Monday, May 17

The Incredibles revisited

Quite a long time ago (as articles on the internet go), “The F-Word” published an article on Pixar and their movies, claiming they were a) buddy movies (which is right, to a certain extent) and b) cementing classical role models. The best example for the last argument were “The Incredibles”.

Sure, Mr. Incredible and his son get the ‘classical’ superhero powers: strength and speed. But a few days ago, I watched the movie again on TV (there was nothing interesting on otherwise, so I thought I’d give it a try) and realized that the two women in the family are much more intelligent. Yes, at first Mrs. Incredible (once Elastigirl, a long time ago) is housewife and mother, trying to keep the family out of trouble and getting everything done. But once she has to leave the ‘normality’ behind to find her husband, we see she’s been doing undercover work before. She has government contacts (above the Superhero Protection Program they’re all in), she can steer a jet (and I mean really steer it, even with missiles on the tail), she knows how to infiltrate a base. That’s far more than just using a super-elastic body, there’s a lot of intelligence going into that. Her daughter can create energy fields and turn herself invisible (which could, one day, make her a great secret agent, too). And she knows how to best follow a rocket: just use the same coordinates for the second rocket.

So, what about the classical role models? Yes, Mrs. Incredible cares for her family – even more so than her midlife-crisis-ridden husband at the beginning of the story. But is that necessarily wrong? She has three children to take care of, after all. Two of them already have superpowers. (The youngest develops them at the end of the movie.) She wants to play safe, keep them all out of trouble and hide the truth (that they’re not just normal human beings) from everyone around. Therefore she tries to make sure her children don’t use their powers (and her husband as well…).

Her daughter is very shy at the beginning of the story. But then, she’s a teenager and they always find something about themselves they don’t like. She wants to be normal, to fit in and just be like everyone else (while her younger brother wants to show off his powers). Once she learns about the responsibility that comes with such powers, though, once she needs them to keep herself and her brother alive, she grows tremendously. Such growth is only possible when there’s a lot of space for growth. Her brother doesn’t have it, but she does.

The women in “The Incredibles” might fade into background a bit at first (literally so in the case of daughter Violetta), but they have strengths of their own. And only together with them, the rest of the family can be ‘super’.

Friday, May 7

Veiled Problems

Over at “The F-Word”, there’s a blog post about the ban on the Burka and similar pieces of clothing in Belgium. The poster rightfully points out that this is, to a certain degree, a ban on religion (or at least the way people live their religion).

In Germany, a similar law has been discussed recently, even though we have little women wearing that kind of clothing here. The reason for this is that those things are only worn in certain countries and we don’t have many people from those countries (and if we have them, they’re mostly looking for a haven, because they’re in danger in their own countries and thus usually no religious fundamentalists).

Why am I talking about religious fundamentalists here? Because, in essence, the demand for women to hide their whole body (which is achieved by this kind of clothing) is usually only found in combination with very fundamentalist Muslims. While the Koran demands women (and men, by the way) to be dressed in a certain fashion, it does not demand of women to completely hide beneath a veil or similar piece of clothing. The same demand to dress according to a certain moral standard also features in the bible and thus in Christian belief.

Many women in Europe perceive the Burka and other full-body veils as a form of oppressing women. It’s not a religious statement to them (although, for many Muslim women it might be one and nothing else), but a demonstration that women are worth far less in Islam and have to live with oppressive measures (such as perceiving the world through a small, netted window all the time). They see the Burka, in essence, as some sort of mobile ‘prison cell’ women are forced into. That is not necessarily the truth, admittedly, but it is seen as a statement fundamental Muslims make about the role and position of the woman in society.

Most of the different ways in which women inside and outside the Islamic world perceive those veils probably come from the little open discussion that is to be found between the (usually Christian) Europeans and the Muslims. We (as European Christians) only see the Burka in use inside fundamental systems in which the women do indeed suffer from oppression and thus associate it with this oppression.

And we (including me on purpose) feel very unsure when speaking to someone or meeting someone who’s hiding her face. In direct dialogue, I want to see whom I am talking to – especially the face. I want to see the reactions to the things I say and how that person looks while she is saying certain things.

In Germany, there is no direct ban on the Burka and similar full-body veils so far. There is, theoretically, no need for it, as we already have the “Vermummungsverbot”. This strange German word (and believe me, it’s even strange for Germans) means it’s forbidden to hide your identity (by means of hiding your face) in public areas (i.e. outside private homes). This ban has nothing to do with Muslims or Islam, it’s been in place since Germany faced the terroristic acts of the RAF during the 1970s. Technically speaking, this law also includes all forms of a full-body veil (especially as you can’t say whether there’s a man or a woman underneath the Burka – though normally it will be a woman, of course).

I am pretty sure the Belgian government does not want to suppress Muslims with the law. They probably think they’re acting against oppression (as the law would give women who are not wearing a full-body veil out of their own will, but because peer pressure or their family forces them to, a good reason to stop wearing it) and maybe they also think they’ll lower the possibility for terroristic acts.

Is the full-body veil a device of oppression or just an expression of belief? This far the question is hard to answer for Europeans.