This is the second post in my series on the media stereotyping of Muslim women.

While some media argue that (identifiable) Muslim women are more likely to suffer Islamophobic attacks than men, I also recognize that Muslim men and non-Muslim men are also recipients of racial and anti-Muslim violence.

This post looks specifically at Gendered Islamophobia as targeted toward mothers and their families.


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Before she was even old enough to speak, I heard many well-intentioned but offensive comments from complete strangers, asking if I would ever force the hijab onto my daughters. As if it’s a given assumption that Muslim mothers and families routinely oppress their daughters into adopting a style of religious dress.

When it is not a piece of cloth that oppresses women, but discrimination, exploitation, inequality, domestic violence, and religiously justified misogyny.

Issues that many people face, not just Muslim women alone.

But when demonized images of Muslim women and mothers are conflated with negative media stereotypes and politicized symbols associated with the veil, it further encourages a climate of Gendered Islamophobia: Where because women in headscarves are immediately identifiable as representing Islam, they may experience deliberate gender-based violence, harassment or prejudice.

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Last summer I spoke at a conference about some of the media stereotyping of Muslim women and the consequences that negative images and Islamophobia have on Muslim women and their families.

Over a series of posts I’ll be sharing some of my research looking at the various ways Muslim women and mothers are presented by media, how this effects women’s relationships to their families, religion and Selves, and how women are in turn, responding to these stereotypes online. Using authentic voices to create spaces where their work and empowerment are celebrated — helping counter the overwhelming negative construction of “the Muslim woman.”


A screen capture of a Google image search for "Muslim women."

A screen capture of a Google image search for “Muslim women.”

She’s wrapped in black from head to toe — and at this angle, it looks like she can barely see through the veil covering her face as she holds tightly to her child.

Media love the image of the anonymous Muslim woman.

Through stock photography that overwhelmingly includes images of women in black niqab, media often homogenizes Muslim women — otheringobjectifying, sexualizing, and promoting the stereotype that they are victims in need of saving or aren’t “modern” enough to accept western values.

A quick Internet image search of the terms “Muslim women” will return hundreds of examples of women shrouded in black, covered by face veils. Which is extremely problematic given that not only is the hijab worn differently throughout the world — with myriad styles, designs and colours — but many Muslim women don’t wear the headscarf, and a minority wear the face veil.

veilsRegardless of lived experience, the Muslim woman is framed as submitting to oppression — her own voice silenced, her actions and agency restrained by misogyny and a patriarchal religion. The camera focuses specifically on the veil — fixated by what she is wearing and not on the woman herself. In some images, she is literally trapped behind the bars of her niqab.

Over the last decade we’ve seen increasing amounts of media coverage on Muslims, partially in response to the war on terror and ongoing military actions in Muslim countries, France’s burqa ban, the Arab Spring, Canada’s citizenship oath niqab ban, anti-shari’ah law legislation, growing Islamophobia, and Quebec’s recent debate on overt religious symbols, and the Charter of Secularism

Often, these images are taken from countries where the headscarf and face veil are worn as a cultural norm — but are applied uniformly whenever Islam, Muslims, or topics vaguely relating to Muslims are mentioned. They usually include women who aren’t remotely connected to the news story, or are actors modelling religious dress — constructing an image of the “authentic” Muslim woman.

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scarfThis story absolutely breaks my heart.

Breaks. My. Heart.

Last week a Muslim woman in France suffered a miscarriage after being violently attacked in an apparent anti-Muslim motivated assault. Two men harassed her with anti-Islamic slurs, ripped the headscarf off her head, cut her hair, and repeatedly kicked her in the stomach — even after she allegedly told them of her pregnancy and begged them to stop.

Some media refer to this as “burqa rage” or “veil attack” — when one becomes so angry, upset and offended by the sight of a Muslim woman’s head covering, that they react with violence and lash out at the woman wearing it.

But it’s really just a catchy media phrase for Gendered Islamophobia.

Women in headscarves are immediately identifiable as representing Islam and due to the media reliance on negatively stereotyping Muslim women and the current anti-Muslim climate — women may experience deliberate gender-based violence, harassment or prejudice.

Muslim women then become the conduit by which others can exert their fear, prejudice and ignorance. In that moment women become voiceless, actionless objects, representing everything “we need to fear from the terrorists.” In this context, Muslim women are completely dehumanized.

Even the terms “burqa rage” and “veil attack” do Muslim women a disservice by reducing the experience of violence to the headscarf. As if it were only a piece of cloth that was left lying in the street. As if this attack has no impact on this young woman’s memory of motherhood. They didn’t attack a veil. They attacked a person.

On Monday I’ll be speaking about media stereotypes of Muslim women and the consequences that negative images and Islamophobia have on Muslim women and their families. My talk is part of a “Mega Conference” on motherhood held by the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement (MIRCI) — a feminist scholarly and activist organization on mothering run through York University. And I’ve been hijab-deep in research for weeks in preparation.

I’ve been looking at how Muslim women and mothers are responding to these stereotypes online — creating spaces where they celebrate their empowerment and work towards countering negative images of Muslim women. Intentionally or not, they’re propagating dialogue with authentic voices — encouraging the creation of positive narratives for themselves and their families.

This means, of course, that I’ll have a lot to share with you in regards to some pretty awesome happenings in the Muslim blogosphere. Something I’m pretty excited about. So keep an eye out for a new blog series filled with stereotype smashing and lots of blogger love.