Ms. Magazine Offends with Summer Cover

Heidi Klum did it. The National Review did it. And now Ms. Magazine is doing it too. Apparently appropriating South Asian religion is all the rage this year, folks!

The cover of the upcoming summer issue features a middle class white American woman holding several items that represent work and family life in a multi-armed Hindu deity's pose. I get the juggling metaphor, and the sour look on her face informs that she's not too pleased with her conflicting situation. What I'm conflicted and not pleased about is the frequency with which American media and pop culture icons are co-opting South Asian religion to suit their aesthetic fancy.

The multiple arms on a god or goddess represent their strength and ability to multitask, and the multi-armed representation is not one that is appropriate for a human form, as the pose is intended to convey that these abilities are super-human. Another question that begs to be answered is which god or goddess is this woman supposed to be depicting? The number of arms in this cover (8) is quite uncommon. This seems to demonstrate a lack of knowledge on the part of the cover designer about depictions of and difference among Hindu deities, as well as confirms this use for solely aesthetic purposes.

It's completely inappropriate to utilize Hindu iconography in this context, mocks the religion, and diffuses the imagery of its "true" meaning. When a cultural or religious symbol is used for marketing purposes by cultural or religious outsiders that fail to convey respect for and understanding of the intricacies of that culture or religion, it is offensive. Westerners have a history of seeking to eradicate "Other" cultures and religions in favor of their own, and Ms. Magazine's perpetuation of this ethnocentric process is shameful.

Update: I ran across a few posts that mention this one, so I wanted to share them with you. Feel free to add your own blog responses in the Comments.

Keep Your Hands to Yourself - Taz @ Sepia Mutiny

Ms. Magazine's Cover Appropriates Hindu Imagery - RMJ @ Womanist Musings/Deeply Problematic

Ms. Magazine Appropriates South Asian Culture - Nina Jacinto @ WireTap

by Mandy Van Deven
View profile »

Still Reading? Sign up for our Weekly Reader!

60 Comments Have Been Posted

Magazine Cover

To me I don't really think it's offensive, but then again I don't really buy into all of the religious icons and symbols. Some Hindus believe that we all have the divine in us, so why would it be offensive to compare a woman to a goddess. I do believe that we are all goddesses. Isn't this sort of what many of us are doing when we pose in goddess poses during yoga?

I agree with you! I don't

I agree with you! I don't think this is offensive. The many-armed woman works as a metaphor for how hard it is to balance things in our lives. It's the same thing as using a halo to symbolise goodness. Religion is not something that should be off-limits when it comes to art or writing. I think everyone has the right to remix and use religious symbols as they see fit.

I don't find this offensive

I don't find this offensive either. I am Christian, and I am not offended when people use the cross, or halo's or devil horns or anything. The marketers solely intended this picture to be a metaphor of how crazy the lives of modern day moms are. This is exemplified in the fact that the number of arms (8) is not that of a Hindu goddess. They wanted her to look stressed. Don't read into it.

i agree!

I think there are many many excellent commentaries on why this is not offensive. Kudos to the Life of Brian comparison, the comments about the superhuman (and unrealistic) expectations faced by mothers, and others.
And maybe there are eight limbs depicted deliberately so as to distinguish this from Hindi deities?

Regarding Ms.

<i>Ms.</i> must be in trouble again. It's been a problematic tome ever since the <a href="">Feminist Majority Foundation</a> bought it earlier in this decade. Did anyone know that its one editor this decade, <a href="">Elaine Lafferty</a>, <a href=" a supporter of Sarah Palin</a> when Palin campaigned with John McCain last year (She was out of <i>Ms.</i> by then)?

Perhaps <i>Bitch</i> should consider stopping advertising in <i>Ms.</i> (I read it at my library on occasion and notice the ads. I know that they, in turn, advertise in <i>Bitch</i>)? I haven't subbed to <i>Ms.</i> since the FMF bought it. I know that many of today's feminists/social justice activists would rather support <i>Bitch</i> --you are so very much more relevant than <i>Ms.</i> and I mean that with all sincerity! <i>Ms.</i> is out of touch. Really.

