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Jul 27, 2007

Your Turn: Girls Will Be Girls


Nothing against oil and camels, but this Anita Kunz New Yorker cover seems to have a bit more bite than the last one we pulled apart.

Debbie Nathan ("Was she implying that literalist Jewish women are less cosseted than burqa’ed Muslims and habited nuns? Gevald!") sees it as a commentary on the New York Jewess.  Aside from the gender dynamics, I was reminiscing how end-of-July news never used to rise above the weight of a shark attack, but that nowadays, there is no summer shade to escape the tension and polarization between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

But then, I'm a lot more interested in the view from your platform.  (The post title, by the way, is taken from the title of the illustration.)

(illustration: Anita Kunz. July 30, 2007. Cover.


I saw this and one name jump into my mind...

Ann Coulter?

I'm Jewish and I didn't think the middle woman was intended to be a secular Jew at all. I just thought it was a commentary on heavily-garbed religious women sitting next to lightly-garbed women who show it all. How does Ms. Kunz come to the conclusion that the middle woman is Jewish? There's no star of David, and she's not even stereotypically Jewish-looking (dark, frizzy hair, a bit zaftig and busty, etc.).

She's a symbol, Sigmund. She could be the shiksa from Smith down for the weekend, or a career gal doing some slummin.' The burkha is enforced by society (yes?) and the nun's habit is supposed to be self-chosen, quite a difference.

Submission, or Choice? Or bikini top?

Like Rafael, I thought of Ann Coulter when I first saw this cover, then immediately thought: why? Coulter would die before appearing that curvy, and in flip-flops no less! Must have been some combination of the hair, halter, pose, and pinched, self-satisfied set to the mouth. And Coulter self-presents as evangelical Episcopalian, if I remember correctly.

I don't get the "Jewess" at all. I can see the logic (casual representative lineup of monotheistic religions), but that reading just doesn't click for me. Debbie Nathan's critique reads as satire to me, but I admit to not being familiar with her take on things.

Actually the thing the cover made me think of next was the infamous Danish cartoon, the one with the scimitar-weilding terrorist, anonymity preserved, in the center, niqab'd women on either side with only their (petrified) eyes visible. Not that I think the New Yorker cover has anything like that kind of impact; I thought the cover was just summer fun, but again, it could be escaping me entirely.

Part of the joke is the reversal--the 2 religious uniforms allow only the eyes to show, while the modern secular outfit covers (almost) only the eyes.

wow. Until you mentioned that the title you used was the title of the piece, I had a totally different take on the cover.

The first interpretation (pre-title) was an echo of suppression and oppression, enabled by women, with the "american" woman caught in between oppressive women-enabled ideologies.

The second, I'm still working on.

But the woman in the middle doesn't strike me as a visual comendium of a jewish woman. More of an
American stereotype. A lindsey lohan look alike.

Jewishness? Please! Religion does play a part in this but only as a proxy for who and what is not there. But then, if there was regular mammalian parthenogenesis I wonder what the cover would be like? Are women apt to suppress each other (themselves) if they were the dominant sex over men who have property and domination issues?

The date is July 30, Harry Potter was released on the 29th ... the nun's glasses are Potter, eh? The Christian world is obsessed with an Atheist book about good vs. evil.

It's funny how flip-flops are so hard for some to accept. I wear mine with pride and know I'll offend some everytime.

There but for the grace of somebody other than god--go American women. Watch out for theocracies. This woman is flanked by oppression, I hope it doesn't overpower her.

Yeah, why is a cross-dressing Harry Potter on the cover of the New Yorker? And, I've got to echo what others have said- why conclude that Sara Jessica Parker in the middle there is supposed to be jewish? Perhaps she is a Buddhist out of uniform. Or maybe she's a Born-Again Evangelist Xtianist, whose only beliefs of the moment are whatever crap was poured into her head at the mega-church last weekend. Or maybe she is a Zoroastrian, a believer in the one true faith.

Seriously. Are you saying she's jewish just because she has bad posture and no muscle tone? What gives? Is there something that we're all missing?

I'm reading this cover as an expression of the fact that in America we have diversity and representatives of that fact can all sit on a subway in NY City in peace, together. The fact that they are all women might help the peaceful part of the scene.

"The first interpretation (pre-title) was an echo of suppression and oppression, enabled by women, with the 'american' woman caught in between oppressive women-enabled ideologies."

