From Moi to Media on the Oppressed /Liberated Hijabi

From: Me

To: Shallow Media - From East to the West

CC: People who advocate racism and sexism

BCC: People who don't question Media

Subject: Questioning the Representation of Muslim Women

Source

Dear Shallow Media,

Remember the last time you published an article or broadcasted a show about Muslim women. Was it a mysterious honor-killing story like the Shafia Trial? Or was it a featured child bride? Or perhaps it was a comic illustrating the burqa as a gag or a prison.

Those headlines and images are enough to send the message that Muslim women are oppressed; so oppressed that you can’t help but give yourself the entitlement to speak on their behalf.

Or were you on the other extreme celebrating the "liberation of all Muslim women" while turning a blind eye to everything that suggests otherwise, celebrating what Muslim women supposedly have that 'the Other' woman is dying to have.

Source

Some of you portray us, Muslim women, and veiled ones in particular as passive, vulnerable, and most of all, as willingly enslaved subordinates who are too manipulated to think for themselves.

Some of you choose the other side of the dichotomized spectrum where you portray Muslim women, and veiled ones in particular as freed, liberated from harassment, objectification, eroticization and the like.

While neither of you realize that the debate 'Hijab, freedom or oppression?” is a binary opposition that oversimplifies the association between women’s dress codes and their liberation index. You both can't seem to realize that the custom of veiling cannot exclusively oppress or liberate women but, rather, the dynamics behind veiling or lack thereof either liberate or oppress women.

And when some of you are confronted with Muslim women who scream ‘WE ARE NOT OPPRESSED’, you put down the victimization card only to pull up the stockholm syndrome card. If you cannot prove that we are repressed then you claim that we are willingly enslaving ourselves.

This type of media rests us assured that various groups ranging from activists to legislators are doing their part to rescue Muslim women from being trapped between oppression and passiveness. At the same time, they convey Muslim men as barbaric beings who are accustomed to abusing their female relatives.

I'm not denying the existence of misogyny amongst Muslim communities. If anything, I am as furious with media outlets that deny that Hijabi women too get harassed or the ones who underestimate the amplifications of patriarchy in Muslim communities.

I simply believe that there's a different rational behind the misogyny found in Muslim communities that doesn't include squeezing Muslims into boxes. This rational would serve both Muslim and non Muslim women. Below are three points worth considering in any discussion of the "oppression/liberation of Muslims females".


First, misogyny is a world wide epidemic.

Unfortunately people are no angels; every society has its own issues in regards to misogyny. And many of these issues are prevalent globally, I dare you find a single society that has managed to rescue females from being battered once and for all. I dare you find a single society that has empowered women to a point where equality and women rights is no longer a subject of concern. One can't tackle the oppression of Muslim females without taking global patriarchy and sexism into consideration. Moreover, viewing sexism and misogyny as foreign atypical issues underestimates the issues facing women globally.

Source

Second, correlation does not imply causation.

Associating gendered violence to class, race or religion is a myth that has been contradicted with research that shows that gendered violence occurs in all social, economic, religious and cultural groups. Unfortunately, misleading crime reporting and the portrayal of the 'Violent Other' sure makes it seem otherwise.

Reporting crimes committed by Muslims whereby the headline is almost always ‘A Muslim man committed …..’, implies a causation between the man's religion and his crime. Instead of reading about a disturbed individual, who happens to be Muslim, beating his wife, we end up reading about a Muslim man who committed an atypical "cultural" crime.

The Shafia Trial is a good example of how you fixated on religion and culture to label a crime as a religious genocide. With the Shafia murder, it was no longer a murder like any other homicide but rather an obsession with a hypothetical correlation between murder and culture. When you reported the Shafia Trial, you didn't depict individuals but rather groups.

With local homicides, relevant factors include the mental health, character and personal beliefs of the assaulter. And they are only featured if homicides were indeed fatal. If an assaulter inflicts scars on his wife’s body, those scars go unreported. In contrast, when homicides are somehow foreign or international, relevant factors become the nationality, religion, and descent of the assaulter. Therefore, a local criminal is depicted to be the result of individualistic mental disorder while a foreign criminal is depicted to be the representation of an entire group. Ultimately, viewers can't help but feel that local crimes are caused by few mental ill individuals but foreign crimes are the result of Islamic/foreign upbringing.

Readers can’t help but feel that the likes of Shafia's wife and daughters (may they rest in peace) are oppressed and susceptible to violence due to the nature of their culture. But the likes of Darren Wourms' wife (may she rest in peace) are life loving, empowered, loyal but unfortunate because the ‘for worst' part of their vows entailed having to put up with ‘Mental Disorder’.




