Muslim Girls: 'Not' The Bold Type

The Bold Type, a show about three 'girl'friends, trying to make it in an NYC based fashion Magazine, was an answer to my prayers on a sleepless, bored and somewhat lonely night. The three protagonists instantly gave me a modern 'sex and the city' vibe. Kat is our bold and fierce Black Samantha killing it as the first Black female department head in the company. Sutton is what you get when you stir Maranda and Samantha in a cauldron and sprinkle Carrie's love for fashion; she is practical, conservative, sleeping with her boss in secret and doing all that in an assistant's budget killer heels. And lastly, we have Jane who is totally Carrie with Charlotte's views on sex, love, and marriage. They are bold, funny, and totally winging it the best they can. And learning age-old lessons about life, love, work and everything in-between in the age of social media, me too, and trump.

It is needless to say that I am loving it, especially when I first heard of Adena, a female Muslim photographer (who is also Lesbain). Yup, you heard me right. A lesbian, Hijabi, Muslim is a reoccurring secondary character and a significant plot in the storyline.  And she is killing it. Adena is strong, confident, daring, controversial, complicated and brings topics like wearing a hijab, Salah (prayer), the geopolitics of Iran and other Muslim countries, American immigration, homophobia, so on and so forth into the conversation. She is dynamic and a total badass even when she is just talking about traveling. And yet her existence in a show about strong modern women doesn't give me the satisfaction I thought a milestone like this on Tv would bring.

While I am happy for the existence of a Muslim female character that isn't depicted as oppressed, docile and one dimensional it is a blow to the gut, and every primary organ, for a minuscule segment of the Muslim Community to be represented, while the majority- Straight, Conservative (not n politics), Modestly dressed, Hijabis- are yet to be given this magnitude of a presentation. Making this about Adena's sexuality could be easy; however, I will choose not to because everyone can make up their own mind about it without my help. This is about the fact that over half of the 2 billion Muslims in the world are women and most of them live an Islamic lifestyle and that in itself isn't viewed as Bold.

It is an unspoke understanding that Black Muslim females are at the bottom of society's totem pole, right above Muslim women of other races. Just existing as Muslim women do in every community, including the most oppressive (and restrictive religious) regimes, are acts of strength and resilience. And failing to see that is choosing to be blind about the reality of being a Muslim woman in the 21st century.

The general public believes merely being in the west solves a lot of the issues Muslim women face. While it is true that a lot of the traditional restrictions and pressures Muslim women go through in Muslim majority states are less profound outside these nations, people neglect the other issues that arise from living elsewhere. Especially post 9/11 being a Muslim (hijabi) woman has become an unofficial political statement. These women are questioned and harassed about their patriotism, women's rights, FGM, sexism and misogyny (in Islam), education, and agency, etc.
Muslim women continuously advocate for women's rights to choose yet are ostracized, demonized and recently criminalized for their choices unless they are criticising Islam. These women find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand "There’s the fundamentalist, patriarchal narrative, persistently trying to confine the social and public lives of Muslim women in line with the kind of narrow, gendered parameters that are by now so familiar. But there are also some western feminist discourses that seek to define our identities in ways that are quite neocolonial: backward, oppressed, with no hope of liberation other than to emulate whatever western notions of womanhood are on offer. This wedging chimes with my experience, and it’s a problem because, as Zine argues, both arms deny Muslim women the ability — indeed the right — to define our identities for ourselves, and especially to do so within the vast possibilities of Islam."
And to make matters worse, these western nations that were supposed to be safe harbors turn a blind eye unless Muslim's denounce an element of their faith that is considered inherently Islamic (oppressive, barbaric, rigid, antiquated) or appropriate something palatable to the western liberals.

12 countries across Europe have some form of ban on Hijabs/niqabs/burgas/burkins etc. 
One of the powers of great tv is its ability to make an audience see elements of themselves or their reality in the characters or situations portrayed. This is the underlying reason why we connect to a particular role while the rest go unnoticed without imprinting on us. This is seen in Sutton's struggle to find her footing as a professional and her fear of letting her romantic relationship eclipse her identity as a modern working woman. Jane goes through her own struggle because of the death of her mother and the health challenges that come as a result. And Kat is forced to face and reconcile with her sexuality and race; and how political she is willing to allow those parts of her to be. It is these all-inclusive,  non-nuanced, human dilemmas that we identify and attach ourselves to in this modern era.

And at the same time, these same dilemmas create room for growth and education about things that are not part of our everyday experiences, which is what integrating an everyday 'bold type' Muslimah would have done for the show. Portraying these modern yet timeless journies through a Muslim Halal image would allow the creators to demystify the Muslim experience and answer the million and one questions that the non-Muslim world is eager to know. Imagine a show that explains a Muslim woman's choice to wear a Hijab and the struggle to uphold that decision or simply how tough it is to cover-up during summers and to shop. A show that explores the struggle of dating or trying (and sometimes failing) to explore one's sexuality in an Islamic context. A show that shows a Muslim woman struggle to balance professional, family and personal expectations in the 21st century. These are nuanced plugins that even without topics about immigration, radicalism, gender equality, faith, etc. would have changed the history of portraying Islam and Muslims on tv.
If Malala Yousafzai, born and raised in Pakistan, can be the badass she is, HOW CAN YOU THINK MUSLIM WOMEN CAN'T BE THE BOLD TYPE?

This isn't a criticism of Adena or a call to change or replace the character as many have done online. Adena, whether you approve or not, represents the intersectionality of Islam and the LGBTQ community in modern times. While this sect is minuscule in population, it is growing and a discussion worth having. Therefore, how the show chooses to take Adena's journey is entirely a choice left to those in the drawing room. However, while they decide Adena's faith, they should also consider what it would take for Muslim girls to be seen as THE BOLD TYPE. 

Thanks for reading, leave your comments, questions, ideas etc in the box below. And Don't forget to share and move the conversation forward. xoxo.


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