, who is a psychologist and has worked in a mental hospital, she pointed out all the things that wouldn’t really be done in a mental hospital and how the portrayal was largely inaccurate.

All in all, I was really disappointed with the stereotypes that this episode perpetrated, even if they were intended for social commentary.  They weren’t always read as social commentary and I think that they were subtle enough that not everyone would realize that they were trying to be social commentary.  In the end, they just ended up being stereotypes.

Also check out meloukhia’s review up at this ain’t livin’.

You know what I hate, when people think “that woman is wearing a veil, she must be oppressed.”  Now, I am not a Muslim and I do not wear a head scarf, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t take offense to this kind of thinking.

The veil is a complicated thing.  From what I know about Islam (which is not a lot, but I do know some things), not all sects of Islam require women to wear the head scarf.  I have talked with women who wear head scarves and none of them feel oppressed.

There is a difference between being forced to wear a head scarf and choosing to because of your religious beliefs.  If a woman is forced to wear a head scarf against her will and/or religious conviction, then yes, that could be considered oppression.  But there are many women who see wearing a head scarf as a liberating experience both because of their religious beliefs and because it frees them from pressures to “look good.”

I have heard many debates about who is more oppressed: a woman who chooses to wear a head scarf or a woman who feels like she has to wear revealing clothing, get plastic surgery, etc. to get a man’s attention and/or feel good about herself?  So which is it?  Which woman is more oppressed?

It’s not an easy question, is it?  I think it’s important to look at each situation when it comes to this.  There are definitely people and places that use the veil/head scarf/burqa as a tool of oppression.  But that doesn’t mean that every woman that wears a head scarf is oppressed.

As feminists, I think “we”* are sometimes quick to identify and fight oppression.  Don’t get me wrong, it is definitely a good thing to fight oppression where it exists, but we have to make sure it exists first.  Forcing women to go without a head scarf can also be seen as oppression.  We cannot just go in and proclaim that these women are oppressed because they wear head scarves and we don’t.

I think this issue has been raised a lot in feminist discussions about Islam, but it is definitely not widely discussed.  I heard a portion of something on the radio the other day that was saying that women are oppressed because they wear the veil.  So this is obviously still a widely held belief.

As feminists, I think it is important to foster a discussion not just about Islam and the veil, but with Muslim women who chose to wear the veil or not.  It is also important to remember that not everyone has the same beliefs as we, as Americans**, do.  We cannot just assume that because our society does not value wearing a head scarf that head scarves are a sign of Islamic oppression towards women.  We have to think about the individual women, not the immensely complicated and diverse religion as a whole.

*I put “we” is quotes because there are many facets of feminism and not all feminists have this method of thinking.  I am not trying to universalize feminism or feminists at all, just trying to make a point about how people think about different religions and cultures.

**I spoke about “we, as Americans” because I live in the United States and am familiar with how this society views Islam in general.  I believe that this same frame of thought is prevalent throughout Western cultures, but I cannot speak to that because I am a part of American culture.

This week has been pretty uneventful for me. I get to spend my weekend babysitting three hyper kids, that’s about as exciting as it gets. I hope all of you have had more eventful and productive weeks. Here are some of my favorite blog posts from this week. There are a lot of them because, well, there were a lot of really good posts this week and I am still constantly discovering new feminist blogs that I want to share with everyone!


Health Care, It’s Personal [Womanist Musings]
The Hermione in my Head [Feministing Community]
LOL you’re a feminist [o filthy grandeur!]
What Feminism Is and What It Should Be (with a little help from bell hooks) [Small Strokes] – a little over a week old, but still good!
And finally, both The Curvature and Jump Off the Bridge participated in the blogathon yesterday – check out their numerous posts!

What have you been writing and reading this week? Leave links in the comments!


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.


This isn’t the common belief held by many people, including some feminists. I’ll admit that I have occassionally used an argument along the lines of “yes, aboriton is a tragedy, but it is the lesser of two evils.” I have used this argument to get anti-choicers to recognize a woman’s right to choose and that sometimes it is the better option, even if it is “evil.” What I was not aware of when I was making this kind of argument was that this argument might actually be deterring the pro-choice movement.

At the 2009 National NOW Conference, I heard Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale talk about reproductive rights as an Episcopal priest. She says that “abortion is a blessing,” never a tragedy. What is a tragedy, according to Ragsdale, is the loss of hopes and dreams. Whether an unplanned pregnancy is a resule of rape or just faulty birth control, abortion is blessing to that woman in need. Unplanned pregnancies can severely disrupt the hopes and dreams of women and abortions help to restore these. And when women want children and have a planned pregnancy, but health issues require her to get a late-term abortion to save her life, the loss of the hopes and dreams of having a child is the real tragedy. Not the abortion. Never the abortion.

When we, as feminists, make concessions that abortion is a tragedy but the lesser of two evils, we lose our footing and this will eventually lead to loosing the pro-choice battle. We are still fighting to uphold Roe v. Wade. Abortion providers are being murdered. This is a pro-choice battle. If we say that abortion is a tragedy, anti-choicers can use the argument that even pro-choice feminists believe that abortion is evil so it should be illegal.

As feminists, we need to stand our ground that abortion is a blessing for women who face the fear and stress of an unplanned pregnancy. We need to continue to defend the ruling of Roe v. Wade. We need to support our local or state abortion providers. We need to work for the reproductive rights of all women around the country and around the world.

The speech that Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale gave at the 2009 National NOW Conference was really inspiring and eye-opening. I am so used to hearing the religious argument that abortion is murder, women shouldn’t use birth control, and that LGBTQ people are less than human. But it was amazing to hear a pro-choice, reproductive and LGBTQ rights advocate who was a religious person, not to mention an Episcopal prient. Ragsdale was recently elected as the second woman and first openly lesbian or gay president and deal of Episcopal Divinity School. Ragsdale will be responsible for teaching and training a new generation of priests which will make strides (not steps) toward the religious support of reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

Rev. Dr. Katherine Ragsdale’s selected sermons

EDS information on Ragsdale


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