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This New Comedy Aims To Challenge Muslim Women's Representation In The Media

Culture

With a title like “Muslim Girls DTF," it's hard not to click the link to find out more -- hoping it's not some sick fetish video of course...


And praise be to Allah, it definitely isn't porn.

It's better.

You see, pornography is simply a depiction of erotic behaviors intended to stir arousal. This web series goes way deeper (pun intended) with “DTF" cleverly standing for “Discuss Their Faith." And that's way more intimate than cheap erotica filmed in a basement.

As a Muslim woman myself, it sometimes feels like everyone else has an opinion about us -- often without even having had the chance to hear from us. Heck, there's even a Guide to Dating a Muslim Girl... written by a non-Muslim! Wtf?

And that's where Muslim Girls DTF comes in. This provocative new web series was serendipitously helmed after creators and producers Aizzah Fatima and Atheer Yacoub met on Twitter when Aizzah shared this frustration:

“Dear white writers and others too, you know who you are. Stop writing Muslim female characters with or without hijab named Fatima. We have other names too in the Muslim world, I promise."

After that, many Muslim women comics and comedy writers started tagging each other and responding, bonding over how they were being portrayed without being a part of the conversation. And once they realized that a good amount of them were in New York City, they decided to get together to create content along with writers Rokhsane Zadeh and Romaissaa Benzizoune, and Muslim DP Jude Chehab.

Atheer, stand-up comedian and host of The No Fly List Podcast (who just released a half hour special on Comedy Central Arabia) shares that, “In a world of mostly straight white men doing comedy, I wanted to collaborate with other funny Muslim women who have things to say and are maybe also disappointing their parents with their career choices…"

Aizzah, who also penned the hit award-winning one woman play Dirty Paki Lingerie (which the Wall Street Journal called a play that “Breaks Down Stereotypes of Muslim Women in America") came at it from a different angle. “I grew up being the haram police in a very small town in Mississippi. With this show I wanted to rectify that by showcasing all the diverse female voices that exist within my community on important issues women deal with all the time such as nose jobs, body hair, and dick size. And I'm a selfish bastard who wanted to create more work for myself."

The bite-sized segments they've created do just that. In a series of quick cuts that highlight the upbeat banter you'd only expect behind closed doors, it finally asks a fierce and funny group of ladies what they have to say about conversations happening around them in the media, while weighing in on issues from daily life.

And their answers are hilarious:

“The way Muslims are portrayed in media is shit." “My goal was to be the first Muslim president of the United States. But you know, Barack Obama beat me to it." “I mean, what's Tinder really? It's an arrangement [marriage]!"

But also painstakingly true:

“I was always shoved into a category… I was always just the 'Muslim girl' or the 'Arabic girl.' I was never just me."

While these women fall under the collective identity of Muslimhood, each member of the diverse group has an authentic opinion which feels completely unique to them. It's definitely not a one-size-fits-all religion, and they don't let you forget that.

When asked why she gravitated towards this project, Rokhsane Zadeh commented on how awful it felt to be asked to wear a hijab in auditions, and the special feeling she had when this was understood by her peers. “We all really fight to be here. People like us are rarely up there on screen, so all these women have a lot to overcome to get there. It was amazing to be with women who all felt it and knew how important this was."

Cast member Nina Kharoufeh (SiriusXM) comments that, “This project is soooo important! It's crucial that we show Muslim women are just like everyone else. We shop, drink coffee, eat sushi. We are basic just like the rest of America!"

The series is produced by Adam Yeremian (Children of the Mountain, Hurricane Bianca, Are You Glad I'm Here) through US based production company, ProMedia NYC, with Fatima and Yacoub also producing. The series cast includes all funny Muslim ladies: Romaissaa Benzizoune (Freelance Writer), Negin Farsad (Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, NPR), Aizzah Fatima (High Maintenance, HBO), Nina Kharoufeh (SiriusXM), Nidia P. Manzoor (Shugs & Fats, Gotham award), Atheer Yacoub (Comedy Central Arabia), Rokhsane Zadeh (Freeland Writer), Maysoon Zayid (Sanctuary,TNT). The first season also had a diverse crew, and was shot by Muslim female cinematographer, Jude Chehab.

