It is a problem when religious symbols become widespread and therefore lose their religious significance. But the fear of dilution isn’t really an issue here — the bindi has lost whatever religious significance it once had to Hindus some time ago, and is now used mostly for decoration. Madonna and Gwen Stefani didn’t turn the bindi into a fashion statement when they adopted it in the 90s — we desi women already did so years before that.
What makes the non-South Asian person’s use of the bindi problematic is the fact that a pop star like Selena Gomez wearing one is guaranteed to be better received than I would if I were to step out of the house rocking a dot on my forehead. On her, it’s a bold new look; on me, it’s a symbol of my failure to assimilate. On her, it’s unquestionably cool; on me, it’s yet another marker of my Otherness, another thing that makes me different from other American girls. If the use of the bindi by mainstream pop stars made it easier for South Asian women to wear it, I’d be all for its proliferation — but it doesn’t. They lend the bindi an aura of cool that a desi woman simply can’t compete with, often with the privilege of automatic acceptance in a society when many non-white women must fight for it.
I understand being a little flummoxed at the rage that the bindi issue inspires in our community. The anger always seems disproportionate to the crime. But will I celebrate the “mainstreaming” of a South Asian fashion item? Nope. Not when the mainstream doesn’t accept the people who created it.
The United States moves inexorably toward granting equality to the L.G.B., but in the process, while still pronouncing that satisfying final consonant, we often, in practice, drop the T. No federal law offers protection to transgender people from discrimination in the workplace; the population sees double the usual rate of unemployment, and ninety per cent of transgender individuals report harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work.
Wearing a hijab isn’t inherently liberating – but neither is baring one’s breasts. What is liberating is being able to choose either of these things. It’s pretty ludicrous to think that oppression is somehow proportional to how covered or uncovered someone’s body is. Both sides of this argument present a shallow understanding of women’s empowerment, which only drowns out the substantive challenges facing all women – issues that cannot be encapsulated in a debate about a piece of fabric.
Disability is often treated as though it were a deviation from the rule. In fact, it is not an anomaly. One out of five persons in the U.S. has an impairment, yet disability is perceived as an “oddity” rather than as a natural occurrence.
We read and discussed Jeanne Flavin’s “Our Bodies, Our Crimes” in class. Flavin examines how the criminal justice system polices women’s reproductive rights and continually reinforces patriarchal gender norms.
Flavin discusses the problematic nature of reducing women’s value down to the…