The Media’s Message about Muslim Women

I happened upon this blog post from Word Turtle entitled, veiled stereotypes: constructing and distorting muslim women. And of course I dropped in for a looky loo, seeing as how this is right in my wheel house. Give it a read, it truly is worth the time.

then you would be worthless
then you would be worthless

As a youth, I was first introduced to how the media instructs the populace about who they are, or (more aptly) who they should be. I came out the other side of a Seventeen magazine a crushed shell of a teenage girl.

I learned from the media that a woman’s worth is in her attractiveness, and if she does not measure up (or down) she has no worth.

But as I entered college and decided on a career in journalism, I became familiar with the role the media plays and all the tricks they use, and was thankfully introduced to Jean Killbourne and her series “Killing Us Softly“. I became informed and began to heal my self worth.

I knew the detriment the media could bring about, so it was no surprise to me when I realized that I had bought another media myth that Muslim women were oppressed.

The media not only tells us what to think about ourselves, it tells us what to think of others. And while it is detrimental for people to walk around with a distorted view of themselves, this is usually curable. Perceptions about oneself can and usually do change.

It is what the media sells us about others that is so harmful. Harmful because we are less likely to change our perceptions about those who are not in our day to day lives.

The media plays a HUGE role in constructing and distorting our ideas of other human beings.

Instead of recognizing each other as deeply complex and complicated people with family, history and rich inner lives; we instead take the cues from the media and form stereotypes, concluded prejudices and execute our humanity with hate.

People who are other than us become tropes, less than human, and objects to do with what we wish. If there is any other greater avenue to evil, I am not aware of it.

Why the media does this is simple: It sells. The media is selling us a story of our life and times, where we (or at least the majority) are the heroes and the “other” is the villain.

Hitler did this in his anti-semitic propaganda campaign very effectively. He sold the Jewish population as the enemy, and the populace bought it. Evil ensued. And even though the media tries to put the world in a box with a pretty ribbon on it, life doesn’t work like this. Evil ensues.

To illustrate how this is done, take a look at this graphic of a pregnant Muslim woman,

This image was uploaded to the Facebook page, “Stop the Islamization of America,” an open group created by right-wing authors Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
This image was uploaded to the Facebook page, “Stop the Islamization of America,” an open group created by right-wing authors Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.

And read how Omar, a commenter to the blog post mentioned earlier, has described so perfectly how this -and images like it- are so detrimental.

[Upon seeing the graphic] I immediately thought of the stories in the news of pregnant Muslim women, who have been attacked, including one which resulted in a miscarriage. I feel it important to comment on just how problematic the graphic is and unpack the imagery.

Graphics like this are not simply a statement of some looney person’s opinion, they invoke fear that calls the viewer to action. As Omar puts it,

[…] It invokes action by suggesting pregnancy is not a neutral state irrelevant to the general public, but instead an offensive tactic against the country requiring immediate defensive action – with the urgency highlighted by a lit wick. This poster is not only inciting violence against Muslim women, but taking it to an entirely new level by proposing that the solution to the supposed demographic threat is to attack pregnant, Muslim women.

Not only does this image incite violence against a group of people, a type of speech that is not protected under the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech -i.e. this graphic is illegal– it dehumanizes the Muslim women. And once again as the illustrious Omar says,

The image completely erases the lives of Muslims, refusing to acknowledge that we are, in fact, living, breathing human beings.[…] There’s no trace of life in the black-and-white figure. The only conceit made in acknowledging our humanity as Muslims is making the figure’s outline recognizable. It admits that Muslim women take on the human form – albeit reluctantly – drawing attention to the stomach rather than the face.

Being dehumanized is nothing new to women, we are often thought of in terms of what we offer to men, and usually in a sexual way, ignoring or minimalizing all other attributes, emotions, and uniqueness.

Dehumanization expects a complex person to fit within a certain function and when that person fails to do so, as they always will because people are not functions, force or violence toward them seems reasonable = Evil ensues.

Dehumanization of the Muslim women is pervasive in our Western culture. We are thought of in terms of the amount of cloth we wear. And in this graphic, Muslim women are portrayed as machines that do little more than produce terrorists, a completely absurd idea that a person who does not know any Muslims might buy into.

Any identifiably Muslim woman living in the West can tell you how pervasive this dehumanization is. When we speak, the receiver of our message is shocked to know we are articulate.

When we visit the library or book store, the attendant is shocked to know we can read, and so the story goes on in every shocked face we meet.

We are rarely thought of as more than a cloth or a womb. And evil ensues. And it’s OK because we are not human, right?

Republished from the author’s blog islamwich.

About Theresa Corbin
Theresa Corbin is the author of The Islamic, Adult Coloring Book and co-author of The New Muslim’s Field Guide. Corbin is a French-creole American and Muslimah who converted in 2001. She holds a BA in English Lit and is a writer, editor, and graphic artist who focuses on themes of conversion to Islam, Islamophobia, women's issues, and bridging gaps between peoples of different faiths and cultures. She is a regular contributor for and Al Jumuah magazine. Her work has also been featured on CNN and Washington Post, among other publications. Visit her blog, islamwich, where she discusses the intersection of culture and religion.