And after watching the pilot webisode, all I can say is: FINALLY.

It's about time that we have an accurate and authentic representation of issues the sisterhood faces -- beyond the nominal questions and surface level coverage we usually get.

In a world saturated with negative opinions, stereotypes, and blatant misunderstandings of who Muslim women are and what they represent, this webseries is a refreshingly authentic portrayal of the realities we face.

What I also appreciate - and don't take this lightly - is how brave these women are for putting themselves out there. It is not easy, especially being judged by society on both sides, ready to pounce at every edgy word you say. Take it from me.

I'm genuinely thrilled from what I've seen so far, and I'm looking forward to the topics they'll cover throughout the season like: body hair, pork, sex talk (or lack thereof), stereotypes, dumb questions people ask, and dating!

There's one thing for sure -- these DTF Muslims will keep you on your toes. Which is just what this world needs. Let's keep that in the conversation moving forward.

You can catch the series on YouTube and social media today (which just so happens to be International Muslim Women's Day!)

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Business

My Untold Story Of Inventing the Sports Bra And How it Changed the World (And Me)

Following are excerpts from "Unleash the Girls, The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How It Changed the World (And Me)" By Lisa Z. Lindahl


There is an idea that has popped up everywhere from Chaos Theory to Science Fiction and New Age memes known popularly as the "Butterfly Effect." Simply put, it is the notion that one very small thing—the movement of a butterfly's wing say, or the ripple in a lake caused by a pebble being thrown into it—can cause tremendous effect far away: the butterfly's wing a tornado, the ripple a large wave on a distant shore. Cause and effect, does it have limits? The field of physics is telling us that it takes only observation to bring a thing into being. We cannot consider these areas of investigation and not acknowledge that everything—everything—is in relationship in some way or another with everything else.

So, it is evident to me that commerce of any kind is, also, just about relationships. It all boils down, on every level to this simplicity. While we usually think of relationships as occurring between people—it is far more than that.

I used to teach a course in entrepreneurship specifically for women in The Women's Small Business Program at Trinity College in Burlington, Vermont. I made this concept of relationship and its importance central in how I taught the marketing thought process. I would stress that for a product or service to be successful, it had to meet a perceived need. There is a need, and it wants to be met; or it may be thought of as a problem to be solved. Or there may be an existing solution that is less than adequate.

For example: In my universe as a runner there already were a plethora of bras available, but they were inadequate for my purpose. The relationship between my breasts, my running body, and my bra was creating discomfort and distraction. A new solution had to be found, the relationship occurring when all these things came together had to be fixed. Utilizing this point of view, one sees a set of issues that need to be addressed—they are in relationship with each other and their environment in a way that needs to be changed, adjusted.

Nowhere is this viewpoint truer than in business, as we enter into more and more relationships with people to address all the needs of the organization. Whether designing a product or a service or communicating with others about it—we are in relationship. And meanwhile, how about maintaining a healthy relationship with ourselves? All the issues we know about stress in the workplace can boil down to an internal balancing act around our relationships: to the work itself, to those we work with, to home life, friends and lovers. So quickly those ripples can become waves.

Because Jogbra was growing so quickly, relationships were being discovered, created, ending, expanding and changing at a pace that makes my head spin to recall. And truly challenged my spirit. Not to mention how I handled dealing with my seizure disorder.

"My Lifelong Partner"

Let me tell you a bit about my old friend, Epilepsy. Having Epilepsy does not make any sort of money-making endeavor easy or reliable, yet it is my other "partner" in life. Husbands and business partners have come and gone, but Epilepsy has always been with me. It was my first experience of having a "shadow teacher."

While a child who isn't feeling she has power over her world may have a tantrum, as we grow older, most of us find other more subtle ways to express our powerfulness or powerlessness. We adapt, learn coping mechanisms, how to persuade, manipulate, or capitulate when necessary. These tools, these learned adaptations, give a sense of control. They make us feel more in charge of our destiny. As a result, our maturing self generally feels indestructible, immortal. Life is a long, golden road of futures for the young.