Ms. Magazine

I agree. Who reads that rag? It would never occur to me to buy it, to go looking for it, or to even really care what they are writing about. It may have been relevant at one time, but even then I don't remember reading it. To be honest, in the days before Bitch and Bust, and I'm writing this a hard core, card carrying feminist, I'd read Playboy or Cosmo, New Yorker or Atlantic. I'm not surprised an editor supported Sarah Palin. MS. seems to be a magazine that stopped short after women were allowed the vote, cut their hair, rouged their knees and finally consented to giving their man a blowjob (but were not happy about it.)

I think it's a slippery

I think it's a slippery slope to make all religious imagery references off-bounds as you seem to be implying should be done. Perhaps Ms. didn't do enough research (and ended up with the wrong number of arms or perhaps other mistakes, which I agree is bad form), but it's a reference to multi-tasking as you mentioned and not a commentary on Hindu religion. I'd be interested to know if there is any comment about this from people in the Hindu community?

The thing is, if we put all religious imagery off limits for reference, we would also lose really thought-provoking, and frankly, entertaining explorations of religion like the 'The Life of Brian' and 'Dogma' (Both movies were attacked/boycotted for being sacrilegious).

Under your logic, 'The Life of Brian' couldn't include the musical crucifix scene—a scene that makes reference to the death of Christ, but ultimately (while humorously) offers a positive outlook 'Always look on the bright side of life...'.

Did you ever thinK...?

That the religious iconography could stand for the unrealistic/epic expectations mothers today face?

I think a possible response

I think a possible response to that argument would be that 'Life of Brian' and other parodies of Christianity are made by Christians who possess fairly good understandings of the observance or teachings of the religion. A lot of the humor in 'Life of Brian' comes from imagining the people in bible stories as real people rather than myths or icons. Comedy could also come from the practice of religion. Your parents may make you go to church every Sunday, but you really don't understand what God is or how that relates to a burning bush. The humor comes from experiences with or knowledge of the religion.

But I think that type of comedy is different than simply trying to make a religious reference and getting it wrong. In the case of the representation of Hinduism in the U.S., it may still be problematic that we don't have a ton of familiarity with the religion, and therefore are making mistakes (like the number of arms) in the midst of our references.

What is the effect of an incorrectly made religious reference to a person with knowledge of that religion? Maybe offense. Maybe something more akin to confusion mixed with boredom.

Personally, i don't think

Personally, i don't think it's offensive at all. And even if a multi-armed woman is associated with hindu culture and religion, i don't think it's depicting any of their deities. This article says it, the number of arms in the cover it's not the same as the ones in hindu deities, so for me it just works as a metaphor that can be associated with the hindu culture. A metaphor that depicts the reality of many woman today, and needs to be changed.
I think that in the feminist community we are always ready to criticize, and while it's important to discuss things and listen/read different points of view, we r wasting our time with things that can be harmful to the community, even if it's really not THAT important

please excuse me for my english, which happens to be my second language

I agree. Before the jump, I

I agree. Before the jump, I was having a hard time figuring out what was so offensive about the cover. As one commenter mentioned, it's a slippery slope.What if a woman were depicted as the Virgin Mary on a magazine cover? Actually, that happened (with Playboy-granted-but it happened) The right-wing was all over it. So is it the left-wing's job to get up in arms about the Eastern religions' portrayal in the media?
For the record, I don't think Heidi Klum's Halloween costume was offensive either. Lots of people dress up as God or Jesus or an angel for Halloween. Why not a Hindu deity? The Ms. cover is just a woman with a few arms, loosely referencing a multi-armed goddess. That's pretty much all it is.

