Thursday, October 9, 2008

Veiled Appearances

Well, another essay to put up here. I can't seem to get myself together enough to write in a particularly serious manner most of the time. This is a bit of an exception. It's a shame I finally figured out my thesis in the last paragraph.

This is a comparison essay on Carmen Vazquez's "Appearances" and Maysan Haydar's "Veiled Intentions." Funny thing is, when you google them, you get hundreds of links to finished essays and the like. I'll be glad when the semester is over and I can take a more advanced english class. I would say the present one is equivalent to a tenth grade class. Unfortunately it is mandatory, and I wasn't able to get the AP scores from last year in to counseling in time to switch classes. I guess I don't mind. Much. I apologize for any formatting errors. Cut and paste isn't exactly the best method for this. I now realize I am apologizing to the threeish people who visit my blog, none of which I feel the need to show off for. So I take it back. Yes, I will subject you to my formatting errors. It is no more than you deserve! >:V

“Appearances” by Carmen Vázquez is an essay on the common misconceptions derived by perceptions of couples’ sexual orientations from their outward appearance, while “Veiled Intentions” by Maysan Haydar focuses on the same common perceptions of a Muslim woman who chose to wear a Hijab, a traditional head covering. On the surface, the similarities are clear. People have certain stereotypes and expectations of LGBT couples just as they do of Muslim women. The similarities continue into the essays as one can see how minority groups are insulted, misrepresented, and marginalized by society as a whole.
Despite the vastly different backgrounds of traditional Muslims and LGBT people, they share a commonality in their minority. The majority of the nation does not identify itself as Muslim, nor do they identify themselves as LGBT. By pure virtue of the smaller size of the group, the majority can claim the right to abuse the minority by democratic process and further by social standards. Despite the whole of the minorities in America actually being larger than the traditional white male majority, minorities continue to allow this subjugation. The majority is very much interested in staying the majority. Because of this, they put forth a great deal of effort to divide the minority and emphasize the differences through social means, such as biased news reporting and politicians referring to one or more other minority groups, for example white bankers giving loans to Korean businessmen to open up shops in predominantly Black neighborhoods. When the riots in the early nineties destroyed hundreds of Korean businesses, naturally they blamed the Black folks for rioting instead of the White folk for inciting the riots. Minorities are linked by a common enemy, the majority, and thus often share common traits, such as similar forms of persecutions and responses. Before the Gulf War, Muslims were relatively ignored. Americans had little experience with them and had yet to form strong opinions, unlike their well developed, historically precedent opinions of African Americans or Jews. The Gulf War changed this. Perceptions of Muslims as dangerous extremists began to form and admitting that one was a Muslim became as unfashionable as, say, admitting to partaking in an S&M lifestyle. It wasn’t taboo, and not particularly looked down upon, but was indeed considered distasteful, and often preceded an awkward silence. 9/11 changed everything, however; immediately post 9/11 Arabic men and women were targeted for reactionary violence in America, especially in New York City. This newfound animosity further emphasized the similarity of Islamic faith and LGBT persons.
Gay men are stereotyped thoroughly as effeminate, ineffectual “girly-men,” a stereotype that is often the only contact the average person has with homosexuals, as vicarious as it is. Similarly, the stereotype of Muslims as extremists with odd religious habits, strange deaths and phrases like “durka durka” or the traditional Muslim warrior’s trilled yell is often the only experience that the average protestant American has with Muslims. These stereotypes are advanced and extended through American popular culture and nearly all forms of media. Many of the misconceptions of Muslims were created simply due to the nightly news constantly reporting the most grisly and macabre incidences in the Middle East. It focuses on the one person who chose to express his beliefs violently instead of the hundreds of weddings, hundreds of celebrations of life, and hundreds of small kindnesses that Muslims do for each other every day in traditional Arabia. On the same evening news, reports of gay marriage shock and awe the nation, with men and (to a much lesser extent) women kissing members of their own sex and dressing in a flamboyant, outlandish manner. Both of these misrepresentations continue off of the news and into the entertainment Americans consume. From “politically incorrect” comedians like Carlos Mencia to “edgy” shows like Family Guy, to even relatively normal reality shows like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the character and identity of both Homosexuals and Muslims are clearly, if erroneously, defined. This shared misconception is a commonality the separate groups can claim.
I want to switch tracks here. This year is an election year, which always makes for a fascinating change of pace and a dredging up of issues that normally remain under the radar. Recently, as an attack against Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin said “This is not a man who sees America as you and I see America…” This statement, besides its inherently silly nature, reveals a sort of homogeneity of thinking that is assumed to exist. There is indeed a “Model American,” and that model does not, apparently, include Barack Obama. This Ethnocentrism, this idealized view of America is one of absolute morality. Generally the Idea of an American is similar to the earliest settlers in America: a white, heterosexual, protestant male, one who emphasizes absolute freedom where it does not conflict with the moral codes of the bible. Neither Muslims nor Homosexuals conform to this ideal identity, and are thus Ignored or deemphasized by the mainstream. Both groups have put forth great effort to advance their ideals and gain some measure of tolerance in this nation, but this sort of advancement has created a great deal of resentment and backlash from the “typical” white communities.
The essays themselves share little thematic similarities, “Appearances” being written as a scholarly documentary of occurrences and “Veiled Intentions” being written as a personal anecdote. In both of them, however, a major component is that of clothing. Both Muslims and Homosexuals have, as a part of their stereotypes, a certain appearance they are expected to conform to. From the turban of the Middle Eastern to the skintight Lycra pants of the modern male homosexual, how an individual dresses labels who they are. In both “Appearances” and “Veiled Intentions,” the way the people dress is misunderstood to identify with a particular method of thought as discussed earlier. This confusion is the primary similarity between the two essays.

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