Semiotics of scarves

It was disheartening to see the results of a survey today that 73% of people in Quebec support a ban on face-covering in all public places. Of course, the face-covering scarves they have in mind are not the type that most people who live in the snowy climate wear 4 months of the year.


Such scarf wearing passes without notice. Yet scarves worn in warmer weather for religious reasons carry a whole other meaning.

Why is the crucifix in Quebec’s legislative assembly not a violation of this proposed ban on religious symbols in the public sector? A legislator explains:

The choice we made about the crucifix is that of our heritage, of history. There’s still a lot of Quebecers who are still attached to this crucifix, not because they’re particularly Christian or Catholic, but because they see it as a symbol of our people. … Lots of people see a cultural symbol, a symbol of our history, and Quebecers are attached to that history and don’t want to turn our backs on it.

So, religious symbols are ok as long as they are historic? Can practitioners of other religions also explain that they are merely honoring the history of their culture and its symbols?

Many others have discussed the intensely problematic rhetoric of banning Muslim women’s religious clothing on the grounds that it “liberates” them. So for now I’d like to highlight some of the creative resistance to Quebec’s proposed “Charter of Values.”

One video pokes fun at the implications for winter hats and scarves:

Another image points out the irony that riot police wear face-coverings while providing a state service (which is the exact text from the proposed Charter of Values):


Yet another appropriates symbols of Quebec nationalism to promote a message of religious diversity, tolerance, and inclusiveness: 


Check out this song about the reaction to Miley Cyrus’ VMA performance


We want topless women in our music videos
We want pop stars acting like they’re in a porno
You know we want it and we gettin’ what we ask for
But when Miley does it we say “Oh my God No!!”

Why’s she acting like a ho, this is so wrong, we all object
Where did she get the idea to act like a sexual object?
I suspect she is on drugs, I think she’s losing her mind
Did you see her shaking her ass on TV, singing “Blurred Lines”
Which is such a wholesome song, I can’t believe she ruined it
Her slutty moves made Robin Thicke look misogynistic
What a bitch, she makes me sick, doesn’t she have ethics?
How dare she try to use sex to sell pop music!

We want topless women in our music videos
We want pop stars acting like they’re in a porno
We want it and we always get what we ask for
But when Miley does it we say “Oh my God No!!”

The line’s no longer blurred you crossed it and upset the nation
Don’t get us wrong, we’re super cool with objectification
But it’s hard to watch you play that part, we’ve know you for too long
So please go back to singing the Hannah Montana theme song
And we’ll go back to watching others do exactly what you did
And we won’t be offended cause we can not picture them as kids
And we’ll be cool with videos with women prancing around naked
And it won’t be sexist as long as the song’s a number 1 hit

We want topless women in our music videos
We want pop stars acting like they’re in a porno
We want it and we gettin’ what we ask for
But when Miley does it we say “Oh my God No!!”

Miley, oh Miley.
You’re upsetting everybody
By being so slutty,
Unlike all the other pop stars….

Feminism, technology, and objectivity

FemTechNet’s new collaborative course (conceived as a DOCC–a distributed online collaborative course–rather than as a MOOC) includes an assignment for students to add feminist perspectives to articles on Wikipedia about technology. The backlash has taken a predictable tone. FOX worries that this will sully Wikipedia’s pristine objectivity:

Fifteen universities including some Ivy League schools are offering college credit to students who will inject feminist thinking into the popular website Wikipedia. … How the feminist thinking they were seeking would appear was anyone’s guess. … They’re more concerned with making it politically correct than factually correct.

A FOX commentator who spoke about the issue couldn’t figure out how this could be useful, joking that the additions would read: “In 1857, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telegram — a woman would have done it first but she was stuck in the kitchen.” Of course, the commentator’s inability to imagine how a feminist perspective might add to our understanding of technology illustrates the profound need for exactly the interventions this course is proposing.

FOX also misses the point that Wikipedia is peer-edited. Meaning that if admins and users don’t like the additions made by these students–factual or fanciful–they could be edited out and rejected. Clearly there are many benefits to the Wikipedia-style open, crowd-sourced, quasi-democratic creation of knowledge, but what are its limits? If the base of users who edit and administer these pages are hostile to feminist perspectives (rather than indifferent or simply unaware of them), what kind of interventions would be effective? It also raises interesting questions about objectivity. Given that the standards shift and are always context-dependent (eg. journalists follow different rules than scientists to achieve the label ‘objective’) what do the rituals and strategies of objectivity look like in an open, peer-edited environment like Wikipedia?