Second-wave white feminists

Second-wave white feminists alienate an ethnic/religious group yet again. *headdesk*

This was offensive

...and you guys may need to remember that Hinduism isn't the dominant religion in the Western World, something I feel makes this even more offensive. Imagine someone borrowing something dear to you and using it for commerce <b>and</b> completely out of the proper contexts? This isn't as bad as the offensive Burger King ads that had Lakshmi eating beef, of all things, but it does "other" people who live by these codes and see these Deities as sacred.


I wonder what the (non-Hindu) "this is not offensive" crowd thinks about the now popular use of feminist rhetoric and imagery for consumerist purposes--like Spice Girls brand of "girl power" and Sex in the City "f*cking in designer shoes" brand of so-called empowerment, which serves to maintain the status quo. Co-optation allows for a reinterpretation of something as it suits one's own purposes, which can have the detrimental effect of erosion of meaning. This cover isn't saying "I value Hinduism." It's saying, "I'm uncreative and thoughtless about what (mis)using this image with no cultural context may mean to those for whom this image has personal, cultural, and religious significance."

Big surprise that the Ms. demographic doesn't find this cover offensive. *snark*

Good way to put it

That was a great explanation, thanks!

I, along with a whole bunch

I, along with a whole bunch of others, blaspheme, mock and ridicule the Abrahamic faiths on general principal, so why exactly should Hinduism be given any more consideration than is given to other people's imaginary friends?

That really would be bigoted, and the adherents of the Abrahamic faiths would be screaming discrimination. There are no sacred cows, Hindus get to suffer abuse just like Jews/Christians/Muslims do.

I'm not offended, but...

I agree that the multitasking image could have been accomplished a dozen other ways.

I think, if she were portrayed on a cross, with a baby in her left hand and a Blackberry in the other, more of us would "get it".

As I gird myself for the inevitable 1st Amendment flaming, let me just confirm that I "get" that too.

But I often feel that we waste our hard-fought rights on callousness. Freedom without a [personal] commitment toward using those freedoms responsibly sets a poor example for all those countries we're so anxious to convert toward our way of life.

maybe next issue will have

maybe next issue will have her up on a cross wearing a crown of thorns? if there is a different religion represented every cover, does it remain offensive?
so if everyone's offended--no one can be offended?

I also don't think it is

I also don't think it is offensive. Religious references and imagery are used all the time. I recently noticed that many law review articles reference Biblical stories or names, I don't think this is offensive. Much art and literature references religious or spiritual stories, images, or names. I find it concerning that instead of dealing with real issues many feminists are concerned with in fighting. We are stereotyped as always being outraged about something, no matter how petty. I think bitch could be using resources more wisely than insulting Ms. As to the other comments that say Ms. is irrelevant. I have been a subscriber to Ms. and bitch and I really prefer the content of Ms. I want to support bitch, but politics and law are of much more interest to me than pop culture. So, I find the content of Ms. to be very interesting and relevant.

Keep in mind

Re: "I think bitch could be using resources more wisely than insulting Ms."

Remember: "Opinions expressed on this website are those of their respective authors, not necessarily those of Bitch. Dig?"

I agree

I agree with "Really?"

This seems like an homage to the first-ever issue of Ms. as it appeared as an insert in New York Magazine in 1971. See:

The "2.0" aspect would reinforce the idea behind this cover. Having not read the issue, I am not sure if this is made clear in the magazine itself.

A stretch

The real question that begs to be answered: since when does Hinduism have a patent on multi-armedness?

The most revealing flaw here seems to be Devin's own question: "Another question that begs to be answered is which god or goddess is this woman supposed to be depicting? The number of arms in this cover (8) is quite uncommon."

It just shows the extent to which the author seems to be forcing the argument. The fact that the arm-count doesn't match any Hindu deity makes a stronger case that Ms. wasn't intentionally copying any particular religious icon. It's equally likely that arms here really are just arms, a totally legit way to represent multi-tasking, and Ms. likely just chose a number that aesthetically pleases and displays the different tokens they want to showcase.

Why not ask them their intentions before lambasting them?

