Religious Representation Online

Dear Sherina,

On this blog, you and I have previously discussed Youtubers and their influence. Recently, I’ve discovered a new favourite. A half-English, half-Egyptian fashion designer and blogger by the name of  Dina Torkia. With a sizeable online following which includes 316,000 Youtube subscribers, she has made quite a name for herself in the Muslim fashion and beauty world.  Her channel is filled with videos ranging from hijab/turban tutorials, lookbooks, makeup tutorials to DIY clothing tutorials. As a devout Muslim woman, there are certain guidelines she follows when it comes to dress. She is a ‘hijabi’, which means that she does not show her hair and often wears a headscarf in a traditional or turban style. As she explains it, the concept of ‘hijab’ is not simply putting a scarf on your head. Rather, it guides how interact with others and how you represent yourself to the world.

turban look

Dina is such an upbeat, outspoken and downright hilarious individual that it’s hard to imagine that she would be on the receiving end of negativity. The majority of the comments on her Youtube videos are positive, however it’s hard not to notice the amount of criticism she gets. The criticism doesn’t often come from non-Muslims, but from others within her faith community. They claim that she is  ‘misrepresenting’ Islam and that she ought to be ashamed of herself for wearing makeup – among other things.

full look

I would argue the contrary. As someone who is not well-educated on religion, I admit that before I started watching her I knew very little about Islam. Her channel is not a religious education channel, but because her faith is such a big part of her life you do learn a few things. Since I started following her Youtube and Instagram, I feel as though I’ve learned more about modest clothing guidelines, Muslim holidays, religious practices and everyday Islamic terms. To give you an example, when she’s on her channel discussing a future project, she might say “inshallah it all goes well”. I was curious as to what inshallah meant, so I looked it up and translated roughly it means “if God wills it” or “God willing”.

I feel like with all of the misconceptions that surround Muslim people and the Islamic faith, it’s so important to have people like Dina out there to shatter them. She, in my humble opinion, does a fantastic job of representing the diversity within her religion.

What are your thoughts?

Ceanray

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Dear Ceanray,

After reading your letter I watched some of Dina’s videos, and I completely agree with you; it’s so hard to imagine how she could receive negative comments. I found Dina’s channel incredibly enlightening, as I, like you, knew very little about Islam before watching her videos. Even from watching a Q&A video, I became more educated. I think it’s amazing that we are able to learn more about a religion through YouTube!

I also agree with you that Dina’s channel is all the more important not just because it provides education, but because it shatters some of the negative myths that surround Muslim people. I’m sure you remember the recent controversy in Canada about women wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies. The issue blossomed into a debate not just about wearing the niqab when becoming a Canadian citizen, but in general.

Stephen Harper, our then Prime Minister, said with regards to the debate about the niqab that “[the Muslim] culture is anti-women”. Many Canadians protested this statement, because we knew it was a lie which was simply feeding the culture of fear that has been created around people of a certain faith. Some people, however, agreed with Harper’s sediment. Likely, those people didn’t know any Muslim women, or Muslim people, so they accepted his statement at face value.

We shouldn’t need proof that the Muslim culture is not anti-women – we should be able to realize such generalizing statements are ludicrous and inaccurate – but unfortunately we do. Fortunately, we have amazing people like Dina Torkia who help to set the record straight.

Sherina

Why stereotypes about the younger generation are wrong

Dear Ceanray,

Did you know that teenagers are lazy? All we care about is our phones and social media accounts. We have no respect for people older than us, the environment, or the world around us. At least, this is what we are made out to be. You know as well as I do that none of those things are true. Yet some people believe they are.

Teenagers are not lazy – we’re incredibly hardworking. Our hands are full with school work and preparing for postsecondary education, and most of us take part in co-curriculars like clubs or sports (and sometimes multiple co-curriculars). That’s not to mention the fact that many teenagers have part-time jobs, some work more than one job, and some are involved in competitive level-sports.

Sure, we might lie in bed on our phones occasionally; but with so much going on in our lives, who can blame us?

That brings me to another stereotype about teenagers: that we are addicted to using our phones and technology. We do use our technology a lot, but in my opinion this isn’t a bad thing. We connect with our friends and people we care about through texting and social media, and talking to people we care about just shows that, well, we do care!

In addition, by using our technology we are able to connect with the world outside of our own world. Yes, we know this world exists; and yes, we care about it. Keeping up to date with current affairs and breaking news gives us a deeper understanding of the world we live in – and what we can do to make it a better place.

