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Stereotyping Muslim Women in TV and Film

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 3038 words Published: 7th Aug 2018

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Countless stereotypes and misrepresentation about Arab Muslim women have been dominating the Western media. It all started with the theory of Clash of Civilization that was written by Samuel P. Huntington in 1997. In his theory, Huntington stressed that Islam has visible conflicting vision and action to the Western ideas of liberty and democracy, and that Islam is the main enemy to the West. In other words, Islam and Arabs has different ideologies than the west has. And that the ideologies the west have about democracy and liberty conflict about the Islam understanding of the democracy and liberation. This was the start of the stereotyping of Arabs in general.

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The problem of stereotyping of Arabs in general has been on the increase since the incident of 9/11. Arabs have been subjected to discrimination and violence since 9/11, a Muslim girl for example that works in a rental car company was simply fired because she was told that she cannot wear her veil, also a hotel employee stated that he was cursed many times and that people called him Taliban and Osama.

After September 9/11 attack on the USA, the stereotyping began at its fullest load, that the Islam and Arabs are terrorists, cruel, robbers, heartless, religious fanatics, brutal murderers, and abusers of women. It resulted in the start of o the portrayal of Arab women that they are abused by men, and that they are sex object, belly dancers and gold diggers, and that they have no self esteem, and they are beaten by men and they are only do what men wishes and want without having any opinion about it.

Following 9/11, the world started attack Islam and they accused Islam of being a religion of terrorism, however, among those attackers there were many who wanted to know the truth about that religion in order to know whether it is really a religion of terrorism or not. The media exaggerated in reporting the incident of 9/11 which resulted in making a lot of people believe that Arabs and Muslims are terrorists. Also Hollywood is a big part of exaggerating this issue.

Cinema Producers and Film Makers keep on making movies that stereotype Arabs as terrorists and killers. They also stereotype them with the five B’s, which are Billionaires, Bombers, Belly dancers, Bedouins, and Barbarians. Jack shaheen in his movie “Reel Bad Arabs” showed that the western movies are obsessed with portraying of Arab women in their movies, but they portray them from their point of views. They didn’t change anything during years of portrayals.

Jack Shaheen said that the portray of Arab women mostly as slave girls, a woman wearing a transparent veil that shows her body, and that they are belly dancers and barbarian gold diggers that they are able to do anything in the sake of their well being, Shaheen in his this part about the portray of Arab women as gypsies and gold diggers is right and I agree with him that is mostly the case in western movies that portray Arab women.

Moreover, in the Disney movie remake of around the world in 80 days, they represent that Arnold Schwarzenegger an Arab Sheikh, that have more than 100 wives slaves just for sex, which shows that the Arab men are not satisfied by one woman only and they want lot of everything even the wives, and this part also talk about “El shariaa” that the man has the right to marry 4 wives. Which the West refuses its concept from the first place, but they don’t even understand the Law of Islam to talk about this issue or to misrepresent it in this way. But although they portrayed Arab women in different images the gold digger, the sex slave, mischievous, but after the attacks of September 11 the image of terrorists is the dominate image in the mind and the movies of the West.

The TV influences the people in a tremendous way; it affects their attitudes and behavior, and affects their minds and believes. The media personnel take advantage of this point that the western people are ignorant about anything that relates to Arabs and they just know them from movies and TV shows, and they mostly are in the image of terrorist so they take of this point and represent Arabs and Arab women without studying them or understanding them and they stereotype them as the way they want the people to think of them. They succeed in this point that most of the Westerns when they come to think about Arabs or Arab women, the first thing that comes to their minds is Arabs being terrorists ,barbarians, cruel, robbers, monsters, beater of women, take women as slaves, women are just for their own pleasure.

Everyone knows from western media and western image what image Arab women have in general, images that started by the orientalists about Arab Harim, Arab dancing, Arab women set as objects in the Arab world locked in doors, having no function in public affairs, Muslim women being inferior to men. These are the concepts in western media, in western films and in western cartoons, unfortunately.

Most Arabs are submissive to being stereotyped by western media, but for Arab women the problem is particularly sensitive. It seems that the Western media is obsessed by the way a Muslim woman dresses; the veil in particular. Most of the Arab Muslim women are portrayed as fat, shapeless women in their loose dress and ugly veiled shape; they even do them as a caricature in some magazines and programs. In fact, the concept of veiled woman is always perceived in the west as she’s having a life, she’s always seen as a victim, poor, isolated creature politically, culturally and she is so isolated. According to Gwinn (1997), he said that the veiled woman is always reflected by the western to be the most popular way of representing the problem of Islam. In fact, Longtime ago pre Islam veils were customs among Greeks, Romans and Jews, but when Islam started and the Muslim women took the veils as a way to cover their hair as God said, the West started to identify the veiled women as the Muslim terrorist one.