Except that I know a lot of American woman who dress just like the women on the left, and that's self-chosen. And there are certainly American nuns, although that character doesn't really ring true, because nuns don't dress like that any more (American nuns anyway).

Please don't assume the one on the left is ignorant or oppressed - or foreign. And she only dresses that way to go out, unlike the nun who wears that stuff all day long every day.

I wouldn't have thought of the one in the middle as Jewish, either.

I used to always wear flip-flops, but when I came to Kuwait and went outside with them, people would give me strange looks. Some people that I knew kind of gasped and said, "Why are you wearing those?" Flip-flops are used as bathroom shoes here; people don't wear shoes in the house, but they leave a pair (or more) of these kind of shoes at the bathroom door for everyone to use there.

If we assuem the two "girls" on the flanks are covering up to please 'Men' you can just as safely assume that the one in the middle is revealing her flanks to please 'Men' as well. Or perhaps they're each actually more comfortable in their own way.
There's no question in my mind that Patriarchal culture has shaped both of these fashion extremes. That doesn't make it so, I'm just explaining my subjective certainty.
Whether or not it matches the artist's intention my favorite analysis is Margaret's with the focus on diversity and coexistence.

Er... she's perhaps interpreted as Jewish because of the representation of the other two monotheistic religions alongside her? (L-R) Muslim, Jew, Christian... simple enough.

I keep looking at this picture, and I kind of like it. In some ways, the women are very similar - the same height, same expression on the face (from what we can see), all wearing black. A someone pointed out, with the women on the left, the only thing we can see are her eyes, but with the one in the middle, we can see almost everything but her eyes.

I wonder what John Lucaites has to say about the lack of hands and feet on the Muslim woman and the nun.

If these three are supposed to represent the three monotheistic religions, then that's a step forward. Usually, if there are three religions represented, it's Catholic, Protestant and Jewish. But I don't think she's representing Judaism - but it would make an interesting picture if she was dressed according to the modesty rules followed by Orthodox Jewish women.

The Harry Potter references struck a chord with me, because I've been noticing that so many books and movies (especially for children) have "magic" themes. Why is this the case in a society that doesn't believe in magic and looks down on belief in superstitions, etc?

ummabdulla said, In some ways, the women are very similar - the same height, same expression on the face (from what we can see), all wearing black.

Yes, I noticed that too. I think that's because the reference might be paper dolls. The "doll" in the middle is the main character, and her "outfits" are unmistakable religious costumes. Paper dolls are always clad in their underwear, ready to be dressed head to toe for a little girl's fantasy narrative. The artist is being irreverent, of course, and possibly it's a self-portrait, trying on the phrase There but for the grace of God go I for size.

Well, ummabdulla, I'm certainly pleased that you are attending to hands and feet. To be honest, I'm not sure what to make out of the portraits here in that respect. Which either proves my critical inadequacy (always a possibility) or that sometimes a hand is just a hand. For me the picture seems to call attention to the relationship between fashion and power. In each instance the mode of clothing can be seen as a mode of oppression, limiting agency in largely patriarchal societies. On the other hand, each is also a mode of empowerment and a way of controlling one's environment, a way of exacting agency in cultures and contexts where options might otherwise be limited. And while gender is featured here, I don't think this dialectical tension in the politics of fashion is necessarily to women ... men face similar (if not comparable) options, e.g., compare the business suit with the military uniform and the cleric's collar.

Looking at this drawing from a narrow perspective:

The woman on the left would be recognized as a member of everyday society in some parts of the world. She might be married, have kids, have a job and so on. Kind of normal.

The woman in the middle? Could be married, have kids, have a job and so on. Maybe normal in some people's dreams, but not a whole lot of people looking like that. Not normal in everyday society. And she's hiding behind those glasses.

But whoa, that woman on the right is definitely different. No mistaking her as being way out of the ordinary, she is not fully a part of everyday society.

So the most normal of the three women is the one on the left.

Karen Armstrong, a scholar of religion and a former nun, writes compellingly of the paradox of "veiling":

In Victorian Britain, nuns believed that until they could appear in public fully veiled, Catholics would never be accepted in this country. But Britain got over its visceral dread of popery. In the late 1960s, shortly before I left my order, we decided to give up the full habit. This decision expressed, among other things, our new confidence, but had it been forced upon us, our deeply ingrained fears of persecution would have revived.

