On March 24, KARAMAH hosted Tayyibah Taylor, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Azizah Magazine, to speak on the portrayal of American Muslim women in the media.
Ms. Taylor opened with a discussion of the current strategy of the media, which today prioritizes the “bottom line” over “content.” Thus, Ms. Taylor elucidated, “more salacious and more provocative” news is highlighted over content and substance. This method is employed by a select, small group of people who are dictating how Muslim women are portrayed.
During her presentation, Ms. Taylor also spoke to the power of images and their effect on the public’s perception of Muslims, especially Muslim women. She provided seven portrayals of Muslim women: the victim (of man, religion and war), the vamp (the exotic other and seductress), the terrorist, the disenchanted (“everything is wrong with Islam”), the entitled, and the most provocative: the veil.
Ms. Taylor described, though, how in the last five years this portrayal has begun to shift. Part of this is due to the expansion of social media, as well as the increasing numbers of Muslims in the United States. This makes Muslims more visible to the wider American community, as well as a part of it so that people know and interact with them and don’t necessarily see Muslims as an ‘other.’ Ms. Taylor also described the maturation of the Muslim community and the evolution of the place of women in the community and how this has further contributed to a more positive portrayal of Muslim women. Moreover, Ms. Taylor explained that it is “not cool to be American and be a bigot,” and thus even though racism and sexism exists, people can be shamed for such behavior. Furthermore, unlike some European and other countries that have freedom from religion, the United States has freedom of religion, which creates an opportunity for religious practice in which citizens can actually demand religious freedom.
Ms. Taylor closed with a final explanation of the shift in the portrayal of Muslim women: their excellence. Through the example of different Muslim women, she illustrated that excellence is “the best defense” and that American Muslim women have been successful in implementing this and in shaping a more positive portrayal in American media. Because Muslim women are excelling in fields ranging from athletics to academia to business, the media is forced to recognize their accomplishments.