Iranian Women’s Soccer Team Banned from Chance to Compete in Olympics because of the Wearing of Headscarves

Politics and sports and women. Again we have the intermingling of the powerful men in a world sports organization with women athletes and politics. Last week, in an Olympic qualifying round in Amman, Jordan, FIFA (the world soccer governing body) officials refused to allow the Iranian national women’s team to compete in a match with Jordan because they were wearing headscarves that covered their necks.  Thus, Iran forfeited the game and lost out on any chance its women players would have to compete in the Olympics.

Iranian Women's Soccer Team with the "unsafe" head scarves

According to FIFA, the reason for the ban on wearing headscarves was “safety.” FIFA had implemented a new rule last year that allows women to wear “a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but which does not extend below the ears to cover the neck.” Of course, there is no logical reason why a cap that goes to the hairline is safe but a headscarf that goes to the neck is unsafe. And, so, why has FIFA implemented this rule? Well, as frequently happens with FIFA, no one seems to know the real reason. For example, FIFA supposedly has a rule that prohibits players from wearing clothing that has religious or political symbols.  However, as an exception to that rule, FIFA accommodates Muslim women and gives them the choice of wearing long pants instead of shorts.

Iran is certainly complicit in what has occurred. For example, it previously accepted the rule on headscarves when, last summer in Singapore, it had the players on one of its youth teams cover their heads but not their ears or necks.  Interestingly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a soccer fan and has previously interjected himself into soccer disputes. He even, in 2006, lifted a ban on women watching soccer matches in Iranian stadia, but was overruled by “Supreme Leader” Ali Khamenei. Now, Ahmadinejad has vowed to “seriously confront” FIFA about the ban on headscarves.

The losers in all of this, of course, are the female athletes.  (Isn’t it always?)  They want to play soccer on the world stage and now cannot. According to Shahrzad Mozafar, the team’s former head coach, “This ruling means that women soccer in Iran is over. . . . Headscarves are simply what we wear in Iran.” She said that if FIFA no longer allows Iranian women to wear scarves, the Iranian government will no longer send them abroad for competitions.

Almost certainly, if you ask the players, they would say that it was their choice to forfeit the game because they cannot violate their religious tenets. But can anyone really believe that?  After all, the youth team competed without wearing regular head scarves. No, this is simply another case of patriarchal officials imposing religiosity on its citizens.

I have written previously that I concur with France’s decision to ban the burqa.  But wearing a head scarf is far less dehumanizing than wearing a burqa. It is tempting to think that forcing the women’s team out of international existence will cause Iran to change its patriarchal beliefs. Maybe some additional compromise can be reached. But I think the only realistic move that will allow these women to compete will be for FIFA to eliminate the rule.


“I Believe in Women’s Rights. So Did Muhammad”

In an effort to improve Islam’s image in Great Britain, an Islamic organization began placing ads in the London Underground and on taxicabs.  Remona Aly, the campaign director of the Exploring Islam Foundation (the group responsible for the ads) says that she hopes the campaign will help counteract “the often inaccurate and negative stereotypes of the faith on our screens and in our newspapers.”

One ad was of a social worker with a sign saying:  “I believe in social justice. So did Muhammad.”  On the face of it, the statement may have at least some legitimacy.  Another was  a sign saying “I believe in protecting the environment. So did Muhammad.” The woman with the sign is Kristiane Backer, a former MTV Europe host and convert to Islam who is identified as an “eco-Muslim.”  I have less reason to believe in that sign, but still might see some legitimacy.

But another ad says: “I Believe in Women’s Rights.  So Did Muhammad.”  That seems almost impossible to believe.  I saw an article on a web site called “Family Security Matters,: which has a tagline of “Engaging American Families in Our Nation’s Security.”  With a name and tagline like that–and knowing that most organizations using “Families” in the name are right wing–I have difficulty believing that the site is anything other than right wing.  (Its articles on the Mojave Desert War Memorial kind of seal it for me.)  Nevertheless, the article’s focus that “the idea that Muhammad ‘believed in women’s rights’ in the sense in which we in the 21st Century understand that concept is utterly absurd, as anyone who has taken an honest look at the Qur’an should be aware” seems to me to be pretty much correct.

If the statements the article quotes from the Qur’an are correct, then either Muhammad truly was anti-woman, or the Qur’an does not match the beliefs of Muhammad.  In any event, I find it almost impossible to believe the ads’ statement that Muhammad believed in women’s rights.

Does anyone think that Muhammad believed in women’s rights?  I’d be happy to learn that he did.  And if there is no legitimacy to the ad campaign, doesn’t it make the image worse?  Any comments?

