Wearing Ethnicity

Cultural mashup: Indonesian batik shirt meets Scottish tartan pants. Photo credit: Tumblr

Fashion mashup: batik and gingham. Though gingham is a type of plaid, it isn’t a Scottish pattern—it may have come from the Malay word genggang. Photo credit: Tumblr.

As the trees shed their leaves with the coming of autumn, so do we as people shed our summer clothes. If Target ads are any indication of fall trends, plaid is the pattern of the season. While tribal and Polynesian prints are considered “ethnic” summer motifs, Scottish tartans have been eagerly integrated into American fall style.

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DIY Crochet, Sewing, and Watercolor

DIY doll and crochet

Handmade bunny doll with crochet hood, infinity scarf, and leg warmers

Last week was hectic, so there was no Cultural Parallels article yesterday. In fact, I’ve decided to publish that particular segment on a biweekly basis for the rest of the year. I may choose to revert to a weekly schedule in 2016, though. I can’t believe it’s almost October!

Now that my sister’s birthday has passed, I can share some of what I’ve been working on lately.

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Landfills and Air Pollution

Swedish landfill

Less than 1 percent of Swedish household waste ends up in landfills. Photo credit: Sweden.se.

Clean energy, waste disposal, air pollution, and climate change are polarizing subjects worth discussion. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, warmer oceans, and changing wind patterns are all indicators that global warming is a real concern. One of the most urgent consequences of climate change is unhealthy air. Millions of people die unnecessarily each year as a result of toxic air pollution. To mitigate landfill waste and air pollution, countries like Sweden and the Netherlands have taken innovative steps toward creating a more sustainable planet.

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Saturday Morning House Fire

Firefighters

I’ve always heard that life slows down during a tragedy, enabling you to catalogue the minutest details. In these cruelly stretched moments, colors are sharper and whispers are louder as disaster inscribes its indelible mark on your memory. We were watching the Swansea vs. Everton match, and through the window we saw people run past our backyard, into the open field. Everyone was pointing.

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Under the Knife: Appearance and Wealth

Miss Bum Bum 2015 contest

Contestants in Brazil’s 2015 Miss Bum Bum competition. Photo credit: Splash News.

Looks aren’t everything—unless you live in Brazil or South Korea. Appearance-wise, the two nations’ citizens are polar opposites, yet both populations strive for a similar physical archetype. South Koreans undergo elective surgery to diverge from perceived Asian homogeneity and attain elements of Western beauty. Conversely, as a result of Brazil’s long, painful history of slavery, the country has an extremely diverse population. Between 1501 and 1866, an estimated 4.9 million slaves were imported to Brazil from Africa, which is a staggering 40 percent of the total slaves brought to the Americas. Despite this diversity, many Brazilians are determined to look white, regardless of how many procedures they might have to endure. Appearance and wealth are closely linked in Brazil and South Korea, and for many, cosmetic surgery is a small hurdle to jump in the race toward prosperity.

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Scenes of Italy

Italian gelato

Corner gelato shops are as ubiquitous in Italy as Starbucks cafés are in America.

Art, history, food, fashion, and culture; Italy has something for everyone. I’ve written about my experiences in Venice and Florence and will undoubtedly go into further detail about the Vatican and Rome later. Below, I’ve chosen one representative photograph from each stop on my tour of Italy.

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Military Women and Music

Cultural Parallels

 

From propaganda potential to protest principles, music has always been an important element of war. In our darkest hours, music has the ability to remind us of our humanity. Military drummers once charged into battle, unarmed, to rally troops, demoralize the enemy, and send messages with their instruments. Throughout history, soldiers have sung ballads to remember the fallen and boost morale. And yet, while music is an effective tool in the promotion of military unity, it has also been used to segregate female soldiers in Israel and Russia.

33rd Caracal Battalion

Soldiers of the 33rd Caracal Battalion. 70% of the soldiers in this infantry combat battalion are women. Photo credit: Pinterest

Women serve in various military roles around the world, but only three nations conscript women. Eritrea’s indefinite conscription of men and women, instituted in 1995, is a human rights violation, while Norway’s recently approved female conscription, effective January 2015, boasts equality. Israel, however, is unique for being the first country in the world to conscript women. Shortly after gaining independent statehood and assembling the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1948, Israel began requiring mandatory military service for adult women without children. Before the late 1970s, female soldiers were restricted to serving secretarial and technical roles in the Women’s Army Corps to mitigate the possibility of their becoming prisoners of war. After five weeks of basic training, the women generally served as nurses, signal operators, flight controllers, drivers, clerks, and teachers. Manpower shortages in the late 1970s and early 1980s, however, compelled women to undertake additional field roles. The 2000 Equality amendment to the Military Service law expanded these opportunities for women, and sanctioned entrance into light combat and combat support roles. The amendment states, “The right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men.”