Because that'd require less

Because that'd require less frothing of the mouth and would give her no chance to be snarky. How unfun.

Shit like this is why we feminist have basically no cred on the mainstream and are constantly struggling with our image.

no cred

perhaps (privileged) feminists have no cred because they're constantly forgetting that "women" are not a homogenous group, and fail to address issues of marginalized communities to which they do not belong.

To be or not to be--offended, that is

I don't think it's offensive, but you know? I'm not a Hindu so what I think matters not one iota.

What matters is whether or not Hindus are offended when they see that cover on the magazine rack in their local bookstore. If they are, then the cover is de facto offensive. What Ms. meant or didn't mean is irrelevant, and non-Hindus don't get to further insult the offended by telling them that they are just being overly sensitive.

Yes, religious iconography gets used other places all the time. And sometimes it's offensive to the persons who practice that religion. If a Hindu publication put that woman on the cross, Catholics would be having fits and with good reason. From their point of view such an image would be sacrilege. So what gives an American publication the right to do that to another culture's religious icons?

If Ms. wanted to depict multitasking, they could have done it a dozen different ways, but they chose this one. Unless a Hindu designed the cover, a Hindu posed for it, and a Hindu did the photography, makeup, costuming, and so forth, in which case we'd know it wasn't offensive, then the editors better have asked a couple dozen Hindus if it was problematic or not before they went to press. If they didn't, shame on them--whether it turns out to be offensive or not. Feminists owe their sisters that much sensitivity.

This is not a trivial issue: respect for other peoples' faith/culture/symbols IS important. Not offending sisters of color, of other religions, of other cultures, of various sexual orientations is not enough, in fact: Feminism needs to be actively inclusive. Giving feminists the rep for being constantly pissed off about everything, or dismissing whatever we're discussing at the moment as being so much less important than, oh, say, famine is just a way to trivialize our concerns without having to go to all the bother to actually respond to them. (Sometimes it means the other discussant doesn't have a decent response, sometimes it means it is merely inconvenient for them to address the concern. They might have to give up some privilege or something.) The answer to that tactic, and that's exactly what it is, a tactic, is most decidedly NOT to stop being pissed off. That just gives 'em what they want--for us to back off.

"I'm not a Hindu so what I

"I'm not a Hindu so what I think matters not one iota."

Fair enough, Virginia S. Wood, but so far I see no evidence that the Hindu community is offended and that's what's troubling about this post. Unless I missed something (or someone's holding back), the author of the post and all the commenters are all non-Hindus. So I guess there's nothing to talk about, huh?

missing the points

Anon, two points (plural) you should re-consider are:

"So what gives an American publication the right to do that to another culture's religious icons?"

"This is not a trivial issue: respect for other peoples' faith/culture/symbols IS important. Not offending sisters of color, of other religions, of other cultures, of various sexual orientations is not enough, in fact: Feminism needs to be actively inclusive."

I agree with those points.

I agree with those points. But I also think there's a missing link here and that's the Hindu community. Perhaps Ms. DID consult with people in the community? Perhaps the bulk of the community is NOT offended and 'plays' with their own religious iconography as well with a pop culture twist? I just don't know and so far, I haven't read any evidence yet that says that this IS offensive or that they proceeded without consulting people in the community. If this were proven, even a little, I'd be more inclined to agree that it was an error on the part of Ms., and that they should do their homework if they are not meaning to make commentary or offense.

But again, by your logic, no artist or creator should make anything using imagery outside their own religion or beliefs. If that were the case, we'd be out a lot of books, film, tv, paintings, photography etc.

so if...

51% of women think feminism is unnecessary, does that mean it is?

There's plenty written by Hindus on cultural appropriation. You should read it. One need not be a Hindu to point out when Hinduism is being appropriated.

And yes, it is appropriation to use imagery (among other things) outside of one's religion, ethnic group, etc. That's what appropriation is. What I take issue with in this particular situation is the power dynamic of a group with more privilege utilizing the imagery of a group with less privilege devoid of any cultural contextualization or understanding.

