American society has a peculiar fascination with Muslim women which I have never seen with any other demographic in the entire world.
Until now I have refrained from posting about this topic, assuming I wasn’t the right person to be commenting on such a controversial issue as Muslim women, particularly in the media- however; as a Muslim woman myself, I wanted to shed some light on the often misunderstood lives that Muslim women lead.
With all of the negative media attention Muslim men in the media receive, there are an innumerable amount of stories and articles about them to assume the public is interested in viewing the “hidden” lives of Muslim women.
The veil, or hijab has become symbolically parallel with the aura of mystery which surrounds the lives of Muslim women. People want to know how we think, how we feel, what we do in our private lives. There is so little representation of the views and opinions of Muslim women in the media, yet reporters and news stations try and grapple at every little clue of the true life of a Muslim woman, in both America and overseas.
When Malala Yousafzai was shot for her prevalent view on educating girls- people talked. They wanted to know more about this girl, and girls like her. For whatever reason, the idea of a Muslim woman with feminist ideas was a completely overlooked concept.
After 2001, a stigma was placed on Muslim men, and to some extent it still is- they are portrayed as oppressive, tyrannical, and even abusive- and Muslim women are portrayed as their victims.
Muslim women often are either depicted as submissive and oppressed or they are portrayed as hypersexualized erotic figures such as belly dancers (which is more culture based than religion based, anyways. Sorry guys, Princess Jasmine is not an accurate representation of Muslim women). To the public- both are equally as mysterious- and equally as false. Society wants to save us from the prison bars they believe that we live behind, when in reality- most of us don’t need saving.
A moral crusade to rescue oppressed Muslim women from their religion and culture has flooded the media, an effort from conservatives and liberals, sexists and feminists alike. Politicians use Muslim women as their pawns in political agendas, reducing them to a stereotype rather than people, and conveniently plastering a handy cultural icon over much more complicated historical and political dynamics.
Its nearly unfathomable to see Muslim women portrayed in the media and think to myself “this is who people think I am.” The Western world tends to think of us as a group of women in suffering, ignorant to the liberties we are entitled to and ruled by evil men much older and more powerful than we are- not to undermine the struggles of women in the Middle East, or other primarily Muslim areas- honor killings, acid throwing and violence against women are still real issues women face- however they are not tied to religion nor culture- but often the socio-economic status of the women- just as it is in the United States.
So in case it is unclear: I am not a victim.
I remember when Ayaan Hirsi Ali came out with her book “Infidel” which portrayed the oppressed and victimized lives that Muslim women lived. Contrary to desired outcome, Ali became a hero amongst the Islamaphobic rather than Muslim women. I remembered thinking “she got a New York Times best seller rating… for this…?”
I have no shame in admitting there are times where I feel confined within the social boundaries of my culture- as a teenage girl who grew up in the United States, a completely different culture than my Pakistani roots, I wholeheartedly believe this is normal. There are some views of my culture I agree to disagree with- do I think that in an ethnic gathering the men should get to eat before the women? No. But this isn’t tied into my religion and it doesn’t make me oppressed.
As for our “veiled identity”- Muslim women wear their hijabs as a sign of self respect and lack of vanity- which in my opinion is much more feminist than burning a bra or refusing to shave- actions often associated with feminism. In all honesty I wish I had the courage to wear one 24/7 as some of my friends do, a personal decision which should not be made to please others.
What interests me the most is that the media is so fixated on the concept of the veil, that they refuse to look into who we are as people. I am not just a Muslim woman, I am a college student, and a writer, and so much more- so why is who I am as a person never included in the media?
It requires a great deal of bravery to openly represent a group of women who have been labeled as oppressed victims- subjecting yourselves to the glares and the seemingly ignorant questions and comments.
While I do not represent my faith through covering my hair, I am proud to represent it in other ways- such as this article, which hopefully shed some light on the so called “veiled identity” of Muslim women.