And don't get me wrong, if a Muslim man commits a murder or an assault, by all means, use the most outrageous words to wound him. Just don't wound his religion and race in the process.

Terms such as 'Islamic gendercide' , 'Religious slaughter' reinforce the stereotype that gendered violence in Muslim communities is a cultural and religious practice.

In this clip, also found on the right, one of the interviewees answers the question "Why did it happen?" in regards to the Shafia homicide, by saying "It is a culture, it is a culture". Really ? Are you telling me other countries don't have gendered violence? Doesn't date rape and teen dating abuse count as gendered violence?

Domestic Abuse has No Culture, Domestic Abuse has no Religion

The worst part is that you don't just harm Muslim men or women with these stereotypes, you harm all women by implying that gendered violence and domestic abuse are foreign and atypical crimes.

Third, viewing 'Other Women' via a narrowed one dimensional lens

This is not to say that you only stereotype against Muslim women since 'sexism' unfortunately sells, but once the 'culture' layer is added, the stereotypes are narrowed even further to depict a homogenous group of foreign women.

The names, professions, hobbies, sense of fashion, love stories, and lives of these women cease to matter unless they are either abused or fighting against some sort of an injustice that would fit the typical stereotypes you already have about Muslims.

For instance, the burqua, hijab and niqab are all different dress codes worn for different reasons by different women but those terms are usually interchangeably used to imply a stereotypical image of a Muslim woman whose dress code was enforced upon her. As a result, the woman's personality and character are diminished leaving nothing but a blueprint of an allegedly oppressed creature.

Why do we see more of this?

Source

And less of this?

Players from the Auburn Tigers women's football team, which is predominantly Muslim. Picture: James Croucher
Players from the Auburn Tigers women's football team, which is predominantly Muslim. Picture: James Croucher | Source

Bottom Line

Now, my purpose is not to convince you that the Muslim community is not as guilty with sexism and misogyny as other communities. That would be a fairy tale! I would be a liar at worst or an optimist at best if I completely deny that Muslim communities suffer from sexism.

But what I am trying to stress is that you have got to stop wearing one-dimensional dark glasses when depicting Muslim females. I also plead you to shed equal light on reporting homicides because not doing so harms both Muslim and non-Muslim women. It may sound like a cliché but if you really want to comprehend, let alone help Muslim women, then I strongly recommend that you genuinely approach a holistic yet less generalizing approach. As easy as generalization is, you will do a much better job if you treat each Muslim woman as a mere individual, no more, no less.

Sincerely,

Noorin Hasan


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Comments 7 comments

maxoxam41 profile image

maxoxam41 4 years ago from USA

Why do women hide everything whereas men don't? Why, when it comes to see a Muslim couple, the men are dressed in the Western way and women never? Is it the law of men versus the law of religion? Why, in a country like Iran or Saudi Arabia, atheists women don't exist?

In this way, yes Muslim women are enslaved!


noorin profile image

noorin 4 years ago from Canada Author

@maxoxam41, Hide everything ? By everything, I suppose you are referring to their bodies, well my article shows very well what Media & people do when women reveal a bit of skin! Even the most advanced societies start treating em like objects even though no one , no matter what they choose to wear deserves such treatment !

Regardless, it's a personal opinion, if women such as myself feel like covering themselves and feel more comfortable doing so then who are others to tell them what is best for them ? Besides, wouldn't forcing women to dress in every way except the way she sees fit a form of oppression ?

Your 2nd question, the men are dressed in the Western way and women never? If I am not mistaken and if I got you correctly, you are doing exactly what my article is referring to, putting people in boxes.

Do all the Muslim women you know, that is if you know any, only dress in a certain way and all the Muslim men you know dress in a Western way ? Never seen a Hijabi wearing a maxi dress from Guess or a scarf from Channel ?

Ever seen a non-hijabi Muslim ? They do exist, so it is unreasonable to say that Muslim women never dress in a Western way !

So I would appreciate if you could clarify what is this Western way you are talking about. Is it better than the Eastern way, is that what you are referring to ?

The law of men versus the law of religion ? Like I said, Hijab is a choice that most women themselves make, especially the ones who live abroad, some of them even fight their male relatives for it !

Why don't atheists women exist in Iran and Saudi ? Atheism in such countries is almost nonexistent for both men and women, honestly I don't get your point, are you saying that freedom of religion is available for men but not women ? Well, that is not the case if that is what you are referring to !

But I would agree that freedom of religion, thought and speech is a right for both men and women everywhere ! And in my all trips to the Middle Eastern countries, I never felt that atheism was okay for men but not women.