Poll: Few Care About Diversity in the Supreme Court

I saw a very disappointing poll today. ABC News and the Washington Post asked people what “factors” they would consider if they personally were to choose a Supreme Court nominee to replace Justice Stevens.

As you can see, only 16% said that being an African American would be a “factor in favor.”  Only 15% said that being a woman would be a “factor in favor.”  And only 4% said that being a gay or lesbian would be a factor in favor.”  For me, any of those “factors” would be a positive.  In fact, I have written before that President Obama should nominate a woman to replace Justice Stevens so that the current two out of nine woman can at least get to a more equitable three out of the nine.  But, apparently, the people who were polled do not agree with me.  Let’s hope that Obama does.

The poll also shows that, at least, people don’t hold being a woman or African American against a potential nominee.  But look at the “factor against” gays and lesbians.  25 percent would hold that against a potential nominee.  That’s horrible, but I suppose the percent would have been much higher only a few years ago.  (As a side note, since I am an atheist, it would have been interesting to see what the “factor against” would be for an atheist.  As has been written many times before, an atheist has less chance than any other group of being elected to public office.)

And, although not shown in the diagram above, here are some other results of the poll.  I find these to be mind-blowing and make me wonder in what world the people who were polled have been living.

  • 26% consider the Supreme Court too liberal, compared to 21% who say it is too conservative.  This is even worse than three years ago, when 18% thought the court was too liberal and 31% thought it was too conservative.  Those figures are unbelievable.
  • For more evidence that Republicans are deluding themselves, in 2007, 26% of Republicans thatought the court’s rulings were too liberal.  That figure in today’s poll is 43%.
  • And for the kicker, in the 2007 poll, 43% of Democrats thought the court was too conservative.  In today’s poll, that figure has dropped so that only 35% of Democrats today think the court is too conservative.

About the only decent result I can see from the poll is that 65% said they feel “comfortable” with Barack Obama choosing the Supreme Court nominee.  That doesn’t sound all that high, but it is at least higher than the 54% in a 2005 poll who said they felt comfortable with George Bush choosing a nominee.

M.I.A.’s New Violent Video

M.I.A. is a popular and controversial musical artist from England, of Sri Lankan origin. Though many of us remember her music from years ago (I have to say, her song “Galang” is still one of my favorites), her 2007 album Kala got a lot of play. The single “Paper Planes” was sampled everywhere, from commercials to movie trailers. She’s caused a good deal of controversy for always incorporating her political opinions into her songs. She’s been outspoken about the US ‘War on Terror’, saying:

You can’t separate the world into two parts like that, good and evil. Terrorism is a method, but America has successfully tied all these pockets of independence struggles, revolutions, and extremists into one big notion of terrorism.

She’s also very critical of the Sri Lankan government & what she views as a genocide against the Tamils, and features lyrics about Palestine, (specifically the PLO). She has always integrated violent lyrics into her very danceable songs.

M.I.A. has just released a new single, and a new video. It’s called “Born Free” and I think it’s incredibly thought-provoking, as well as incredibly violent. (Seriously, this is a warning– it contains reaaaaaaalllly graphic imagery).

(EDIT: the video has been taken down from YouTube, but you can watch it here:

I have two things to say about this. This first has to do with the fact that M.I.A. is a woman who is outspoken & incredibly aware of political issues. As Jezebel wrote earlier, “In an era when MTV is airing The Hills and Jersey Shore, M.I.A., Lady Gaga and Erykah Badu are making the music video an artform again.” And I think there’s even more to say than that. Unlike Gaga and Badu, who still use their bodies and sexualities to make their points (not a critique at all, just a fact), M.I.A. often doesn’t even show herself in her videos, and she features much stronger, more realistic violence. In an era where we’re bombarded with Heidi Montag’s new plastic surgery and Lindsay Lohan’s party girl demise, we’ve also got women in the media making bold, thoughtful statements. Kathryn Bigelow won the Oscar for The Hurt Locker, and many were surprised not at a woman’s ability to make a great movie, but at the content– this was no ‘chick flick,’ but a thoughtful, gritty collection of vignettes of soldiers in Iraq. I think that “Born Free” also demonstrates the ability of women to not shy away from depictions of violence, and even to view them as integral to the articulation of a point.

