Monday, October 3, 2016

Progress Made, But We Cant Stop Here: Muslim Women in Media



Source: Playboy

Generally when you see a Muslim, particularly a women wearing a hijab in the media it is usually associated with some form of propaganda or 'terror' related accusation. Hijab is a target of islamaphobia and a hindrance to exercising freedom in a western patriarchal society.  Recently two very prominent veiled women Noor Tagouri and Amena Khan have been featured in two different very well-known brands. These promotions show great progress but also prove there is still a lot of work to do.


Amena, known from her social media presence as Amenakin was the first hijabi women to be featured in L'Oreal's latest campaign ad for their True Match Foundation.  While the multimedia Journalist, Noor Tagouri was featured as a cultural renegade in an interview by Playboy magazine. The response from the Muslim community to both women has been controversial. As their feature has either been vilified or applauded. In respecting each woman's autonomy, I am speaking specifically about the manner of which they were featured and the companies motives for featuring them.

With Noor, the controversy, centers around primarily ideological reasons, thus overlooking a more inclusive issue in our society. Many of Noor's critics shame her for being featured in Playboy mainly due to its association with nudity and have loudly and shamelessly called her out on it.  Such reactions highlight that the abrasive environment muslim women face is not limited to western society. 

           It’s a multifaceted issue. On one hand I don’t agree with playboy as an institution due to their profit from the objectification of women. But on the other hand Playboy has a large audience and Noor a strong voice allowing for a positive reach  regarding Islam and modesty.

By calling her disorienting you are legitimizing Western patriarchal society's view that hijab is the be-all-end-all of a covered women's existence.

        But how effective where they in changing societies preconceived image of a modest Muslim women? In the interview they called the young journalist 'disorienting', and it is in this terminology that I have the biggest issue. By calling her disorienting you are legitimizing Western patriarchal society's view that hijab is the be-all-end-all of a covered women's existence.

            Both Noor and Amena should be recognized for reaching new audiences. But by calling them "the first hijabi women"to…, we are reducing them and their accomplishments down to the clothing they tie on their head.

Source: AFP
             This is not the first case of an audience's focus on hijab rather than a Muslim woman's success in Western society. Just this summer we saw the coverage of Ibtihaj Muhammad centered on her headscarf. Growing up in American while wearing a hijab isnt easy and her success despite that is commendable. However the focus on her attire diminished the hard work and perseverance it took her to reach the podium.

           Being the first is great in and of its self but does not always render change. For example, Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Oscar in 1939 and Lupita Nyong'o was only the 7th black actress to win in 2014, a full 75 years later. The "first hijabi" coin is problematic when we focus on the hijab only. Progress will not be made until society truly absorbs the density of the individuals talents, hard work and perseverance, whilst allowing such characteristics to drive society forward. 

             Of course accomplishments with hijab are commendable, because of how difficult this society makes wearing hijab, given the rise of Islamophobia. The problem with corporate recognition in this fashion is that I feel it further divides the "Western" civilization from Muslims. In reality, there are millions of American Muslims- making muslims a large and active component of the "West". It's in the way they choose "modern" acceptable Muslim women to promote. The Muslim market is vast and very diverse. Yet, Muslim women are in demand in media, as long as we still fit into their standards. Anything too different from society, is deemed unacceptable. By focusing on these deemed "modern woman" we alienate so many other categories of Muslim women, thus enforcing the patriarchal push to succumb to the status quo, aka dominant culture. Rarely will corporate brands promote a diverse range of women, let alone Muslim women. 

" I did it for Muslims, for women, and for everyone misrepresented in mainstream media today. I did it for young women everywhere that are struggling with their identity and feel misunderstood."

      Did Ibtihaj Muhammad history? Entirely. Have Noor and Amena promoted a positive image of Muslim woman? Yes. Muslim women have been told they can't do this or that, here are living examples showing they can. They can be professional athletes, they can be models, they can be business women, they can be beauty icons. Westerners who think covered women can't, need those examples even more. In a response letter, Noor stated that she "did it for Muslims, for women, and for everyone misrepresented in mainstream media today. I did it for young women everywhere that are struggling with their identity and feel misunderstood."

Progress has been made, but we shouldn't stop here. 

-Natalie

2 comments:

Nadia Hamad said...

there is also the example of the Egyptian women volleyball team. In Egypt they received heavy criticism and ridicule for their attire as well as international attention for the hijab- but no one emphasized that they were the first Egyptian woman volleyball team to ever make it to the Olympics.

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I am a muslim woman and i cant say how proud i am of these women. they are making us all proud and doing an amazing job. you are amazing too for sharing this article with us