It's unfortunate that you think that Muslim women are enslaved, not sure how to prove that we are not but if the article above didn't convince you then I might as well just call it a day and go enjoy my night with super happy Muslim women :P

Looking forward for your feedback :) And I shall step by your hub very soon, very interesting topics, I must say :)

Cheers,

Noorin


maxoxam41 profile image

maxoxam41 4 years ago from USA

"...If you feel covering yourself...", it means that you have the choice. Either you live in a Western country, either you belong to the upper class or you live in a moderate Muslim country that is still laic. But don't dare tell me that in Afghanistan women specially from the villages have choices.

As Western countries objectify women, radical Muslim countries dehumanize women! I don't put them in boxes, they by themselves do the job. As women wear the whole panoply, men have tight jeans, are dressed like in the City (it is a joke!)! I have never seen a woman dress in a western way (a working suit) with her husband wearing a robe! Why is it so?

I've never said that Muslim women are not dressed in the Western way, if you go to Northern Africa, Egypt, you definitely will see them free to wear what they want. However in a radical countries like Iran, Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia will you see them in a tight dress (I don't mean showing her sexual attributes)? No.

Are you joking when you refer to a Chanel scarf? Which Muslim woman won't wear a scarf? If it's a Chanel one, it will be irrelevant!

So you are telling me that everybody in Iran thinks the same way (it is an exception then, therefore unbelievable) that atheism is only the prerogative of Western countries? Or the regimes are so repressive that it is better not to open the mouth! Men have all the rights.

I like Iranian movies and you have to acknowledge that women's rights are limited. Since it is a disguised theocracy, the laws are dictated by religion. If you went to Middle-Eastern countries, the presence of men around you would be like a sin! Therefore are you a real Muslim or are you an ersatz?

Religions were written by men and always treated women as inferior.


noorin profile image

noorin 4 years ago from Canada Author

I grew up in Middle Eastern countries and just so you know the minute I traveled to a Western country, I I I felt like a Abaya, the Saudia Arabia style is what I see fit ! Guess what , in my own country, Yemen, a conservative country, I didn't feel like an Abaya was going to be a must if I were to travel else where !

To my dismay, men are men everywhere you go, put on jeans and a tight top i.e. the Western way and you are guaranteed some comments regarding figure! Some find it flattering while others would rather die than know that they are being checked out !

I never denied that Middle Eastern countries have issues, my article says that multiple times but most of these issues are not at all foreign to the Western societies! Some of them are unique to Saudia and Iran, just like some other issues are unique to other societies such as countries that have rising numbers of female feticide.

And u said it urself, Muslim women in Egypt, Africa …etc are free to wear what they want, you do realize that these are millions, right? You do realize that this proves the very point that I am trying to make which is Muslim women are not the same from country to another yet media continues to treat them as a homogonous group.

Saudi and Iran are 2 countries out of 50 Muslim majority countries and they are not even the largest.

Regardless, Saudi and Iran do have their issues, unfortunately you didn’t touch on any of their real issues but rather on their attire! Now, I have not been to Iran but I have been to Saudi and know for a fact that Saudi women have no issues with what they wear! Some of the fashion stores over there are larger than the stores we have over here in Calgary, their society allows women to purchase the latest trends so long they cover it when they are in the streets!

If that is their norm as a society, who is to say that they are inferior? But I won’t generalize, lets say few women, lets say hundreds do not like wearing Abaya and that their societal pressure forces them to do so then once again this is not at all exclusive to those countries! If an absolute freedom to wearing what ever you want is your measure of oppression then all countries are guilty of it, they just apply it using their own norms!

Dictating what women wear is not at all unusual, it just comes in different forms!

Some restaurants, hotels ...etc fire women when they start gaining weight, some enforce knee length skirts! Some force women to wear mini skirts or else they won’t get tipped or at least not decently! Some societies have driven their young girls crazy to the point where Anorexia & other eating disorders statistics are grim!

Some women wear mini skirts & high heels in -40 C while men next to them enjoy the warmth of insulated pants? Why is it so?

Besides, why can’t Western countries be a role model to prove to Saudis or Iranians that women can wear what ever they want without being objectified! If U.S., one of the most developed countries can’t treat its female political leaders with the slightest respect, how do you expect radical Saudis to give up their norms when their number 1 fear is objectification !

See this may be considered freedom of speech in some places http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD2_iytlUg4 but radical Saudi, radical Iran have fears of reaching a point where women are trashed this way, SUE THEM !!!