I never said the imagery

I never said the imagery wasn't being appropriated—it IS. What I'm saying is, an argument is being made here without the piece of the puzzle that it purports to be arguing in favor of—the Hindu community. Clearly Hindus are not a homogeneous group and would have varied opinions on the subject, but still, there is no evidence to suggest that this kind of appropriation is, in fact, offensive to any Hindus whatsoever!

For your reading pleasure...

Here's another link to an article reflecting on American cultural appropriation of India more generally (although I acknoweldge the Ms. cover was offensive specific to Hinduism and religious appropriation). Perhaps I'm making the jump that part of what's problematic about the Ms. cover is also the cultural appropriation of India, but you go...

What is the movement coming to?

As a feminist myself, I find it really sad that fellow members of the movement feel the need to bring down allies and other feminists. By spending time hating and demeaning each other, it takes away from the bigger fight of the feminist movement - equality for women and all people. Why do some feel compelled to make this fight harder? Maybe instead of breaking each other down, we should support one another's efforts and recognize the good in each other's work. It's that what feminism and being feminist is all about?

Let's privilege MY concerns for the good of the "movement"

Anon, feminists are not, nor should they be, a monolithic group. Some feminists have a history of overlooking particular oppressions (race, culture, sexuality, class, geographic location--to name a few) because they have the luxury of not being effected by them. Then they don't understand when [people of color, lesbians, working class women, etc] say "feminism doesn't represent me." Feminists are not, not should they be, immune from criticism; the shit feminists pull is just as bad as the shit anyone else is doing.

When my mother was really

When my mother was really busy and I was being bratty and no one would help her she used to say "I don't have eight hands, Gabi!" That is the first thing I thought about when I saw that magazine cover.

I think we are crossing a line here and becoming overtly sensitive and starting to take offense on things that arent there. That takes away credibility when we complain about, y'know, things that are truly insensitive.

Gabby, your mom was

Gabby, your mom was appropriating Hindu culture as well.

Or she just was saying she

Or she just was saying she couldn't do 8 things at once.

I personally don't perceive

I personally don't perceive this as offensive, but that's not my beef atm.

I am a young feminist (17). I know, out of all the people I've been at school with and generally, only one other girl who identifies as being a feminist. I know that there is no such thing as feminism, but feminisms. I know that feminism is not one large monolith, but there is womanism, anarcho-feminism, radical feminism, ecofeminism and liberal feminism. I am a WASP, I am a privileged liberal feminist. I know that it is the fault of people from my background that other women have been excluded. I know this is wrong. I would like to change this. I'm saying all this because I don't want people to call me disilllusioned or immature or whatever. Feminism is integral to how I perceive myself.

I agree that people need to be called out when they step over the line, feminist and non-feminist. But I think that snide remarks about the "Ms. demographic" is unnessecary. The different feminisms may have their differences but I believe that we should stop pointless digs at each other. It is vital that there are all these different branches of feminism, but there does need to be an overall movement. Feminists are perceived as being overly sensitive about what some people may consider small matters and aggressive. This is just vindicating those who say that.

I know there have been splits in feminism since the first wave; in the UK there were the suffragists and the suffragettes. But with so much criticism from the rest of society, can we please refrain from being unnessecarily snide about people from different places on the feminist spectrum. This kind of stuff would definitely put my peers off uniting under the banner of whichever feminism they would identify with. We need people to identify as being feminist to get anything accomplished. My "movement" may be different from that of a feminist woman of colour, but I truly believe that there is such thing as the "sisterhood". So while I may disagree with the beliefs of groups like the Femme Sharks, I would never start dissing their "demographic" or whatever, like you did with Ms.

I apologise if I have written anything presumptuous on my part, but I just wanted to give my two cents. I have found all of your other posts really, really interesting, by the way.

that's just the point, Steph...