I like to think of this blog as one way that you and I try to make the world a better place. It was partly because of our connection to the world through the internet and social media that we were inspired to write about issues that matter to us.

That’s the other thing – issues do matter to us. If this blog isn’t proof enough of this, look to 17 year old Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head but continued to fight for girls’ rights to education. She is the perfect example that there are many issues in the world that affect teenagers, and that teenagers can make an incredible difference fighting for those causes.

The truth is that we teenagers have an incredible amount of respect for the world around us. It might give us a lot of doubt and stereotypes, but above that it has given us a chance to prove those stereotypes wrong. And I know that’s exactly what our generation will continue to do.

Here’s to teenagers!

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

You make excellents points in regards to how older generations sometimes view our generation. In my opinion, I would not be as engaged and as well informed as I am without social media. Newspapers and newscasts can sometimes present a one-sided perspective on global events – while the internet can help us paint a bigger picture. This appreciation for the ways that technology helps us become informed citizens is shared by many of my peers.

As you mentioned, teens often juggle schoolwork with multiple co-curriculars in addition to the constant pressure to get into a respected post-secondary institution. Although I am a few years away from graduation, I am already feeling the aforementioned pressure. Therefore, I do not find statistics that show 25% of North American teens suffer from an anxiety disorder surprising.

There are also intergenerational shifts in social attitudes that affect how we view issues such as gay marriage, trans+ people and so on. While at a family dinner a few days ago, the topic of gay marriage was brought forward. It was fascinating to see the difference in approach to this topic in relation to the ages of my family members. My grandparents grew up in an era where homosexuality was a taboo that was not discussed; I have grown up in an era where (for the most part) acceptance of other human beings regardless of sexual orientation was taught within the school curriculum.

When I was around ten years old, my parents made it clear to me that whether I was attracted to men or women made no difference to them. I was their child, and they would love me for who I was. As I look back on these conversations, I realize that my ten year old self found this incredibly reassuring.

I am incredibly proud of how far our generation has come not only in relation to our contribution to technological advancements, but how we view others.

Ceanray

Why Hollywood Needs More Hermione Grangers

Dear Sherina,

In previous letters, you and I have discussed the lack of positive female role models available for young women. Current Hollywood films often portray women in ways they believe will appeal to male audiences, while providing the public with female characters who often have little emotional depth or desires beyond landing their man. Luckily, there has been a recent surge in films such as the Oscar-nominated flick Wild, that have female protagonists who are well-rounded and interesting. Unfortunately, a common narrative of many action films involves the handsome, muscular superhero who saves the day and rescues the damsel in distress.

This past weekend while lying in bed with a nasty cold, I was trying to decide which movie to watch. I realized that I hadn’t seen a Harry Potter movie in years – so I chose to watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first installment in the series. As I watched this movie and two others, I made a few observations. For example; there are no one-dimensional female main characters in any of these films. With an assortment of women ranging from sadistic psychopaths to quick witted heroines, J.K. Rowling has proven herself to be able to create a universe in which strong male and female characters coexist.

hermionewand

One of these characters, (and a personal favourite of mine) Hermoine Granger, is not your stereotypical smart girl. She is clever, creates solutions to life-threatening problems under pressure while, simply put, demonstrating that her two best friends (Harry and Ron) wouldn’t survive for a minute without her. Characters like Hermoine are a breath of fresh air in a digital world wherein women aren’t valued for their intellect but rather their ability to look good while half-naked.

J.K. Rowling perfectly sums up the power dynamics in the Harry Potter series in this quote; “What’s interesting about the wizarding world is when you take physical strength out of the equation, a woman can fight just the same as a man can fight. A woman can do magic just as powerfully as a man can do magic.”

Let’s continue to even out the playing field,

Ceanray

Dear Ceanray,

I absolutely adore the Harry Potter series, and I completely agree that JK Rowling did a fantastic job creating strong characters of both genders. Hermione was always my favourite character, and I think a large part of the reason why I liked her so much was that I could relate to her.

I saw myself reflected in her actions – her having read the course books ahead of time, and helping other people with her knowledge (like when she first meets Harry on the train to Hogwarts and uses a spell to fix his glasses). What I love about Hermione is that she was never afraid to stand up for herself. She endured some teasing from her classmates for being so smart, but eventually her classmates learned to respect her because she stood her ground and never stopped being the first to raise her hand or give the answer in class.

hermionebooks

Hermione is an amazing role model for young girls – as is the actress who plays her, Emma Watson. Hollywood is definitely improving in this regard, but I think it still has a long way to go; not just in terms of female role models, but in terms of all kinds of role models.

