The way the media tends to portray the Islamic religion allows for incorrect stereotypes of Muslims to be formed. The trend that events that are emotionally hyperbolized and sensationalized get more attention, allows for more coverage of the radical groups – groups that may not necessarily be included in the overall population. One specific stereotype that gets manipulated and exaggerated in the news is the role of Muslim women in Islamic society. The media often pays a lot of attention to what Muslim women wear, how they are seen as unequal to men, and how they all play a very limited role in their society. This portrayal of Muslim women as submissive can be challenged because when taking time to learn about Islamic tradition, as well as making an effort to see beyond fringe groups that capture majority of media’s attention, the role of women is clearly more integrated and substantial in Islamic society.
The following contains different sources that challenge the role Muslim women seemingly have according to Western stereotypes. Specifically, it examines the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and how women everywhere are reacting to this law, in order to discuss the role of Muslim women in Islamic culture, and what the effects are of that representation. Particularly, it determines how the recent media coverage on the driving ban influences Western stereotypes of Muslim women.
1. Before analyzing the example of the media coverage on Saudi Arabia women drivers and how that news illuminates women in a less stereotypical manner, it is important to first understand how Muslim Women stereotypes are formed and maintained. Below is a quick, easy-read infographic of the different stereotypes of Muslim Women, as well as their prevalence and the effect this has on Western beliefs. Upworthy is a “mission-driven company” that says that they would “rather speak truth than appear unbiased”. These details about this source are important to keep in mind, because they suggest that Upworthy will tend to elicit a specific desired response. For the purpose of this analysis, it is still critical to examine this source because the details used are still accurate, factual information portrayed in an effective format. That is, Upworthy is still reliable, and does verify all facts, statistics, and claims that they make. The way this infographic provides statistics in a clear concise way about the role the media plays in forwarding stereotypes surrounding Muslim women, makes it essential for understanding how these stereotypes are perpetuated. It demands its audience to think critically, and speak up when sources are incorrectly portraying women in the Islamic tradition.
2. Although there are valid arguments surrounding the prevalence of this stereotype of Muslim women being submissive to men, there are many articles published that display the opposing message that Muslim women are strong, independent and in charge. One example of this message is in the CNN news report “Women Drive for Change in Saudi Arabia”. Although the fact that women are still not allowed to drive perpetuates the view that Muslim women are oppressed, the tone and message of the article displays women as activists who will not stop pushing the law until their rights are secure. The fact that women in Saudi Arabia are defying driving regulations by organizing campaigns, gaining widespread support from both men and women, and protesting by breaking the law, illustrates how much power, stamina, and determination women actually have in their society. In the video, the Muslim women driver explains women’s influence in Muslim culture with her statement, “It’s not about the driving, it’s about control”. Women everywhere in Saudi Arabia are taking steps to secure this control; the presentation of this source illustrates the power they are gaining in their movement of opposing traditional stereotypes and beliefs.
3. Despite the government taking powerful actions against the planned October 26th women driving campaign, women still risked the consequences and got behind the wheel. This source is fascinating as it discusses the major ways the government has attempted to put a halt to the movement; such as, blocking the main campaign website http://www.oct26driving.org, and replacing it with the message “Drop the leadership of Saudi women”. The article choosing to present the facts about how the government is reacting to the movement, forwards its intent to portray Saudi Arabian women as being incredibly brave. The notion that this Oct 26th movement threatens the government, allows this source to dispel the stereotype of women not being influential in Islamic society.
4. This image taken from the article, “The Inside Story of Saudi Arabia’s Bizarre Ban on Female Drivers” published October 7, 2013 is a visual example of how media is portraying women to be vocal and action-driven. In this image the woman protester is standing alone, a detail that exemplifies confidence. Her dress is authentic, giving this image a realistic, believable quality, and her sign gives her the very thing the stereotypes of Muslim women deny they have… a voice.
5. Lastly yet another way media is being used to repel stereotypes of Muslim women specifically in the recent news on Saudi Arabia’s driving ban is through twitter. Human Rights Watch, an independent organization dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, published an article on November 1st 2013, about the top tweets on their social channels this week. Most of them were surrounding this hot topic of the Women2Drive Campaign. This source dispels the traditional stereotype of Muslim women as oppressed and submissive, as it illustrates the strength and support women have put forward and received through their efforts to defend their rights. Twitter alone is a very authentic source to examine since it gives voice to civilians who are right in the mist of the event. Some of the most common tweets included promotional graphics such as the few shown below, different links to articles surrounding the discussion of Muslim women in Saudi Arabia, as well as numerous tweets of support to the brave women who got behind the wheel. The harsh criticism coming from individuals world-wide demonstrates overwhelming encouragement for the courageous women partaking in the campaign.
Check out all of the tweets by searching #women2drive!
Although media has a tendency to portray Muslim women as being submissive and unequal in Islamic society, there are many facts, customs, and events, which dispel this misconception. By viewing how different sources have portrayed the women2drive campaign and its surrounding events, it is clear that there are sources that portray Muslim women in a more substantial, influential role. The widespread media attention this event has attracted, especially with civilians on Twitter, leads me to believe in educated individual’s/organization’s ability to perpetuate positive, accurate information, while dispelling incorrect religious stereotypes. We must all play a part in taking time to critically analyze sources in order to clearly understand events without being susceptible to the organization’s bias.