Wednesday, 11 May 2011


i've been thinking twice about posting on the women in that photo - the one of mr obama et al watching the killing of osama bin laden - being obliterated from the photograph before it was published in a religious newspaper.

i hesitate for a number of reasons. mostly because i hate how people will take some bizarre thing done by some group of muslims in the world and use that as an excuse to point fingers & ridicule us all. and i hate how i'm supposed to be on the defensive when such a thing happens, or how i'm supposed to somehow explain the thing away or loudly say "that's not me, i don't believe in that" and distance myself even though i really don't feel i have any obligation to do so. especially when other groups don't have the same expectation placed on them, and neither should they. and also because all types of people from all kinds of demographics do stupid stuff, and i don't at all believe any unrelated third person from the same demographic should be held responsible in any way.

another reason is that there is a whole history of anti-semitism that has been going on for many centuries and had caused the deaths of millions across any number of countries. to throw something out there that could potentially add to all of that, regardless of the wrongness or rightness of the particular issue, just feels like an awful thing to do.

then there is this whole thing about how muslims apparently all hate jews and here i am being a typical muslim hating on a jewish community. of course those who have read any history or happen to meet people from a variety of communities quickly learn that myth isn't true. but still the stereotype exists & it's pretty much impossible to ignore the context of the environment i'm living in when i assess the impact of highlighting any particular issue.

more than that, there'll be the underlying subtext of me trying to deflect criticism of the muslim community by saying "look, they're just as bad". even if it wasn't my intention to do so, that suspicion remains.

but let's think even wider. there isn't just the anti-semitism and the islamophobia that i'm dealing. there's also that group of people that love to hate on anything religious and to blame religion for all the ills of society. and somehow they think that's ok, since they hate and blame all religions equally. to me, that is the equivalent to someone saying to me "oh don't worry, i've just said nasty about indians, but i feel equally nasty towards africans, chinese, and everyone who is a different colour to me". would you even consider not calling such a person racist? the racism doesn't have a lesser effect just because you're equally racist to people from a variety of different races.

if i choose to highlight this particular act in this particular paper, published by this particular religious group, the haters are all going to be like "see those religous nutcases! all religions are stupid and the people who follow them are spectacularly so".

so. maybe it's best if i just let it go. even though it does totally annoy me that women are completely erased from the picture on the grounds of religious belief, and the constitutional first amemdment has been used to justify doing so. powerful women who have worked hard to achieve their positions (and continue to work hard) don't get to be in the picture.

even though i feel that way, i don't live in a vacuum and i'm too conscious of the undercurrents that surround me. so i'm not going to link to the picture or to anyone who has written about it. the only reason i raise it at all is to raise all those other issues and to try and think about a way we can do this (ie express our outrage) without making things worse. i still haven't come up with an answer to that.

commenting note: i've thought about turning comments off for this post, but i won't for now. i will ask people to be respectful of all people of faith and those who don't believe in any religion, equally. moderation will be tight on this post.


Hugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ms p said...

I was amazed when I read yesterday about Clinton and the other woman being erased from *that* picture. Such an extreme action that I didn't even know how to go about analysing it.

There's prohibiting the women in your community to have a public profile. And then there's erasing women not from your community who are involved in major world events that impact on your community.

I'm astonished, no doubt naively so. Just, gah!

Tamara said...

It's pretty complicated eh, when there is something that needs to be addressed but addressing it from outside the relevant culture is fraught.

Okay then, I am a Jewish woman and I seriously object to the ultraorthodox newspaper erasing these women from this historical photo. And the newspaper's stated policy not to show images of women in order to protect their modesty is insulting. They say this way focus is on what women do rather than how they look. How can that be, when it looks like they don't exist at all?

What will this paper do once the US has a woman President?

Anonymous said...

I just can’t get too outraged about the missing women (except I wish heartily that the paper had just not a photo at all) – I am an orthodox (you might even say “ultra” if you saw me but we don’t really like that description) Jew (originally from Hamilton) and I lurk but generally refrain from commenting on your blog.

I want to point out that orthodox/ultra orthodox/hassidic women are hardly invisible in real life. I have lived in and among very stringent of Jewish communities in Israel. I worked in hi-tech with the most observant of women (and men) computer programmers, was treated by the most observant of women (and men) medical staff, listened to the most observant women academics (in secular fields) dealt with businesses run by them etc etc… (Some of them happen not to want to have their photos taken.) This isn't "apologetics" - it's simply true.

I also want to point out that clearly, many orthodox, including Hassidim voted for Hilary Clinton when she ran. The printed apology that the paper made mention of our respect for elected government.

While you’ll see my photo on Facebook, many of my friends choose to publish photos of their small children but not themselves.