As for dehumanization: Afghanistan ? Really, Afghanistan ? Wouldn't killing civilians on daily basis be considered as dehumanization? The country is invaded for God's sake, u wanna talk about Women Rights when American soldiers have killed thousands of civilians including women and children, and don't even get me started on the rape assaults ! Yeah sure, they are dehumanized!

Part of the mission of the War in Afghanistan (2001 till present) was to liberate Afghan women from the Taliban ! 12 years and counting yet they are still not liberated!

In regards to segregation of men, I have been to at least 7 Middle Eastern countries including two so-called radical countries. The only place where segregation was an issue was Saudi and like I said they have so many issues but they are a single country and even then it wouldn’t be wise to stereotype against all Saudis and assume that they are all oppressed.

I have never been to Iran myself but what I do know is Yemen sounds as oppressed as Afghanistan in media yet having grown up in that country, I know for a fact that it is not as half as what media likes to portray !


noorin profile image

noorin 4 years ago from Canada Author

Question though, did you read my article from the beginning till the end ?


Arafat 4 years ago

An amazing piece! It's indeed an eye opener and an invitation to people to see the world in the eyes of Muslim women. There's so much stereotype in the west when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Muslim countries have issues just like the rest of the world including the most developed countries of the west. However, problems and issues of the countries whose people follow the Islamic faith are ALWAYS labelled as 'Islam-related' while the exact same problems are ALWAYS tied to individuals and society when they happen in the West! Double standards at their worst! I remember last year when the Norway shooting rampage happened. Minutes after the incident, media started accusing Muslims of the attack! David Crawford ran an article on the Wall Street Journal where he argued that it was most likely Islamist extremists. Another article ran on the Guardian by the title "Oslo bomb: suspicion falls on Islamist, where Peter Beaumont blatantly accused al Qaeda and mentioned Yemen! The article was removed the next day and replaced by this one "Norway attacks suggest political motive". Jennifer Rubin's article on the Washington Post asserted that Muslims were responsible for the Norway bombing. Yet that article was neither removed, corrected nor updated as James Fallow noted here http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2... . And this just to cite a few. So you can see how the exact same incident was labelled differently when 'Islam' was part of the equation, and how it then changed completely when 'Islam' was taken out of the equation! Again double standards at their worst! What people need to do is, disregard their stereotype of others and see people for who they really are, not as media likes to portray them!

Sara Weissman, an American Jewish decided to wear hijab for a day just to see how it feels. Here's her reflection http://jihadiyehudi.blogspot.com/2012/01/hijabi-fo... The sad part about her experience is that in that one day, people treated her differently (in a negative way) as she was looked at, treated, and dealt with in a way that was different from what she has experienced her entire life in the US where she was born and raised! She was treated differently simply because of what she wore (i.e. the hijab)! So the real question is: Which part should we call oppression? Sara's choice of what to wear? Or society's judgmental treatment over her? We don't need to be so smart to answer such a question, we just need to be fair and logical!

I can go on and on but I shall stop right here as you have already stated most of the facts in a more logical way than I would have!

Great job Noorin! you've touch on an amazing topic! Keep up the good work :)


Arafat 4 years ago

@maxoxam41

I believe you did the exact same thing western media does - take one part of a story (which in this case is being a muslim), associate it with steryotypes and misunderstandings of others' culture and then build a new case upon it accordingly.!

I have been living in the west for a decade now. What I come to realize is that while Muslim women have their heads covered which happens totally out of choice, many people in the west have their eyes covered. The media has blinded them to see the truth! Perhaps this is the best way to portray it http://www.flickr.com/photos/46380540@N05/71556562...

Why would you label women as oppressed or enslaved simply for choosing what to wear? Do you even understand the notion of 'freedom'? Or maybe you consider France's ban on the veil as 'freedom'? It is stripping people of their rights and depriving them the freedom of choice is what I consider oppression. If women choose to cover their bodies or use Hijab or dress in any way, shape or form and feel happy with it, then who are we to judge? Treating people differently just because of what they wear or seeing an outfit while disregarding the person underneath it is what I call oppression. And on a side note, all wars and genocides in the world are committed by people who wear fancy suits! Perhaps, we should disregard what people wear and look at who they really are instead!

As for atheism not existent in Saudi Arabia or Iran, I beg to differ! I myself have a few atheist friends from Iran! What you don't know about Islam is that it grants people the freedom of choosing a religion! God says in the Qur'an "There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion." 2:256. This tells u if an individual doesn't allow another to become an atheist, then it is an individual's problem, not Islam's problem since Islam clearly guarantees that freedom of choice! Perhaps if we all learn about each other, we would realize that we have more similarities than differences but most importantly, we will see people for who they really are, not as media labels them to us!

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