The second take-away point that I have is about the content. The theme is clearly about the Other, and the violent, completely arbitrary decimation of the Other. Jews, blacks, the Japanese, Hispanics, Muslims, gays — and many more — have all at one point in history suffered under violent oppression because a group in power believed them to be ‘less than’ or even ‘dangerous’ to humanity. M.I.A.’s video deals with humanity’s obsession with violently “othering” a group of people. This narrative has been replicated so, so many times in art, music, movies, and literature– but very rarely with white-on-white oppression. I believe the fact that she picked redheads was very deliberate. I think gingers might be the most easily identifiable subgroup type of white people based on coloring (had you picked brunettes, or blondes, people may not have as easily picked up on why they were all being rounded up). And of course, it’s so random, unnecessary, silly, and upsetting to see soldiers slaughtering redheaded men, because it’s not an image we’re used to seeing. The liberation army, wearing kefayas, is an obvious nod to the Palestinians, but the message has a very different impact due to her deliberate choice not to use people of color as the victims.

Regardless of your opinions on her political views, you can’t deny the fact that this is a young, successful woman of color, fully immersed in youth culture, using her platform and influence to make incredibly bold political statements. That in itself is worth celebrating.

Pay Gap Graphic

Today NPR released a few graphics depicting the gender and race pay gaps.

As you can see, though the gap has been closing over the years, progress has been slow. There are still significant racial gaps. But its interesting to see that gender gap persists for all races.

The accompanying article is worth a read, and can be found here.

Globalization & Homogenized Beauty

In a recent New York Times blog article, photographer Zed Nelson describes what he sees as globalization’s increasing impact on standards of beauty.

“Globalization hasn’t just given us Starbucks in Beijing and shopping malls in Africa,” he said. “It is also creating an eerily homogenized look.”

The increasing reach of American or Western advertisements, tv shows, and other forms of pop culture has influenced culture and beauty standards in foreign countries. Why is this dangerous? Because Asian women are getting their eyes surgically widened,  women in Africa are lightening their skin, and Iranian women are undergoing record rates of nose jobs. All in the name of “being more beautiful,” which has also become increasingly synonymous to “more white.”

Wide-spread and unnecessary cosmetic surgery is already a problem within the US, but when you start convincing women of other ethnicities that they’re inherently less appealing than white women, you’re in pretty dangerous territory.

And it doesn’t just span ethnicities and cultures; age also falls victim to the impossible homogeneity. On Toddlers & Tiaras, children ages 2 and up wear corsets, high heels, hair extensions, and make-up to render them physically closer to age 18. And the flip-side of this is of course face-lifts and botox in older women. Going under the knife is never an easy process, and one that can result in painful consequences.

Does the West have a responsibility to reduce the imposition of white beauty standards on other countries? Regardless, it’s doubtful that will change. But I do believe that the fashion industry incorporating more women of color into their ads may help things– at least marginally.

Maybe it’s impossible to curtail the West’s encroachment on other regions’ cultures. And maybe it’s equally impossible to reduce the spread of Western beauty ideals. But maybe if the worth of women in all societies becomes less linked to physical appearance– I’m not even suggesting the link be miraculously eliminated, but just reduced to the point where major surgeries don’t seem like a great option— maybe things can improve for all women.

Texas Rewrites History

By this point, I’m sure most of you have read about the upcoming changes to Texas history books. In case you haven’t, here’s a snippet from the NYT:

After three days of turbulent meetings, the Texas Board of Education on Friday approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, stressing the superiority of American capitalism, questioning the Founding Fathers’ commitment to a purely secular government and presenting Republican political philosophies in a more positive light.

I’m going to come right and and say, from personal experience, Texas doesn’t need any extra help “painting Republicans in a more positive light.” Many people complain about a ‘liberal bias’ in higher education; I was exposed to an obviously conservative one in high school.

Included in the revisions are the following:

  • Questioning the validity of Darwin and evolution
  • Downplaying founding fathers who supported separation of church and state. Read: more focus on Christian beliefs! (Definitely isn’t enough exposure to Christianity in Texas!)
  • Addition of “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation.
  • Opposing the idea that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism. (Right. These WWII-era posters are definitely not racist!)

(images lifted from my former classmate Stephanie’s blog…thanks Steph).

The only measure I’ve read about that doesn’t upset me is pushing to mention the actual Congressional votes for Civil Rights legislation. I guess it’s a push to highlight the fact that many Republicans did vote for the legislation– which is fair, since southern Democrats at the time were blatantly racist, a fact that a lot of people have a hard time reconciling with the current image of the Democratic party. But racism knows no bounds of party affiliation.

Then again, Texas conservatives also struck down a measure to include prominent Hispanic-American figures. Even though the state’s population is about 37% Hispanic.

The final vote on these changes is in May, but it’s doubtful that the revisions will be struck down.