My understanding of the reasoning behind the custom of not showing women is that 1. There is an objection to women and men being seen together in photos – as some of us are particularly sensitive not to socialize with the opposite sex or to be seen to be doing so. You can call that modesty, but it is the modesty involving relations between sexes, not “protecting women” (which I find patronizing). 2. They also don’t portray women who are dressed not according to the values. (I’m a little uncomfortable with “they” because at some level, I’m one of “them”) Yes, there are also dress standards for men but this is not the forum for that. For better or for worse, to avoid ever being in the position of picking and choosing which women make the well-covered grade, the paper makes the decision not to include any pictures of women. I would rather that the paper had not published the picture at all. But they did. And they have apologized for the offence that it has caused. (not to mention the legal issues of changing photos) To put it in some perspective, it’s a very small paper – there are much bigger and well-respected orthodox papers and websites that used the original photo, but this in the greater scheme of things a very minor paper that is published specifically for men whose lifestyles include a choice to live their lives not ever intentionally gazing at females other than their wives or women of their direct family.

Yes, the visual image is missing from some of the narrative – I have childrens’ books where the mother/heroine is always depicted discreetly facing away so as not to offend anyone, (and some of us find it mildly amusing) but the mother is still part of the story. And more importantly to me, in real life, she is out there.

My husband advised that I should just let this go because I’m only going to get upset by the responses, but I want to put it out there that some of us on the inside, even when we don’t completely agree, just don’t find it so disturbing. In the bigger picture, we exist just fine.


Fish on bicycle said...

"What will this paper do once the US has a woman President?"

What did they do when Israel had a woman Prime Minister?

stargazer said...

wow, i really want to thank people for their contributions so far. i have to say that i was really nervous about putting this up, but having seen the responses, i'm really glad i did.

sarah, thank you so much for taking the time to share your views. i've never had the opportunity to hear from a perspective like yours (my own fault obviously, i just haven't looked hard enough) so i'm very glad you felt you could comment in depth here. even if people don't agree with the position the paper has taken, i certainly think we can respect what you have to say.

let me just reassure you that, as moderator of this thread, i will do my best to ensure that it remains as safe as possible.

as for my own view, i agree that the paper would have been better not to publish the photo at all.

Lucy said...

Yes, there are also dress standards for men but this is not the forum for that. For better or for worse, to avoid ever being in the position of picking and choosing which women make the well-covered grade, the paper makes the decision not to include any pictures of women.

I'm curious, though - how do they avoid "being in the position of picking and choosing" which men are appropriately dressed, if there are also male dress standards?

Tamara said...

Thanks for your comment Sarah, I appreciate hearing your viewpoint.

Psycho Milt said...

there's also that group of people that love to hate on anything religious and to blame religion for all the ills of society. and somehow they think that's ok, since they hate and blame all religions equally.

It's not OK? If people believe ridiculous and offensive things that result in oppression, you're the equivalent of a racist for saying so out loud? Not buying it. A religion is no more immune to criticism than a political movement.

stargazer said...

no, it's not ok. you forget that religion is now used as a default for race, given that racism is finally being seen by many people as offensive. but religious belief is to a large extent determined by geography, so that making negative comments about arabs (not as socially acceptable) is replaced by negative comments about muslims (much more socially & legally acceptable), just as an example. given that so much of the commentary is based on complete ignorance and unwillingness to make any attempt to understand the perspectives of others or to show any respect, yes, i am quite comfortable equating it with racism.

as to whether or not you buy it, you can count the number of f**ks i give by making a fist. ok, that was unnecessarily harsh & i'm genuinely sorry - i just couldn't resist :). i wrote about my own feelings and the reasons why i treated this subject the way i did. of course a lot of people don't think the way i do. that's entirely up to them (and you).

Psycho Milt said...

Well, sure - my opinion counts for sh*t with people who aren't me. But errors of logic aren't matters of opinion, and the equation of anti-religious views with racism is an error of logic.

stargazer said...

that's just your opinion. it's not an error of logic for the reasons i've given.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you enabled comments too, stagazer.

There are so many elements to this issue. From how people assume that an act by one group automatically means it is supported by all members of that group, and of the wider group as well.

There is the issue that generally, any group is free to exercise their own beliefs, just so long as they do not expect the rest of the world to follow the same beliefs.

But the danger is what those actions mean for the rest of the world. If a group effectively removes women from history (in a given setting) this can do harm to all women because of the message it sends (or rather the message that is received by many people).

As Tamara says - it is complicated.

stargazer said...

thanx gravey. i just want to note that the fact that a number of comments have disappeared from this thread is not something i did. it must be related to the whole thing that was going on with blogger the last couple of days.