The veil that the Muslim women wear is seen as a symbol of threatening and alien status as mentioned by Posetty (2008) in his article. Images of Islamic dress are increasingly used in the Western media as a symbol of extremism. As a result, Muslims all over Europe and the West in general, are suffering from the consequences of such associations.

The main problem as Ahmed (1992) pointed out in his article, has been that the act of veiling among Muslim women is associated with the lack of traditionalism and backwardness that does not fit into the modern society and among Western women. This reflects the theory of Orientalism that was stated by Said 1978, which asserts that the East and its inhabitants are considered backward, barbaric and outsiders to Western society.

As mentioned by Edward Said in this Orientalist framework, the Muslim Arab women have always been thought as “others”; they are always considered as different from the Western women and the Western culture. The Western imaginary, ‘Othered’ portrayed women as sexual objects, weak, and that they are marginalized in their own society. The Orientalism focused on Arabic, history, and philosophy, but failed to truly convey the lives and feelings of Muslims, “their voices remained mute”.

Muslims, as portrayed in western media, illustrate two Orientalist assumptions that arouse concern and fear in Western societies. The fisrt as mentiond by Posetty (2008), Muslim women are oppressed and in need of liberation and the second is that Muslim men are a violent force that creates a threat to Western society.

In an agreement with Mishra (2007), who has been studying the misrepresentation constructed by the Western media about the Muslim Arab women since the 9/11 incident. She has examined the articles published by The New York Times and other newspapers and magazines after the 9/11 incident, particularly, between September 11, 2001 and September 11, 2003. Through her study she found that issues such as rape, torture, and patriarchal oppression were all topics that related to Muslim women in non-Western countries. Additionally, the discussion of women in Islam tends to be centered around the burqu’, hijab, or as it is called in the Western societies as the veil.

Muslims women living abroad are facing a bigger problem than just a misunderstanding or negative image, unfortunately they are facing a huge discrimination between them and the westernized women. The Arab Muslim immigrant women are facing gender-based media representations as well. As stated by Morin (2009), the immigrant Muslim Arab women are subjected to cultural misconceptions and the recent political conflicts that have spoiled Arab-Western relations. These misconceptions that are created by the Western media make it hard for those women to live abroad without being discriminated and thought as “others”. In the West, clearly, negative Arab images rooted in history are providing a base for the stereotyping of Arab women in the media.

In addition to the misconception about the veil, words such as the circumcision, polygamy, the sharia (Islamic) law, the harem, forced marriages, etc, are just a few issues that are associated with the Arab Muslim women, which resulted in fitting women into the absolute, homogenous ‘oppressed Muslim woman’ category.

News on Muslim women is dominated by the culturalist presentation and interpretation of Islam. In fact, the discrimination of these women, which attracts media attention, tends to be explained almost exclusively according to theories on Islamic culture. For example, when referring to “the rights of Muslim women,” the news discourse tends to focus on symbolic and religious issues such as the veil or Islam, and they tend to avoid more important issues that are related to the equality of these women, such as rights to education or public freedoms. These visions are removed from reality because they fail to take into account bond of millions of women to their Islamic identity.

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The Western newspaper articles mainly present Muslims women in three ways: as passive women, as victims and as veiled women. They are portrayed as “observers rather than as active participants in their community”. Their role as victims is reflected through the publishing of news stories describing conflicts such as the Afghan or Algerian conflicts in which women are clearly victims.

Muslim-Arab women have increasingly been on the face covers of magazines and front pages of newspapers since 9/11 and all the events that followed; among the major topics covered were the war in Afghanistan, the U.S.-led Iraqi invasion, as well as the elections in both countries. For example, on the covers of National Geographic and various other magazines, veiled women demonstrate the western urge to discover what lies underneath the veil.

Since the invasion of Afghanistan, the Western media began to focus on the unveiling of women as a sign of their liberation, which we totally disagree with. Images of women removing the veil serve as justification to many individuals for the war. Time Magazine published an article in December 2001 that told the story of 200 women who gathered together to remove their veils together in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. (Macdonald, 2003).

