Sunday, December 10, 2017

Slave-scarf symbol of the steppes

Some days the right-wing press just drives you to the Liebling archive before the coffee is even made. Take it away, veteran National Post columnist Robert Fulford:

In a burst of bogus feminism and commercial ambition, Mattel Inc., the global doll-maker, has announced that in 2018 it will market a Barbie doll wearing a hijab. Barbie dolls rarely impinge on political and social issues but this one is so unsettling that it evokes a wide range of responses.

Tell us a little more about how rare it is for Barbie to reflect social issues!

... After all, Barbies aren’t just princesses and wonder women. You can buy Barbies wearing practical clothing for offices, “chic summer suits” and camel-hair coats. This is Mattel’s bow to feminists who believe little girls should be discouraged from dwelling on fantasies of the future: they should learn, as soon as possible, the truth about what they are likely to become.

For girls with higher aspirations, you can get Barbies clothed in a cocktail dress, a classic black dress, or an Oscar de la Renta ball gown. One Barbie has a Hudson’s Bay jacket and another displays an Andy Warhol painting on the front of her dress.


So much for the camel-hair coat vs. Hudson's Bay controversy, though you'd think the fencing uniform -- the new addition is modeled after the Olympic medalist  Ibtihaj Muhammad -- might suggest at least some aspiration. But back to the issue at hand: 

Attached to the news about the hijab Barbie is a line from Mattel about “Continuing to inspire girls to be anything.” Girls are to become whatever their desires and talents can make them.

... But Mattel doesn’t explain the crucial facts about places where hijab is required apparel.


See if you can guess what's coming next. Or return with us to the glory days of Chicago Tribune columnist Jimmy Savage's campaign against the other headscarf:


"We propose a citywide burning of the babushkas!" Savage wrote one morning, not too long ago. "These regimenting rags, which convert pretty, young Chicago faces into moon-round parodies of peasants, have made the teen scene resemble potato digging time on a Soviet collective. Watching those farm-fresh, 4-H club visitors to the livestock show, we noted that not one of them wore that sloppy substitute for headgear. ... Those youngsters were American farmers, too proud of their heritage to wear the slave-scarf symbol of European field hands. Are our Chicago kids less smart, less proud? To the torch, then, and the burning of the babushkas!"

That's from "Aspirins for atoms, down with babushkas," one of Liebling's great dissections of Tribune-style journalism. If you thought he was kidding, here's the Trib follow-up (Dec. 8, 1949):
"Down with babushkas!" cried Savage. "Down with the slave scarf symbol of the steppes! To the torch, to the flames! Down with babushkas!"

The columnist is identified by the arrow, if you're scoring along at home.

So the right-wing press has kind of a history, over the past 68 years at least, of associating young women's dress choices with the worst characteristics of the enemy. Let's get back to some of those "crucial facts" about places where hijab is worn:

In those countries, regions or neighbourhoods, the future for girls is narrowly circumscribed. As they grow from childhood to maturity they often find it hard to get an education, a job or a personal bank account.

Looks like the myth of the "no-go zone," as a Fox regular explained during the 2016 campaign:

And this is the beginning of Donald Trump bringing the Republican Party together.  ...  He's not targeting Muslim neighborhoods, he just wants to maintain the same level of police force in those Muslim neighborhoods as everywhere else because there's a lot of neighborhoods like Dearborn, Michigan where police don't go because they're afraid.  

Dearborn, of course, is a city, not a neighborhood, and the police go there because that's where they work. But our hero's point isn't what goes into these countries, regions or neighborhoods, it's what he thinks is coming out:

A woman realizes eventually that she’s not to be seen in public with an adult male, unless he’s her husband* or a close relative. A girl’s husband may be chosen by her family. Women may have their own ambitions but the key choices in their lives are not theirs to make.

The gang at Mattel Inc. does not know (or want us to know) that the hijab is more than a way of dressing. It’s a necessary symbol that often stands for an array of social customs and regulations. Unlike others in the Barbie catalogue, it is not an outfit a woman can wear or not, according to her wishes.

And like many other symbols that represent whole arrays of social customs (pants, for example, one fervently hopes in Robert Fulford's case), many people seem capable of adapting traditional garb to school or workplace. If you're bothered by what Kids Today wear to class -- babushka, pajamas, or hijab with Red Wings hoodie -- you probably shouldn't hang around college campuses.

With this product Mattel illustrates the unfortunately widespread American wish to learn as little as possible about Islam and Islamic societies while allowing ignorance to raise profits.

There's something charming about hearing "WAKE UP, AMERICA!!!" in a Canadian accent, don't you think?

The company’s mission statement says that, “At Mattel, unwavering integrity defines our corporate culture on every level, guiding how we work and how we do business.” Its intentions sound good but establishing a reputation for integrity requires more than a wish.

It also requires honesty and a strong sense of self-criticism.

It's just going to break someone's heart to find out that reputations work the same way in journalism.

* Does Mike Pence have an alibi?

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