Though Israeli women have earned the right to defend their country, they are not permitted to sing. Kol B’Isha Ervah, literally, “The voice of a woman is nakedness,” prohibits women from singing in the presence of men, in accordance with Orthodox Judaism. IDF rabbis of the Haredim, a strict Orthodox sect of Judaism, prevent female soldiers from participating in certain celebrations and ask them to dance in separate areas from men. Many argue that one female voice cannot be heard within a group, under Talmudic rule. The Talmud, a rabbinic text, states that “Trei Kali Lo Mishtamay,” two voices cannot be heard simultaneously. This principle is used to prohibit two people from reading out of the Torah at once, but it is also being used to consider leniency for female singers.

Female Israeli soldier with rifle

IDF soldiers carry their weapons everywhere off-base, as they can be imprisoned for losing them. Ein Fashka, the Dead Sea, Israel, 1989. Photo credit: Unknown

Israeli women are required to serve in the IDF for 24 months, though certain service roles, such as those involving combat, may legally demand a commitment of 36 months. Female combat soldiers operate for three years of active duty, and are required to remain in reserves service until age 38, regardless of motherhood status. Otherwise, religious conscience, marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood are all valid exemptions from joining service initially.

Though women are not subject to conscription in Russia, female soldiers represent ten percent of modern Russian military strength. However, women’s involvement in the Russian Armed Forces stems more from necessity than equality. Sustaining heavy losses during WWI, the Russian Army was forced to begin relying on women. In March 1917, a recruit named Maria Bochkareva, formerly of the 25th Reserve Battalion, formed the Women’s Battalion of Death to increase manpower. Bochkareva enlisted approximately 2,000 female soldiers between the ages of 13 and 25. The young women fought bravely against German forces during the 1917 June Offensive, but the battalion was quickly decimated. Within three months of action, the Women’s Battalion of Death was reduced from 2,000 to around 250 soldiers.

A Miss Russian Army 2007 beauty pageant contestant

A Miss Russian Army 2007 beauty pageant contestant. Photo credit: Toovia

After WWII ended, many military career opportunities were closed to women, despite equality policies. Sexist attitudes run rampant, though women have the legal right to serve in the Russian Armed Forces. The modern Russian Army currently holds an annually televised beauty contest called Miss Russian Army, dedicated to determining which female soldier is the most beautiful. Held at the Russian Army Theatre, participating female soldiers and sailors are expected to model their uniforms on a catwalk while singing military propaganda songs, with such lyrics as, “Since we are soldiers, our first concern is automatic weapons; boys come second.”

The Miss Russian Army pageant unapologetically uses female soldiers as props to increase army recruitment of young men. Ironically, Russian officials prohibit the women from wearing bikinis during the beauty pageant, though Israeli female soldiers, restrained on duty under the watchful eye of the pious Haredim, are often seen wearing bikinis at the beach while toting rifles over their shoulders. Whereas Israeli women are legally bound to serve without singing in the presence of men, Russian women are tolerated in the military so long as they entertain men with a song and dance.

La Sagrada Família

 

La Sagrada Família

The Passion Façade of La Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain

Situated in Barcelona, and considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sagrada Família (Holy Family) is one of the world’s most innovative places of worship. Construction began in 1882, though Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí revised the design a year later, infusing the Gothic basilica with art nouveau elements. Due to lack of funding and socio-political disruptions such as the Spanish Civil War, architects have worked intermittently on Sagrada Família for well over one hundred years.

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DIY Greeting Cards and the Digital Age

DIY Thank You Card Set

Four handmade thank you notecards and envelopes

I’ve been experimenting with DIY thank you cards as a creative outlet. For years, my sister and I have added personal touches to blank Hallmark envelopes. Last year, when she became old enough to drink alcohol legally, I drew a wine bottle with flowers springing from the top. When I finished, it occurred to me that I’d drawn a closed bottle, but that’s neither here nor there.

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Living with the Dead

Apasionadamente

Geraldine Javier, Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, and She is Well-Loved), 2010, oil on canvas, with framed insets of embroidery with preserved butterflies, 229 x 160 cm, Singapore Art Museum collection

Regardless of religious dogma, most cultures believe in a clear line of demarcation between the living and the dead. Certain holidays, such as Samhain or Día de los Muertos, celebrate the dead and are believed to be occasions where the veil between life and death is at its thinnest. During these special events, the dead are given an opportunity to once again enter the realm of the living, under the caveat that they will soon depart again. However, in South Korea and the Philippines, growing populations and dwindling space have permanently blurred the line between the living and the dead.

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