But Muslims today do not feel similarly empowered. The unfolding tragedy of the Middle East has convinced some that the west is bent on the destruction of Islam. The demand that they abandon the veil will exacerbate these fears, and make some women cling more fiercely to the garment that now symbolises their resistance to oppression.

The sunglasses were what struck me. The two flanking women were covering everything except their eyes. Whereas the girl in the middle was covering up nothing (ok, almost nothing) but her eyes.

Eyes are the mirror to the soul. I take this to mean her dress says: "I'll show you my skin, but not my soul."

Really, I see this as a visual paradox. Clothing, especially in the case of the other two girls, says much about who we are. By eliminating the clothing,(and covering the eyes) we know less about the girl in the middle, not more.

I thought of the illustration as one of those, "Only in America" scenes. (Or maybe, "Only in New York."

"The Harry Potter references struck a chord with me, because I've been noticing that so many books and movies (especially for children) have "magic" themes. Why is this the case in a society that doesn't believe in magic and looks down on belief in superstitions, etc?"

The current era is VERY superstitions. In addition to various religions many people seem to actually believe that wearing certain types of clothing (Armani, Donna Karen, Vanderbilt, Levi's, Lucky's, etc.) imbue them with certain powers. Look at the advertising on television any time. Sex sells but so does the idea that by wearing or owning a certain brand of clothing or a certain brand object (BMW, Jaguar etc.) or a certian type of house will enable the owner to gain power or recognition in their community and workplace. Additionally we have 'magic pills' to cure any and all ailments - including being overweight. Corporations and Religions both need an audience that is willing to believe in 'magic'. Thus we teach 'magical thinking' to kids early on in life.
Our scientific literacy and our critical thinking skills have been decreasing dramatically in the past several decades.
As a result we can say 'bye, bye' to the feminist concepts of a woman deciding for herself what she will or won't do, how she will or won't dress, what job she'll have etc. But it's not just women who've, willingly or not, lost the ability to think and reason for themselves. Men too, look for 'magic' ways to gain money, power etc.
This cover would also work with men as the subject: One man dressed as a terrorist, on the other side a man dressed in a suit and televangelist hair-do as a fundamentalist christian preacher and a man in the middle in sunglasses, flip flops and swim trunks.

I definitely didn't see this as a comment on Jewish women in particular, because an Orthodox Jewish woman could be portrayed just as "modestly" as the Muslim and Catholic women.

There are also Protestant sects that dress in a non-modern fashion.

No, the woman in the middle is modern and secular - no matter her background, it's moot.

Her body is visible, and its pose implies confidence and comfort, and power. Her eyes, her "vulnerable" spot, are the only thing hidden, making her both a thing to be seen, and a "secret watcher": she holds both the power of the vision and the voyeur, both the object and the subject.

It also has some of that "only in America" aspect, no doubt, but to me it opens a complex conversation about the difference between the eyes and the body of a woman, one that ultimately argues for the modern, secular way of life.

More here:

Did any of you even read Debbie Nathan's post? She doesn't think the blonde is Jewish. She describes her as “secular girl" and complains the cartoonist missed an opportunity to comment on fundamentalism of all stripes by not adding "a fourth woman on the IRT, with a stiff wig and a Hebrew prayer book in hand..." Good to see you idiots at the Bag are still missing the point of everything as usual.

And I think it's a comment on how women are socialized to the standards of whatever group they're a part of. See my blog if you want more reflections.


Notice the one outstanding visual similarity?

The shape of the head-coverings and the hair.

I never noticed before how the "concealing" garments mimic the natural fall of long hair.

why is the woman on the left looking sideways? the paper-doll theme (which I like, given all the parallels) would rather require that she be looking ahead like the woman on the right -- a twist for realism, or some subtler commentary?

much to read into this. when it arrived on my doorstep, I though more of the cartoonish takes than any more meaningful ones -- another naked American among more conservative representatives of other cultures/lifestyles...

Harry Potter isn't about magic. It is about relationships. Specifically, relationships that embue one with hope and purpose. The characters in the books who are after power are those on the Dark Side.

As to the cartoon, all three women are living under fashion dictates and all three women have the ability to choose whether those dictates will confine or define them.

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