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Unreasonable Expectations

Sunday, 22 August 2010

It is communicated from the very start of the application process. One’s appearance should in no way detract from the “show.” One’s clothing, styling, and even demeanor should get in the way of the experience. This is the foundation of what is known as the “Disney Look.”

No gum chewing. No cell phones. Sunglasses discouraged, but permitted outside as long as the lens are clear and not mirrored. Hair colour must be natural-looking (which explains how I got away with red hair as a Cast Member) and jewelry is permitted…but with very specific limitations. No visible tattoos. The only permitted jewelry for a woman is one ring on each hand, one classic business-style watch, and one gold, silver, or colour-matching earring in each ear. Only certain shoes may be worn. Fingernails may extend no more than one-fourth of inch past the tip of the finger and, women, may wear a neutral nail colour if so desired. It’s all about maintaining consistency as well as encouraging interpersonal communication.

Things have loosened up at the Magic Kingdom since I worked there. Men can now have facial hair. Again, of course, there are strict rules about the length, shape, and so forth. Ladies are now permitted to have bare legs and even sleeeveless blouses. Clearly, Frume Sarah was not consulted before these radical changes were put into place.

From the beginning of the application process through one’s employment, each and every expectation is clearly articulated and communicated. Also clearly communicated is the company’s policy to consider the request to alter the Disney Look or to seek an accommodation to the Disney Look based on religious reasons. Not only do they consider such requests, but the company has a history of honouring such requests. Allowing skirts, for example, to be worn longer than the standard length in order to maintain the modesty for those women whose religion demands it of them.

Imane Boudlal, a hostess at the Storytellers’ Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel in Downtown Disney, put in such a request two months ago. After considering her request to wear a hijab at work, according to Disneyland spokesperson, Suzi Brown, Ms. Boudlal was given permission to wear one as long as it was designed by Disneyland’s costume department. Ms. Boudlal was fitted for a Disney-supplied head scarf, and is awaiting its completion. In the meantime, however, she was informed that her personal hijab could not be worn on-stage (DisneySpeak meaning “in the presence of guests”) as it was not in compliance with the Disney Look policies.

Was she forced to go on leave? Was she forbidden to wear her hijab at work? No and no. While the Disneyfied-hijab is being fashioned, supervision relocated Ms. Boudlal to a position that was behind-the-scenes at the restaurant. The compromise was meant to allow Ms. Boudlal to continue working with no financial or senority penalty while respecting her religious desire.

This compromise, however, was met with intense reaction; Ms. Boudlal is now accusing Disneyland of religious discrimination and, it has been reported, will be filing a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Just prior to the start of a press conference last week, Ms. Boudlel defended her position in a prepared statement:

The Constitution tells me I can be Muslim, and I can wear the head scarf. Who is Disney to tell me I cannot?

Except here’s the problem. Disney has said that she can wear a head scarf. What they haven’t said, and what the Constitution certainly doesn’t say, is that Ms. Boudlel can wear her head scarf wherever she wants to wear it.

Living as a member of a minority group means accepting that the host majority culture is often at odds with our customs, beliefs, and practices. We know the score when we enjoy all of the freedoms that this country protects. The question is — at what point does our expectation for religious expression become unreasonable?

And, for the record, my position would be the same for a yarmulke or a tichel.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, 23 August 2010 12:00 am

    How long should it take to ‘design’ a Disney hijab? Maybe what she’s pointing to is a ‘grandfather clause’ kind of discrimination. You know, like you have the right to vote but omygosh your grandfather didn’t register so I’m afraid we can’t register you. You can wear a hijab, just let us figure out how Minnie Mouse would have done it…

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 23 August 2010 10:56 pm

      Thought she communicated her request two months ago, we all know how long things can take. I would be very surprised that it has taken two months to design and construct it. I imagine that part of the time was used for the Company to decide a comprehensive approach to Ms. Boudlel’s request including alternate work placement until such time the costume modifications were completed.

  2. Monday, 23 August 2010 8:39 am

    This is incredibly well-said and as always, you give me so much to think about.

    But I can’t help dwelling on what the Disney hijab will look like. Will it have mouse ears imprinted all over it or will it actually have ears sprouting from the top? Will it be sparkly? Will it be some bright cartoon-inspired color? Oh goodness, FrumeSarah, now my imagination is running wild. ..please keep me posted if and when we see a picture of the hijab.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 23 August 2010 11:07 pm

      The term ‘costume’ is used by Disney in the same way other companies use the word ‘uniform.’ Very few costumes, therefore, include any depiction of the Mouse. Everything at Disneyland is consistent with the particular theme of the area…right down to the trashcans. The Storytellers’ Cafe is decorated with seven hand-painted murals, each depicting classic California stories like Mark Twain’s “The Jumping Frogs of Calaveras County” and Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” So no ears, sparkles, or cartoon-anything.

  3. Sarah permalink
    Monday, 23 August 2010 10:07 am

    Here’s an article with a photo of the proposed Disney Hijab, which the Ms. Boudlal has rejected as unacceptable:

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 23 August 2010 11:14 pm

      It is certainly within Ms. Boudlal’s right to reject the proposed hijab as unacceptable. I can understand her concerns that the suggested hat will draw more, and not less, attention to her religious garb. Again, I raise the question: at what point does our expectation for religious expression become unreasonable?

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