As stated by Ayish (2010), news media has made it a point to document the lives of millions of women that are in need of saving from an oppressive religion. The news media, specifically The New York Times and Time Magazine, have employed divisive methods founded in Orientalist assumptions that provide justification for Western intervention in the Middle East. And as stated by Mishra (2007), the media portrayals of Muslim men and women in The New York Times reinforced the need for Western intervention in Muslim societies and communities, to whether help liberate Muslim women or to keep Muslim men under surveillance as they are considered as a threat and violence.

In advertising, they are being misrepresented as well. The Western advertisement also used the Arab Muslim women in their advertisement and they didn’t want to risk by changing the image that the west already have for the Arab Muslim women, so they used the stereotyped and typical image of the veiled woman “harem”, the mysterious veiled woman that is under the control of an oppressive man, to appeal to their customers of the west. They didn’t want to risk changing the image in an advertisement and that this image is strong in the mind of the Western people, and they might lose money or even customers and they might accuse them with treason because they put the Arabs in a good image.

They use the veil of the Muslim Arab women as a sex symbol to sell for sex. They think when they put a woman in a veil they will get the consumers to buy the product. And when they do, they will buy the mystery behind the veil. The Westerns are usually buying a false and imaginary image of the “Others” which are the Arab or Arab women.

The continuous and repetitive of these images in the different types of media will make these images real in the mind of the Western people, and this will enlarge the gap between the East and the West The oppressed veiled Muslim woman in the ads may also be connected to the escalating intolerance and disputes surrounding Muslim women and the veil in the Western world.

Media people should be careful with what they put in the different types of media so as not to spread false and imaginary images or believes about another culture or other people traditions, and make them in the worst image that could be, and make them by these images increase the hatred between countries and increase hate crimes and wars. Media people should see the sensitivity in the materials they publish, and consider these images will hurt or damage someone or not, they should study the Arab and study their traditions and their believes “Shariaa” before talking falsely about it in different ways and different types of media.

Western fascination with the veiling of Muslim women as a symbol of oppression is often contradictory to reality. The west are portraying Arab women in this way because they inherited this stereotyping, and they didn’t try to do research or study of Arabs and Arab women to see if they are right about what they are showing in their movies or what they are writing. They just took what they have watched in the movies and read in papers, and they started to portray or actually kept on the same way of this negative portrayal and stereotyping of Arab women, without the right knowledge about the Arab culture, religion, and mostly people.


In the West, Arab women are often portrayed through stereotypical representations and discourses in which they have no voice. The Western popular imagination, nurtured by a media which commonly lacks sensitivity to complex realities, is quick to associate Arab women with oppression and subordination. Arab women are limited to a debate between tradition and modernity in which they are alternatively perceived as model of a mythical cultural authenticity, of a drift towards extremism or of radical modernization. Therefore, they find themselves at the heart of the ambiguous relations between the Eastern and Western worlds, which was analyzed by Edward Saïd. They are, however, essential actors in the development of the Arab region, and it is indispensable that their position at the heart of all contemporary social, political, economic and cultural matters be recognized in both the East and West.

Basically the media is the main reason of enlarging the gap between the West and the East, it keeps on pressing and pressing on the west and filling their minds with pictures, movies, and news against Muslims and Islam that aren’t true. Since September 11 until now Hollywood keeps on making movies about Arabs and Muslims portraying them as terrorists and killers who attack innocent people without any reason, while they don’t make any movies about Israeli.

The mass media not only exclude modern Islamist women but also, in general, the socially and culturally diverse communities of Muslim women living in either the Arab world or in Western world. These women are not only housewives, mothers and Muslims as portrayed by the media, but also students, researchers, entrepreneurs, domestic workers, artists, politicians, volunteers, activists, etc. In this respect, it is also not accidental that the media do not report on the evolution of pro human rights movements (including women’s rights and freedoms movements) that exist in some Arab countries, such as Egypt and Morocco.

Misconceptions by the media have resulted in misunderstanding Arab women. As Gwinn (1997) stated, “ideas about the Muslim world have managed to deform much of our understandings toward Muslim women”. Words such as the veil, the harem, female circumcision, etc. have managed to give an impression to some of the images associated with the oppressed Muslim woman.

The problem now is how to convey knowledge to public opinion so that they know truly what’s going on in the Middle East. Unfortunately they’re trying to build on people’s ignorance, or on people’s busy time as nobody has the time to read a lot. It is time to build on information or on knowledge that the Arabs are descendents of great civilization, Arab women have the right to live like any other woman in the world with their children and to have their children’s future away from humiliation, away from occupation. The western media is the one who damaged the image of the Muslims specially the veiled women, so they must take step and start to do campaigns, movies, or documentaries to correct the image of the Arab Muslim woman and start to treat her normally or even correct the negative images.


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