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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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Lifestyle

Going Makeupless To The Office May Be Costing You More Than Just Money

Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.


Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.

Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.

As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.

Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.

So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.

Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.

For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."