This was not the case for me. I learned very early on when I started having seizures that I was not fully in charge of the world, my world, specifically of my body. There are many different types of epileptic seizures. Often a person with the illness may have more than one type. That has been the case for me. I was diagnosed with Epilepsy—with a seizure type now referred to as "Absence seizures"—when I was four years old. I have seen neurologists and taken medications ever since. As often happens, the condition worsened when I entered puberty and I started having convulsions as well—what most people think of when they think of epileptic seizures. The clinical name is generalized "Tonic-clonic" seizures.

In such a seizure the entire brain is involved, rather like an electrical circuit that has gone out as a result of a power surge. I lose consciousness, my whole body becomes rigid, the muscles start jerking uncontrollably, and I fall. Tonic-clonic seizures, also known as "grand mal" seizures, may or may not be preceded by an aura, a type of perceptual disturbance, which for me can act as a warning of what is coming. The seizure usually only lasts for a few minutes, but I feel its draining effects for a day or two afterwards. Although I would prefer to sleep all day after such a physically and emotionally taxing event, I have often just gotten up off the floor and, within hours, gone back to work. It was necessary sometimes, though definitely not medically advised. I'm fond of saying that having a grand mal seizure is rather like being struck by a Mack truck and living to tell the tale.

Having Epilepsy has forced me to be dependent on others throughout my life. While we are all dependent upon others to some degree—independent, interdependent, dependent—in my case a deep level of dependency was decreed and ingrained very early on. This enforced dependency did not sit well with my native self. I bucked and rebelled. At the same time, a part of me also feared the next fall, the next post-convulsive fugue. And so I recognized, I acquiesced to the need to depend on others.

The silver lining of having Epilepsy is that it has introduced me to and taught me a bit about the nature of being powerless—and experiencing betrayal. I could not trust that my body would always operate as it should. Routinely, it suddenly quits. I experience this as betrayal by my brain and body. It results in my complete powerlessness throughout the convulsion. Not to mention an inconvenient interruption of any activities or plans I might have made.

Hence, I am the recipient of two important life lessons—and I was blessed to have this very specific and graphic experience at a young age. It made me observant and reflective, giving me the opportunity to consider what/where/who "I" was. I knew I was not "just" my body, or even my brain.

So, who or what did that leave? Who, what am I? Much has been written about trauma, and about near-death experiences, both of which seizures have been classified or described as. I won't delve into that here except to say that experiencing recurrent seizures and the attendant altered states of consciousness that sometimes accompany an episode (the euphemism for a seizure) changes one. It deeply affects you. It is both illuminating and frightening. It opens you up in some ways and can close you way down in others. For me it made it easy to consider the possibility of other ways to perceive, of other realms. And as an adult I became interested in quantum physics, where Science is pushing and challenging our long-held perceptual assumptions. Me, who was poor in math and disinterested in Science while in school! So if not merely body and brain, who am I? Spirit. And with Epilepsy's tutelage, I was encouraged to question, seek, try to understand what lies beyond.

Living with Epilepsy has also given me great strength. In realizing the futile nature of trying to have "power over" Epilepsy, I developed a deep well of "power within"—that inner strength that comes in the acceptance of that which one cannot change—and looking beyond it.

Through my experience building the business of Jogbra with the unique lens afforded me by my Epilepsy partner, I came to understand more fully the nature of power and what it means to be truly powerful.

Specifically, that having power and exercising it is not simply a manifestation of the ego. It need not be "power-tripping." It is how I wield my power that matters, making the all-important distinction between creating a situation of power over, power with, or empowering and having and creating strength in oneself and others.

Being powerful is a big responsibility.

To put all this another way: do I choose to create situations in which I am able to wield power over others? Or do I choose to empower others, sharing my strengths with them, while nurturing their strengths as well? The first is not true power. It is control. The second I believe to be the essence of true and positive power: strength. And integral to creating a more harmonious world, oh by the way.

While this may be apparent, even basic to others, it was an "aha!" moment for me. Too often in the years ahead I would give away my power and question my own strengths,. Time and again, however, my inner strength, my shadow teacher's gift, helped me survive and thrive until I could take responsibility for and embrace more fully my own power.

© Lisa Z. Lindahl 2019