WAIKATO – A new study from Waikato University in New Zealand has revealed that Muslim sportswomen are “misrepresented in the media as the oppressed “other” that needs “saving from their culture”, Stuff.co.NZ reported on September 7
In her Ph.D research, Nida Ahmad has maintained that mainstream international media coverage focuses on the veiled athlete, and that Muslim sportswomen are often overlooked or purposely left out.
“It’s time to change the superficial coverage of Muslim athletes. My research on 20 Muslim athletes shows they represent themselves on social media in a more accurate light,” Ahmed informed.
“My research on the digital lives of Muslim sportswomen reveals the multiple and nuanced ways they are taking matters of representation into their own hands, and in so doing, are challenging dominant portrayals of Muslim women in the mass media,” the researcher wrote on The Society Pages.
“Coverage of the “oppressed hijabi athlete” obscures the actual ways Muslim women are participating in sport, as well as their cultural and diversity differences,” the professor from the Faculty of Health, Sport and Human Performance revealed.
“In my opinion, the coverage often tends to be stereotypical where the hijab is the focus or the barrier of the hijab and in some cases, there is rarely any coverage but that remains true among sports coverage of female athletes overall and their sporting events.
“Either the hijab is the focus or there tends to be a homogenisation of Muslim sportswomen. A single coverage of Muslim sportswomen doesn’t necessarily speak for everyone.
“Not all Muslim sportswomen wear the hijab, it is their decision to cover or not and the hijab for some is not the focus of their identity.”
More Than Just Faith
The Muslim professor, who is on the executive board of the Muslim Women in Sport Network, further stated that: “A Muslim sportswoman is more than her religion, more than the hijab, there are layers of who they are which are based on their experiences with their culture, religious practices, family, community, sport, and identities that speak to who they are as sportswomen and they can’t and should not be put into a single category.
“The hijab is just a small aspect of the Muslim woman. They are portrayed as women from a suppressed background, but that isn’t the case.”
She said this creates an “Orientalist view”, which distorts non-Western cultures in comparison to European cultures. As a result this implies this “other” culture is backward, uncivilised, and exotic.
“This type of media discourse may continue to reinforce problematic and limited representations and understandings of the lives of Muslim women in the world today.”
“Rather than being stereotyped into mainstream media’s perspective of the oppressed other, they are subtly and at times overtly bringing in the complex nature of their offline lives into digital spaces and offering alternative representations of sportswomen.
“Muslim sportswomen are more diverse and their lives are more complex than typically depicted in mainstream media.
“For the Muslim women in my study, their identities do not rest solely on religion, gender, race, or nationality, but rather on individual interpretations and experiences at the intersection of such identities in relation to sport.”