Category Archives: Women

Interview with Muslimah Media Watch: Fatemeh Fakhraie

Founder of the smart and sassy  website Muslimah Media Watch, Fatemeh Fakhraie is talented US writer who is definitely one to watch.  She launched the site back in 2007 to tackle inaccurate portrayals of Muslim women and has become a vocal representative of the diversity of the Muslim women ever since. I caught up with her to talk about her website, “hijab reduction” and why Muslims need to make the most of the spotlight they were put under after 9/11.

What motivated you to set up MMW? Was there a tipping point like 9/11 or the Hijab debate in France?

I have always been very uncomfortable with the way that mainstream media portrays Muslim women, because it’s usually in one of the three dominant stereotypes: exotic sex slave, oppressed woman, or dangerous terrorist. But, as a feminist, I also was very dissatisfied with feminist media portrayals of Muslim women, which often centered on the “oppressed woman” narrative. In 2007, I became more conscious of the blogosphere, and I realized that I could set up a media platform of my own. So I created Muslimah Media Watch as a response to all of this.

How do you feel about the success of MMW?

One of the things that gives me pride is knowing that MMW’s articles are often used in university-level gender and ethnic studies classes. The opportunity to teach students about Islamic feminism feels wonderful because this wasn’t something that I felt was represented or discussed when I was in school.

But success is a subjective term. I feel very ambivalent about whether MMW is successful, and I have a complicated relationship with that success. On one hand, I get so much support and encouragement from members in the Muslim community, and I believe that MMW is changing some people’s viewpoints and perspectives. And on the other hand, I am somewhat dissatisfied because we are very limited in our capacities— MMW is volunteer-based, and as a writer, I feel very frustrated that I can’t pay my writers or hire people to expand our multimedia presence so that we can reach more people.

Why do you think Muslim women face stereotyping?

In the West, Muslims and people from specific geographic regions or ethnic heritages are subject to more stereotyping because of a heightened global narrative of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims. So, as Muslims, women will be included in this mass profiling. Louise Cainkar’s book Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11 highlights the fact that many Muslim women are more visibly Muslim due to the headscarf, and are thus more likely to attract that type of attention that leads to stereotyping.

Why is it important that Muslim women (as opposed to Muslim men) respond to these media stereotypes?

Having other people speak on behalf of Muslim women isn’t only unnecessary (as we’re capable of thinking and speaking for ourselves), but it reinforces the stereotypes that Muslim women are silent creatures who aren’t allowed to have opinions or speak up.

It’s also important to speak up because it highlights the diversity of thought and opinion we have—when it comes to Islam, men and women are often put into huge, monolithic groups: “Muslim women wear this…” and “Muslim men believe this…” Speaking out reminds everyone that we think and act differently from each other.

Why do you think that Muslim women are speaking out now? What has changed now? What was holding them back before?

Muslim women have been thinking and writing and participating since the beginning of Islam. But I don’t think anyone’s been listening until now.

In the last 30 years especially, plenty of female scholars have been discussing issues and publishing books on feminism and media representation and religious interpretation. But, again, no one was paying attention.

I do think there’s a wonderful influx of differing Muslim women voices in the last ten years. I believe that some of this has been in response to 9/11 and the fact that, as Muslims, we have been forced into a spotlight. So now we’re under this spotlight, we may as well make the best of it and try and get people to understand who we are.

what is the role of the Internet?

The internet has played a wonderful role in Muslim women’s public spheres. While the internet helps disseminate plenty of harmful stereotypes, it also allows Muslim women to connect with families and like-minded men and women, it allows us to share our unique selves through blogs and other social media, and it helps connect us with resources that give us the tools to resist oppressive power forces.

Do you feel that sometimes Muslim women and their experiences are simplistically linked to the hijab?

Definitely. I think a lot of Muslim women are actually completely tired of talking about hijab (and I’m usually one of them), but everything we do seems to get linked back to this piece of cloth somehow. As much as we’d like to avoid the subject, we cover this “hijab reduction” a fair amount on MMW because it keeps on happening.

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Carol Ann Duffy and Democracy

It feels really strange to think that I am now officially living under a Conservative government- it’s a strange mix of horror and morbid curiosity. I have a theory that curiosity is the main reason we don’t learn from history. We just wanna see that mess with our own eyes, I guess.

Anyway, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy wrote an eloquent poem about the whole fiasco of an election which refers to poor old Gordon Brown and also the scandal of people getting turned away at polling stations.


