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