A few weeks ago when the Oscar nominees were announced people were outraged, and it wasn’t because their favourite movie hadn’t been nominated. It was because the nominees were predominantly white. There is actually a protest planned for this reason.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson – head of the LA Urban Policy Roundtable Group – said, “…the message is very simple: you [Hollywood] don’t reflect America, your industry doesn’t reflect America. Women, Hispanics, African-Americans, people of colour (are) invisible in Hollywood.”

Hollywood needs more Hermione Grangers – more characters who defy stereotypes of all kinds and who are otherwise unrepresented. Maybe we can persuade JK Rowling to write another children’s series so more great role models can be created.

Sherina

Fabletters on Feminism: An Introduction

Dear Ceanray,

I feel like in these past few months, I have become increasingly aware of the inequalities that exist in our society. My newfound awareness of these issues began in English class, where we often have discussions and debates about inequalities, particularly gender inequality.

I have always known that such issues existed, but I never thought much of them. “Feminist” was a word with as little meaning to me as “tax receipt”. The notation that I myself was affected by what was happening was also virtually meaningless to me. But this all changed.

Little by little, my definition of feminism began to colour itself in. It was not at all accurate, though. I used to think that being a feminist was a bad thing – bad in what sense, I do not know.

Discussing issues of gender inequality in my English class made me realize that it was all wrong in my head. Feminism was not a bad thing. It was not hating all men, or denying that you were a women, or any of the other crazy images of it that I had in my head. It is standing up for women’s rights; rights which should be equal to those of men, but are not.

My initial views on feminism were quickly changed, by figures such as Emma Watson and Taylor Swift. My opinion was so easily swayed because I realized that gender inequality did affect me (but not as much as it affected other girls and women). Despite the surge in positive feminist influences, many people still retain a stubborn view on the subject, one which coincides with my original views: that feminism is a bad thing.

I can’t helped but wonder what shaped my initial views on feminism. If we could pinpoint what was spewing out these misguided reasonings for feminism, perhaps we could work to change it, and therefore give the correct impression of the word right from the get-go.

Most likely, it was thanks to media and advertising that I thought feminism was a bad thing. But I think it goes further than that: because there’s no advertisements that directly say the words “feminism is a bad thing”. I think it is more the way media portrays women; and the fact that because the feminist movement wants to change this, it is a bad thing.

Anyone who disagrees with the media is automatically labelled “bad”, and also “different”. The media shows us look we “should” be, and if we do not fit into it then we are different. Bad different. And because more and more, women are realizing that we do not have to fit into the moulds that media has created for us, more and more women are defying stereotypes. It’s hard to defy “bad different”, though. I know that as a young child, I wouldn’t want that phrase to define me. But then again, I wouldn’t want the media’s image of a women to define me, either.

What do you think?

Sherina

Dear Sherina,

Up until recently, I too had a very ill-informed idea of what feminism is and how it is relevant to my life. Like you, I pictured feminists as angry women who hated men, didn’t wear bras and chose not to shave — images that I simply couldn’t relate to.

It was around that time that I was leaving English class when I noticed a small poster in my classroom, with a woman holding up a sign that read “I need feminism because society tells women “don’t get raped”, instead of telling men “don’t rape”.

That statement piqued my interest as to what a broader definition of feminism might include. I read articles online describing “SlutWalks” being organised in cities across Canada. The movement was created after a Toronto police officer suggested to a group of female university students “not to dress like sluts” to avoid being raped. This angered me to the very core of my being. A woman should be able to walk around in a short skirt with her friends without fear of being raped. I would hope that the very suggestion that a woman’s clothing choices might affect her chances of being raped sounds as ridiculous to you as it does to me, Sherina. Tell that to the victims of child rapists, no child “asks” to be raped.

You may be wondering what relevance this has to me. Well, as I got older I began to develop a more “womanly” figure that can sometimes draw unwanted attention. For example, this September as I was walking to a high school football game a group of men rolled down their car window and yelled “NICE TITS” at me before speedily driving away. It was broad daylight, but I was alone and this scared me. My first instinct was to look down and see if I what I was wearing might have somehow provoked such a crude incident. I was wearing a baggy blue hoodie and leggings. The fact that I thought it was somehow my fault that these guys felt it was okay to yell that at me is why I need feminism.

What are your thoughts?

Ceanray