Recently Muslim women’s movements have been making waves online (such as the #MuslimMeToo movement and the MuslimGirl blog). But, writing on MuslimGirl.com, Leah Vernon observes that the image that comes to mind when people think of Muslim women does not represent the majority of Muslim women, and instead portrays the demographic in a monolithic light.
The resulting “face of Muslim women in the United States, the United Kingdom, and all of social media” is comprised of, what Vernon calls, “straight-sized” (as opposed to plus-sized) Muslim women “who appear European or Middle Eastern”.
This is problematic as, “Just as the media, the beauty industry, and countless other platforms exclude women of color, this representation of Muslim women does too”.
Pointing to statistics from the Pew Research Centre, Vernon writes that there is vast ethnic/racial diversity amongst Muslim American women, yet internet searches for “Muslim women” produce results that do not reflect this.
She comments, “The media and many Muslims love to focus on certain kinds of Muslims – acceptable Muslimahs, I like to call them”. These include oppressed Muslims, blogger Muslims, and activist Muslims, who are most likely wearing religious clothing, slim, or fair-skinned, and this has especially been the case since 9/11, which increased the spotlight on Muslims.
“This kind of subtle, and sometimes blatant, prejudice and racism are a problem within Muslim communities”. But, Vernon writes, “no one likes to talk about that because they don’t want to add to the rising Islamophobia since 9/11 or want to focus on “unity” in a divisive … Trump era. But it’s a sad truth and one that we must address in order to be truly united”.
Prejudice and racism from within the community is something Vernon has experienced personally as a Black Muslim women. The result is that she has to struggle within her own community to hear the stories of those who are not “straight-sized”. She writes, “There’s a superiority complex that a Middle Eastern Muslim is better, more authentic and that anyone else is a “copy” of “unauthentic”. In my experience, too many Muslims play into the stereotypes of African-Americans: that we are lazy, less educated, promiscuous and aggressive”.
Vernon concludes, “We – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – need truthful and inclusive representation of Muslim women, especially now as others define or denigrate us”.
“We are not only Arab or Middle Eastern. We are not only hijabi. We are not only straight-sized. Or submissive. We are African-American. White. Asian. African. Latina. Some of us are feminists. Tattoo artists. Queer. Woke. Divorced. Fat. Sexual assault survivors. Mentally ill. And we all have a story to tell”.
Leah Vernon. (2018) ‘Muslim Women Are Trending but Some of Us Are Still Invisible’. [online] 20 February. http://muslimgirl.com/47713/muslim-women-trending-us-still-invisible/. [Accessed 24 April 2018].