Democracy

Here’s a boat that cannot float.
Here’s a queue that cannot vote.
Here’s a line you cannot quote.
Here’s a deal you cannot note …
and here’s a sacrificial goat,
here’s a cut, here’s a throat,
here’s a drawbridge, here’s a moat …
What’s your hurry? Here’s your coat.


Daria: The Kick-Ass Cartoon Feminist of a Generation

Daria.

That probably means nothing to alot of people but Daria was the most amazing cartoon on TV when I was growing up back in the late 1990’s.

It followed this moot-smart-ass geek girl who just didn’t give a crap and was so funny- not in a depreciating way but in a genuinely you-are-all-the-real-freaks-and-will-one-day-realize-it kinda way.. It was just sooo good and subversive that I kinda look back now and wonder how the hell it ever made to the TV screen!!

Well, the news is that it’s now on DVD and all I can think is what the hell took it so long and what ( if it exists) is today’s equivalent of Daria??

With all the musicals and hannah montanna chipmunk faces around, I kind wonder if what the world really needs it a bit of Daria-esque inspired realism..

Can we afford Equal Pay? Women, Work and the Media

It’s not often that I read something in the papers that really annoys me. That has something to do with the fact that I don’t read a paper regularly (we have the internet to blame for that!) and that I refuse to pay for the tat the Sun/Mirror/Daily Mail print but I was so miffed reading the front page article of the Metro the other day that I actually kept it as proof that I wasn’t just being over-senstive  (well, it was before 8am so anything is possible!).

The article was basically about a new ruling which found that female cleaners, cooks and care assistants in Birmingham City Council had been denied equal pay for years and were now finally granted compensation. Only thing is, the story wasn’t painted as Erin-Brockovich-style-justice but more of greedy women out to grab more money at the expense of others. For example, the sub-header read the equal pay ‘defeat’ rather than ‘victory’… but who exactly is losing out here…??

Despite highlighting the fact that female workers were excluded from bonuses paid to men that were worth upto 160% of their salaries and that whilst a grade 4 female care assistant was paid £12,291 and the highest paid male refuse worker was paid £50,000,  the main concern was that the council was facing a huge bill of compensation (which I am sure will be blamed at some point for various deteriotations in local services).

So rather than celebrating the move towards equal pay for women, you are left wondering whether we can really afford the (apparent) luxury of equal pay…

None of the women who were fighting for equal rights were featured or mentioned (not sure if that has anything to do with legal issues) and I really don’t see how we are going to relate/sympathize/support these women when all we can focus on is the  CLEANED OUT! header and the £500m bill.

Ads, funny women and Uplift Magazine

Although the UK has absolutely nothing on the sheer number and diversity of US feminist magazines,  a really great UK publication I stumbled across recently is Uplift Magazine run by Sarah Barnes.

It was started up in 2006 but is now mainly a website regularly updated with features and blogs. Its great and really does – in its own words- “provide a fresh media morsel for women in search of something more satisfying than the mainstream magazine offerings.”

One recent blog which I really liked was about women and security which linked up to a wonderful Sarah Haskins Target Women piece on Broadview Security adverts. It’s frighteningly hilarious- just really funny, intelligent and insightful.

Make/Shift 7: Why Misogynists Make Great Informers

A couple of weeks ago, the latest copy of the US-based feminist Make/Shift Magazine (with a short article from me) found its way through my postbox and one of the piece I read has still got me thinking.

It was by a community organizer and writer called Courtney Desiree Morris on how gender violence and injustice totally destroys progressive organisations from the inside out. It also turns out that those who practice gender violence are more likely to be gov informants. So I guess that it makes it doubly important to get rid of those kinds of people… ( as if you needed more reasons!)

The piece was sparked off by news that an FBI informant had infiltrated a radical movement in Texas and also the revelation that an ‘activist’ named Darby at the Common Ground collective in New Orleans, which helped residents after Hurricane Katrina, was also an FBI agent.

The co-founder of CG Malik Rahim spoke how he lamented all of the ‘young ladies’ who left Common Ground as a result of Darby’s domineering, aggressive style of organizing. Morris rhetorically asks what happened when these women complained and follows the issue to its logical conclusion:

Well, their concerns likely fell on sympathetic but ultimately unresponsive ears- everything may have been true, and after the fact everyone admits how disruptive Darby was, quick to suggest violent, ill-conceived direct-action schemes that endangered everyone he worked with. There were even claims of Darby sexually assaulting female organizers at Common Ground and in general being dismissive of women working in the organization.”

Maybe if the organizers made collective accountability around gender violence a central part of our practices we could neutralize people who are working on behalf of the state to undermine our struggles.”