These aren't "pointless digs" at each other. They are valid criticisms. And no, I don't think feminists should be considered beyond reproach, particularly by other feminists. Critical feedback should be something we thank each other for because without it, we would remain stagnant and useless in a dynamic society.

It is a pointless dig

It is a pointless dig because you assumed they were referencing Khali and then drew a strawman argument trying to tear them a new one.

You are being self righteous and you didnt even know if that was their intent. I know my mother complained about only having two arms, not multiple, and I've totally heard that same complaint from other hassled women. Where THEY appropiating hindu culture too?

gABRIELA, My mother too used

My mother too used to use the expression "I don't have eight arms", and like you I heard such remarks commonly from various mothers as I was growing up in the U.S. As I'm sure you (and, I imagine, Van Deven) would agree, such remarks do not constitute an appropriation of Hinduism or any other religious tradition in which multi-armed divinities are present (Tantric Buddhism comes to mind). Offhand remarks about needing more than two arms/hands to accomplish all the demands of a multitasking parent, however, are quite different from the visual statement Ms. is making on its magazine cover. The positions of the arms in the magazine's image correspond exactly to those of multi-armed deities in the visual traditions of South Asia; moreover, the objects that the woman on the magazine cover holds are a play on the attributes that such deities hold. Given this strong visual resonance, I think it would be difficult to deny that Ms. did not intend to reference South Asian deities in their choice for this month's cover.
If you believe that Van Deven has made "a pointless dig" in her critique of the Ms. cover, and if this troubles you, I would suggest that you and others refrain from making pointless digs of your own towards Van Deven.

Maybe we're just not as educated as Mandy to be outraged...

It's hard not to make a dig at Mandy when she comes across as being so pompous that she needs to enlighten the rest of us on what/who is acceptable to offend and who is not. Last I checked, the press is the last group with a need/desire/expectation to carry out any publication w/out offending anyone. If you're offended don't buy it. This is America and no one elected Mandy to let the rest of us know which group/which icon/which image is okay or not. If I actually come across a Hindu who is offended I'd congratulate them on having such a great life that something as insignifanct as this would send them into a tizzy.

Maybe to Mandy, feminism entails running to the defense of Hindus (I had no idea they were so oppressed due to the misuse of their religious imagery)...silly, the rest of us feminists were wringing our hands over the oppression of women in the Middle East, the geniocide in places like Rwanda and Darfur (there, it's the Christians that are targeted by death squads, but I don't see Mandy tip-toeing around Christians in fear of offense), sex trade victims spanning several nations including our own, and the disgusting sexual exploitation of young girls rampant in our own pop culture.

I think those making the digs are just pointing out that, as a feminist, her priorities seem a little out of whack. She's entitled to her opinion, but the pomposity of it invites critique even more that the magazine cover that wouldn't even say "offensive to Hindu" to 98% of the demographic reading it.

personal insults, eh?

Regarding this being "insignificant" and my "priorities being out of wack," see my comment above entitled "Let's privilege MY concerns for the good of the 'movement'"

Regarding your ad hominem critique, that feeling of insecurity is your issue, love, not mine--though I do regret your feeling this way as a response to my viewpoint and manner of articulation.

What you and I agree on is that there are a plethora of issues--from genocide to oppression of women worldwide (this isn't specific to the Middle East) to religious conflict--that feminists are and should be working on. What we don't seem to entirely agree on is the approach to rectifying, the vastness of the span of, the equal valuation of, or the need to simultaneously address all of these issues.

I think you misunderstood what Steph said.

If I read her comment correctly, she was referring to ad hominem attacks such as snidely referring to "the Ms. demographic," not the substantive critique you gave of the Ms. cover. If this is in fact what she meant, I agree that it is unnecessary and divisive.

I would also like to co-sign on Virginia S. Wood's comment.

I'll try and make my point clearer...

Kittenfluff, that's just what my point was, thanks :) I did try my best to make it clear.

