The Media’s Message about Muslim Women

The Media’s Message about Muslim Women

Written by Theresa Corbin
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

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

“Who is to blame for the war?” Nazi propaganda

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
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?

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23 thoughts on “The Media’s Message about Muslim Women

  1. Salam Corbin
    I enjoyed reading your article and just attempted to post a long comment and then wordpress told me ‘my comment could not be posted’. So I’m just posting this one as a test comment. Its late here and I’m too tired to rewrite it all out again. (note to self – always do a copy paste heh before hitting the Post button). ws.

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  2. Wow, that was shocking and disgusting, but lets be honest pregnant or not- if you are wearing hijab and have a bunch of kids with you- you don’t always get nice looks either. I don’t know if they are freaked out by the concept of Muslim kids – as if they are just going to grow up to drain the system or they see more than one or two kids to be a poverty/third world trend and just look down on it. But honestly- a lot of European countries and even Canada are filled, packed with elderly people and not enough young. And yet, the growing trend is that the world doesn’t need more people- and choosing not to have any is sophisticated and an intelligent choice. They look down on “breeders”. To each their own, I just hate all the judgment. If they are worried about Muslims people having kids, they can have their own and then they will be so exhausted by the end of the day that there will not be so much energy to hate on others.

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    1. Maybe they are also concerned about being outnumbered (thought doubt it could happen in our lifetimes) and in a democracy, majority rules right?

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      1. They absolutely are. But that is silly to fear such a thing. because maybe at some point, after they are dead, their opinion won’t be the majority. How ridiculous!!!

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      2. Maybe they perceive it would happen in their lifetime, or possibly they want to ensure their way is carried on for their grandchildren etc?

        I know in Sydney (Australia) some people who live in areas which have high Muslim population, think that a high percentage of Australia is Muslim and that there are ‘millions’ of us when in fact there is only a couple of hundred thousand, less than 2% of the population.

        Out here vehicles such as Toyota Tarago’s and other people movers have been dubbed ‘Muslim-Mobiles”, in reference to large Muslim families and their requirement for more than just a 5 seater sedan.

        I also tend to think if we, as Muslims, overall, greatly improved our character and made an attempt to live up to our Prophet, peace be upon him, people would be less concerned about how many of us there were. Maybe…

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      3. That’s funny, Muslim-mobiles. Indeed we need to act more like The prophet Mohammed (saw), more like Muslims, but idk if that would still people from having us. One can hope.

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    2. Great idea, Lawrence! Let’s start a campaign to influence Western judge-y haters to have more kids so that we can exhaust all their judge-y hater energies. But I think in these types of population settings women with lots of kids (or even one that is a handful), whatever her religion or ethnicity, is viewed with disgust. I see it with my sister and her toddler. People give her mean looks just because her daughter is being active and -well- a toddler. It is as if she should keep her parenting in private. It is old people being cranky.

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  3. Ads like theses are certainly disturbing (and banned?)

    About a week ago a sister and I were in the park with our kids as was a Christian grandmother with her grandchild. Sharing a park bench led to conversation, and I discovered shared ancestral heritage (being a revert myself). Upon leaving I decided to invite her to a lunch I was having at my house the following week.

    That lunch was yesterday, she arrived (saying ‘it was a bit strange’ – referring to the fact that grandmums don’t often randomly get invited to lunch with a bunch of hijabis) with a lovely fruit platter and I introduced her to the other sisters and we discussed neighbourly kindness’s and meeting new people in todays society amongst other things. Some of the sisters swapped numbers with her to meet up future playdates in the park.

    Now I don’t know her pre & post opinion of Muslim women, having met us, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t leave my place thinking we were all a bunch breeding terror threats. (Though there were quite alot of kids here lol). So my point is, or my question is, can we change peoples perception of us at grassroots level, one park bench chat at a time, in the face of whatever media onslaught may persist?

    I don’t invite people over to affect their opinion, but because I care about other human beings especially neighbours like every Muslim should. (And because I enjoy their company and like meeting others).

    Muslim women may find themselves the subject of negative blazing headlines, but together we can be thousands of kind words.

    Communicate, participate in the society around you! Who knows – perhaps people would walk away thinking ‘the world needs more people like that’?

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    1. Yes! Absolutely. This is something we need to do more of. I often make a point to chat with smile at strangers, then they are no longer strangers. And recommend others to do so. But ads like these, which should be banned but I am not sure that they are, make it harder for people to get to know each other and become neighbors, friends, etc. Thank you for your kindness as it, whether or not it is intended, represents Islam, as I am sure you are aware. You rock!

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  4. This reminded me of the sickening images I’ve see before. Have you seen some of the IDF tee-shirts? They have one where it says ‘one shot, two kills’ [killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child].

    Anyway, the media reinforces stereotypes, it’s just easier to control people that way, and how they view people other than themselves. So I dont think people are going to see women, especially muslim women, in a different light unless they speak to them personally and see that hey, we’re human too.

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    1. I have never seen those shirts. That is sick!! Can’t people see they are just repeating history over and over? In one breath they say how terrible it is to be racist but want to slander and even devalue the lives of Muslims. It may not be racism exactly but it is the same kind of evil. Smh human being are indeed rebellious and arrogant

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      1. Woods ?! I always read your blogs sister Corbin, and I thought I had free will to write my comments as I felt
        And Bernay’s Principles of Propaganda would do well here. How do you think women started smoking in increasing numbers in the Jazz age ? Nothing smells like liberation like a cigarette in a flappers mouth.

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      2. You are free to write comments as you like, but I am free to say you came out of the woods when you haven’t commented in a while. No one wants to smell a flappers mouth. But I am picking up what you are laying down.

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    2. Forgive me, but seeing some of the pics of yourself on your blog, what exactly are you doing to “present Muslim women” in the right light….

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      1. I think I already answered that by saying, “speak to them personally.” Not everyone is the same based on religion/culture/nationality.
        You don’t know me and I dont care for your judgemental tone, but since you said “forgive me” that’s what ill do.
        I hope you learn something from everyone you meet so that you’re respectful towards different people someday.

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      2. Hyde, you come out of the wood works to say that? Tasneem presents Muslim women in the right light on her blog through her words, by being herself: thoughtful, funny, intelligent and most importantly human. This is the point, you can’t just point to a picture and say that is what Muslim women are like. We are so varied. But we forgive and since Tasneem was gracious enough to forgive you, so will I.

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    3. I did say forgive, indeed I hope you do. Your writing maybe one thing, but I say forgive me again, but I would be wise to myself, to make sure I stay far away from the Middle East or any Muslim country.
      You see the ramshackling of religion all around you and you may indulge in your liberties as you may; we do not have that option in the West, so we will not indulge.
      Indeed I do not know you, now will I ever, so to each his own. But let’s not kid ourselves to think appearances do not matter. Then again perhaps Muslim women say in Afghanistan may do much to learn from you.

      I did not judge, but made an observation; you judged by juxtaposing my lack of respect to “you”, which indeed I did not do.

      This religion of ours is becoming quite flaky yet personal. We all including myself take what we want and leave what we don’t. Seldom people change themselves for Islam, yet often change religion for themselves.

      I made a point, not an accusation.
      “You don’t know me. You can’t judge” How long can we hide behind that ? Not to be superfluous, I am guilty as charged of that as well.
      My gender-mates have become imbecilic and self indulgent troglodytic travesties, so if the future of Islam lies in your hands (or in your belly 🙂 ) then be it so. Either you will save it or wipe it off all together.
      Look forward to your writings.

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