Over the last week my social media feeds have been flooded with excitement for the music video for a song called ‘Dog’ by Mona Haydar. Sure, it’s a catchy tune and whatever, but that’s not what’s being celebrated.
People are celebrating the fact that it’s a rap video by a hijabi Muslim woman.
It’s being celebrated for showing that Muslim women are free and liberated and own their voices. More importantly, it’s being treated as the Muslim woman’s anthem for putting down ‘dogs’; that is, hypocritical men that flirt with women while trying to oppress them.
Okay. I don’t want to be a party-pooper, but I don’t like it. It’s not that I have a problem with Mona rapping away and expressing herself this way – but I don’t like what it’s being used to represent.
I don’t like the idea that for Muslim women to demonstrate how modern and in touch with society we are, we have to adopt cultures and practices that aren’t very pro-women’s rights to begin with. I mean, the concept of ‘women’s rights’ doesn’t readily come to mind when I think of rap music.
I don’t like the idea of the Muslim woman’s image being used to reiterate stupid stereotypes – like the idea that Muslim men are just sleazy and that women need a rich man in order to be happy (or, if you listen to the lyrics and their implication, need a rich man in order to accept him hitting on them).
Mona isn’t the only one who has been used to represent the liberation of Muslim women through inherently sexist institutions in recent times.
When Noor Tagouri was featured in Playboy last year as part of the magazine’s ‘Renegades issue’ of people ‘who aren’t afraid to break the rules’, both she and Playboy were celebrated for their forward thinking. It wasn’t forward thinking; it was a magazine that for over 60 years has made its name by objectifying women taking a woman of culture and objectifying her conservative-ness. Noor, and all the Muslim women who celebrated her actions fell for the trap of being part of something not so great to appear to be ‘normal’.
In my mind, this is symptomatic of a bigger issue that I’ve been struggling with lately. Society at large seems to be wanting to hear the voice of Muslim women only when we are hip and non-threatening in every way – we need to speak without an accent, we need to sit on the non-conservative side of religiousness, and we need to style our hijabs in a fashionable way (the more it looks like a fashionable turban the better). We also need to keep our opinions non-threatening by taking a mostly middle road. We need to sprinkle in being a little bit apologetic and only be passionate about unity and harmony. Our right to criticise social injustices is almost non-existent – and rap songs and Playboy aren’t going to change that.
Australia has just seen what happens when we do actually speak our minds. Poor Yassmin Abdel-Magied was basically bullied out of the country because she dared suggest that Aussies should take a moment to remember victims of modern wars alongside the ANZACS. Despite doing more for this country than most people twice her age, she was treated like absolute dirt. Commentators were allowed to call her a flea and suggest that she should be run over without any repercussions.
In the context of the real world – a world that is increasingly hostile towards people of colour and mostly towards hijabi women – we shouldn’t have to cling to this idea that if we represent ourselves as the cool and liberated chick, things would be better.
The funniest thing about this is that by celebrating Muslim women as rappers and Playboy subjects, we create a double standard. We would never look at Iggy Azalea and suggest that she is liberating Australian women with her rap music. We would never applaud Pamela Anderson for using Playboy to celebrate women’s rights. So why are we doing it with Muslim women?
At the end of the day, we’re all free to express who we are and who we want to be in whatever way feels right. Power to Mona and Noor – but they don’t represent me and they don’t have to. At the same time, they should not be the benchmark for where the rest of us Muslim women need to be.
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