Ms. Van Deven, I did say that "I agree that people need to be called out when they step over the line, feminist and non-feminist." While I don't perceive this as stepping over the metaphorical, I know that it is perfectly right you express your view. I have no problem with that. The only thing that upset me was:

"Big surprise that the Ms. demographic doesn't find this cover offensive. *snark*"

I am not disagreeing with you that there is a need to criticise stuff. But that particular comment achieves nothing except isolating the people who enjoy both Bitch and Ms., and their individual takes on society and culture. Now, I don't live in the US, or come from it, or have ever visited it, and my understanding of all the different feminist publications is somewhat sketchy; who is Ms. marketed at, exactly? And what is, in your opinion, wrong with that demographic?

nothing is wrong...

with the Ms. demographic (middle to upper class, white, heterosexual, liberal feminists). The problem is this demographic's consistent (mis)use of things outside of any cultural context or understanding, particularly given its colonialist past and neocolonialist present. What my comment is intended to convey is that this demographic has a history of not "getting" cultural oppression, so it is no surprise when they don't "get" it.

I'm Hindu

But I don't find this offensive. In fact, at first glance, I thought she was supposed to be like an octopus. I guess I didn't "get it" right away because most deities have between four to six arms.

Yeah, I'm gonna be angry if someone exploits us, but I don't really see the reference. And, as someone mentioned earlier in the comments, God dwells within us AS us. We are all manifestations of God.

bad cover in general

I agree that the position of the arms is clearly trying to reference Hindu gods/godesses, and it is appropriation...even with benefit of the doubt granted, the image comes out badly.

"The multiple arms on a god or goddess represent their strength and ability to multitask, and the multi-armed representation is not one that is appropriate for a human form, as the pose is intended to convey that these abilities are super-human."

The troubled look on the woman's face indicates that she has a problem with what she is doing... perhaps the inappropriateness of a human being made to multitask in a way that only a supernatural being could actually pull off *is* exactly what they were wanting to play on. I still, in that context, think the image wasn't the best choice; seeing as they stuck a white woman in that pose, they probably aren't expecting their readership to be really familiar with Hindu symbolism. So either way the cover is editorial fail.

There are other problems with that image than just the Hindu symbolism as well... firstly, of course she is white. I mean, if one is going to put so little effort into the thing and go with this cliched imagery of a woman having several hands, there is no excuse for using another white lady in it... it's just lazy. Also, the objects in her hands strongly class her, as does the accompanying text (which, incidentally, doesn't compliment the image at all).

I think that it's kind of odd to see so many people willing to forgive this kind of thing and sort of assume that it was oversight on the part of the designer; seriously, the cover designer is almost certainly well-educated and puts more thought and time into the cover than one might realize. If other ethnicity, classes, religions or cultures were in the least bit considered important in those offices, remotely part of their day-to-day political consciousness in a meaningful way, most of these associations would have immediately come up and the image would have been seen as lazy and problematic -- really, it probably never would have been on the table in the first place.

Offensive? For reals?

Surely, there must be something more important to write about.

Age-Old Colonialist Perspective on Gender and Racial Other

I understand that this issue is more complicated than "just" having a problem with coopting religious icons, and I think this sentence in the blog summed it up well: "What I'm conflicted and not pleased about is the frequency with which American media and pop culture icons are co-opting South Asian religion to suit their aesthetic fancy."

I would however, re-write the sentence to say that What I'm conflicted and not pleased about is the frequency with which American media and pop culture icons are co-opting South Asian culture to suit their aesthetic fancy, wthout any regard for its broader cultural context and history. (I mean, shit - do we REALLY think that Heidi Klum has any clue about Hinduism and South Asian culture(s) and history(ies)? Doubt it.)

The problem is the age-old colonialist perspective of gender and the racial other - although typcially writers referred to the negative depictions of Shouth Asian and African women in British (and other colonial powers') fiction and nonfiction, coopting and trivializing aspects of the culture was a problem, as well. And particularly with Heidi Klum's costume, I can imagine a "oh isn't that just ADORABLE, what IS IT" attitude doing just that - trivializing a complex figure in a rich and complicated religion.

