By: Lujain Al-Ghadban
Growing up as a young Muslim woman I was exposed to the many single stories regarding Muslim women throughout the Western media. These stories came in the form of stereotypes that were enforced on people of my culture and descent. As a child, I was constantly watching Western TV and movies, always on Disney channel or Cartoon Network. But as I grew older I noticed that through the Western media there was a lack of Muslim representation. As I got into my teenage years and was able to understand more about stereotypes and how people viewed my religion, I began to face the truth and knowledge about the world. I saw that the single story being put out there about Muslims was that they were terroristic. It didn’t matter to the media that there were more than a million other Muslims out there who never committed any terroristic acts, let alone thought about it. But as soon as one Muslim person from our culture became a terrorist the rest of our religion was labeled terroristic. We rarely see a story published by the Western world painting the Muslims in a positive light, which is why Shonda Rhimes shocked the world when she wrote in a Muslim character in the hit TV series Grey’s Anatomy. Rhimes took a different turn on representation regarding Muslims and their culture by showing them as humanized people.
Single stories is a term that has been coined by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who is a well known Nigerian author and poet who often uses her platform to voice her opinions on ongoing issues throughout the world. I found out about her whilst in my English class watching a TED Talk titled, The Dangers of Single Story. Now I have heard of her before, but I wasn’t exposed to her Talks that much in the past. She stresses on how the dangers of single stories affect someone’s outlook on representation using personal anecdotes and childhood stories to relay that message. Single Stories as you may not know, are stories that have been told with one side and perspective only. So she talks about the dangers of that and what it may cause people to believe. She once said, “stories matter”. I believe that stories are imminent in the face of representation. Which is why the light that Shonda Rhimes has chosen to shine on Muslim women is positive. Due to the fact that she allows people of cultures all around the world see that Muslim women are not to be feared and that they don’t usually have any terroristic affiliations. Rhimes has taken a bold step in her career by telling the other side of the story. Single Stories are important for other people to learn about so that they can understand the dangers that might come with them.
As you now may know single stories aren’t that great for the people on the other side of the story. In fact, they often dehumanize them and misrepresent them. With Single Stories comes the danger of misrepresentation. That is the thing that is constantly happening to the Muslim community due to the fact that the single story being used to represent the Muslims was that they were terroristic, causing the world to believe that. Since single stories are only told throughout one person’s perspective instead of both sides of the story.
This causes people around the world to believe these types of stories because they expect that whatever comes out of the western world and media is true. Even though those people may not have any affiliation with the religion and its religious teachings. Since they weren’t exposed to the religion as many Muslims are, so they are inclined to believe the single story that is being put out by the west. As a Muslim myself, I was irritated by how my religion was being falsely accused of absurd accusations.Whereas the people who are responsible for this type of fabrication know next to nothing about my religion.
The perception of Muslims throughout the west and the media has always been negative. The single stories commonly being told about Muslim women, is that they are desperate and always viewed through a sexual aspect, throughout many western media pieces. In fact a couple of months ago in my English class, we rewatched Aladdin and analyzed it to see how the West perceives the East in the context of Orientalism. I never noticed until rewatching it how inaccurate it is and how it adhered to so many common stereotypes made about the Middle East. I was baffled by this notion and simply disgusted to see how the east was being represented. This is why it was so important to see a different take on Muslim women’s representation through the western media. Instead of being viewed as someone who is vile and terroristic it shows them as people who are sacrificial and human.
Shonda Rhimes’ ability to showcase a different side of Muslim women through the media is something so important that the world needs more of. The world needs to be able to see that there are many ways to represent people of a specific culture without constantly adhering to the common stereotypes. What Rhimes did is something that has not been done often in the Western media. In fact, people don’t know the truth anymore because they are constantly believing those stories told by the west about the east.
What Rhimes did is so important because she painted the Muslim woman in a more positive light unlike how they are commonly represented as. She showed the Muslim woman as a sacrificial kind human being, someone who cares about people and not only herself. Someone willing to sacrifice her religious teachings for a life, someone who was willing to take off her hijab to save a person’s leg. She painted her in a humanizing way, causing many of the Western media to possibly question there own views of the east. For years Muslims have fallen victim to single stories; being painted as the villains, they have been robbed of their voices and opinions. They are unable to speak to the rest of the world about the truth of their culture because of all the biased people out there who only believed the West’s side of the story. Muslim women are more than they are perceived to be and Shonda Rhimes just showed that side of them to the whole world.
However many people may believe that this clip did not accurately represent the Muslim woman and did not paint her in any kind of light. Instead, they see it as tv shows trying to reel in more ratings and get other people to watch the show. The other people may think that the way this Muslim woman was represented was wrong and doesn’t really matter. I, on the other hand, disagree with what people may say about this, because of how close I am to this topic and issue simply because of the way that my culture was being represented. For quite a long time I have watched on the news and television people of my culture being shamed for their religious beliefs and their religion. Now finally came the time where I can watch a show and not roll my eyes in disgust over how people of my religion are being portrayed as. I can feel a sense of pride watching a woman from my religion be viewed as how she was meant to be viewed. Not in a way that shames her or shows her as terroristic. But simply in a way that represents her as a human, showing that she is just like everyone else despite her faith and religious beliefs.
Representation is an issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly as it has been in the last couple of years in the Western media. It is an issue that affects everyone in this day and age and needs to be taken care of soon. Shonda Rhimes showed her views on Muslim women by taking a stand and positively representing them. She not only chose to defy the constant single stories being put out there about Muslims. But she also was able to show the world how people like me really are. Writing this piece I feel a complete and utter sense of pride knowing that the young Muslim girls out there in the world can finally see someone like them on the big screen. They too can also feel a sense of pride and joy knowing that there are more people out there who look just like them. All of this happened because of a person who chose to defy the single stories being put out there about Muslims and choosing to represent them differently. You too can choose to not adhere to the common single stories being put out to the world and really make a change.
Thank You all for reading this hope you enjoyed it and you can also find my piece of work published on this website https://roomh203.wordpress.com/2018/05/02/representation-matters/