From Moi to Media on the Oppressed /Liberated Hijabi
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
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.
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.
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?
And less of this?
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.