Calling it out as problematic because of the religious aspects, though - forget that. I'm an equal opportunity religion basher.

Hm. That is one thin and difficult differentiating line I just drew, isn't it?

Ms. Magazine Offends with Summer Cover

Like most others who have responded to this blog, I don't find the cover offensive. I think it's a rather narrow-minded interpretation to perceive the cover as an appropriation representation of Hindu deity. It may very well be an appropriation, but this is not the only interpretation, since the multiple-handed/tantacled imagery has been used in western cultures quite commonly to symbolize multi-tasking. At best, this can only be viewed as a coincidence. Furthermore, appropriation of another cultural's symbols are usually a sign of admiration, not insult. To the blogger, don't take yourself so seriously, the world is expanding towards a multicultural cosmopolitan stew and we will increasingly borrow from one another as this stew becomes more mixed and integrated

other forms of feminism!

... this is why there are other forms of feminism like, black feminism, postcolonial feminism and third-world feminism ... within the feminist movement there IS racism, transphobia, cultural appropriation, etc etc ... I am glad "Bitch" posted this because those were the exact words I thought when I saw this cover.


this. This, this, this.


this indeed

Much ado over nothing!

I am a Hindu and I am not offended. I am sure most Hindus would not be offended by this cover image, since there is no pejorative or negative connotation or misrepresentation involved here. They are clearly using the Hindu Goddess form though and if that helps some people in the west to explore Hindu Goddesses and their representations or even learn something about the tradition then it would help.

Another non-offended Hindu

I'm Hindu, and also not offended by the image. I think the people crying 'appropriation' here don't have knowledge/experience with the ways in which images of deities are used in South Asian cultural contexts. It's common, for example, for female electioneering candidates to be represented as multi-armed goddesses, and for kids to be dressed up for 'competitions' at Hindu events as deities. Hinduism, while diverse, is mostly very unlike American Protestantism, which I think is the reference point most people here are using to determine if this would be considered offensive.
It's an image which does not insult any manifestation of God or any particular tradition of Hindu religious belief/practice (unlike some instances of Western appropriation using Hindu deities to sell meat products or places on the soles of sandals). I think it's a very apt visual metaphor for what the piece is trying to convey, in fact.

That's what I figured.

From my somewhat limited understanding of Hindu culture, it's quite common for imagery of Gods, Goddesses and Devi to be applied in every imaginable way, yes? Like charms dangling from car windows and on clothing and decorations for houses and windows?

I think it's good to be mindful of appropriation, but it's also helpful to be mindful of the culture you're concerned about. So thanks for sharing your views - I was more concerned about what actual Hindus thought than what anyone else thought! :)

Multitasking women threating again ...

Does imagery have a true meaning? Does religious imagery belong to anyone?
While National Review and Heidi Klum seem to have used the imagery in a disrespectful fashion, I don't think they claimed to be representing the religion or its true meaning. They simply used the images to draw attention to themselves and their views.
In the case of Ms. I don't even see what is disrespectful about this. Nor does Hindu imagery have a corner on representing women as multitasking or over-tasked. Furthermore, Hindu mythology is replete with stories of those who questioned, mocked and challenged the wisdom, divinity and even the humanity of those who count among its gods and goddesses.

As it happens there are images of Durga or Devi with 8 arms but would it matter if there weren't? Since when are goddesses supposed to be common?

late to the game (i'd read

late to the game (i'd read about this when it first came out) but i've found this isn't even the first time ms. magazine has used this image - spring of 1972 had an even more blatantly miasppropriated cover. the main article also addressed housewives ("jane o'reilly on the housewife's moment of truth") and portrayed an illustrated woman with eight arms juggling different tasks and blue skin.

so unfortunately, not a new thing to ms. magazine.

Add new comment