10/23/2013

From a different perspective

Ain is a childhood friend of mine. She is a 21 year old Malaysian woman pursuing a Commerce degree with double majors in Eco and Intp. in Wellington, New Zealand. She is Muslim. She wears a veil - a hijaab specifically.
I decided to interview her, as I am planning on writing a series of articles focusing on the relationship between Islam and feminism. And by interview, I mean we exchanged ideas via FB chat :)

N: What do you think of the representation of Muslim women in mainstream media?

A: Honestly, I think it does in some way reflect the idea of oppression which is of course certainly not reflective of Islam. And I honestly don't think the media does justice to the different views of Islam and women, and women in Islam. Nor does it really highlight how diverse Islam really is.
As you know, I am from Malaysia and I've grown up all over the place. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw how other people and even Malaysians (domestic students since I'm a bit of a TCK) practiced Islam.
While i don't think the media is entirely wrong, there's generalization which does influence readers'/viewer's perception.

N: How do you feel about the way Muslim women are portrayed in Hollywood cinema?

A: Again, generalized. It seems to be very concentrated towards the Middle East, even though Indonesia has the largest population of Islam. The actions and views of Islamic women ties to the political culture and society of their differing countries/regions.
Some of the religious and powerful women of Islam don't necessarily cover themselves, but their practice/belief is strong. I mean, i get it. It's Hollywood. Lets dramatize everything, right?

N: So what are your views on feminism?

A: Well I don't think others would call me a feminist but I think I am a little bit inside, especially growing up with 3 brothers. Feminism is necessary and is sometimes over the top and yet not enough. Gender equality is something I advocate for to a certain extent.
I believe, I suppose, in the idea of allowing women to be women, as opposed to injecting ourselves to every cover of  society and then changing ourselves - I meant that we seem to want to uphold our own rights, but we shouldn't have to conform to the pressures of expectations. I was mainly referring to how if a woman becomes a leader, their actions or behaviour have to change towards the role. This is a clear reference to Helen Clark actually.

N: Tell me about Helen Clark and how she fits into your point

A: She was the prime minister of NZ and was head of the labour party here. But shes moved onto being the head of administration to human development department in the UN. She is quite a successful leader, however it's sad that she has been the butt of the joke due to her appearance and how she speaks. I found out that she had to practice speaking in a lower tone and shake hands differently to hold her position amongst male dominated parliament.

N: This sounds almost sounds like the opposite of empowerment.

A: Pretty much. She holds a just position and yet, she's had to adapt herself to the environment which isn't accommodating. I mean it makes sense, be assertive because you need that to be a leader, but it's a two way street. Others need to be accepting and aware of each other.

N: Non intersecional feminism is a type of feminism which does not take race/ethnicity into account (amongst other factors). What do you think of this type of feminism?

A: Ah yes. I think that it is very ambitious but not quite so applicable. I mean it's not very accommodating is it. I'd like to think that ethnicity and race is not an issue and while yes, it certainly isn't in certain parts of the world, in other cases, both those things relate to culture.
It's not sufficient to not account for race and ethnicity. Perception is first based on the physical and I'm sure there are accounts of people's actions to me first based on my ethnicity, no? I can act the way i want but they'll still think me as Asian and of course link me to Asian values.

N: Some radical feminists (Femen for example) think the veil is oppressive and that everyone who wears a veil is oppressed. What would you say to them?

A: If you choose to show yourself then there's no reason I can't cover myself. The choice is on the individual and yes covering one's self is very much encouraged, and in some aspects, brings one closer to their own belief. This is based on a personal experience. I had a very different view on covering my hair (since I just started this year). I was actually against it before. My dad encouraged me highly and consistently, and I found that my own reluctance stemmed from other's perception, so if this is so, shouldn't society's ignorance be blamed as being the source of this oppression?
Freedom to reveal is just the same as the freedom to cover one's self. The view of oppression links to extremists views of Islam which again are only reflective of certain regions.

Thank you Ain for this amazing insight!

I must admit myself, having met Ain when she was not wearing the veil, I was surprised when I started seeing photos or her wearing a hijaab. I foolishly assumed that at a certain age, some women have to start wearing a veil, I didn't consider it might have been by choice. Unfortunately, I don't think I'm the only one to hold that erroneous presumption. Let's challenge the default "oppressed Muslim woman" image in mainstream media. Let's challenge the image of Islam in mainstream media.

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