Love, Life Stories

I am your stereotypical Muslim woman

It’s unfair that I feel the need to act like someone I'm not, just to change people’s minds about Muslims.

I’m not a bada$$ Muslim woman.*

I don’t own a pair of Ray Bans, a leather jacket, or red lipstick. I don’t have an opinion about everything, I can’t immediately come up with feisty comebacks to Islamophobes, and I have never used the word “fierce” except to describe the actions of a demonic cat I saw attack a group of street dogs in Cairo once.

Actually, I’m quite reserved, mellow, and flexible in accommodating other people’s needs. I’m also a great listener and fantastic at taking orders (I would make a great Chief of Staff). Essentially, I’m the opposite of the quintessential bada$$ that we’ve created and fit more the quiet, shy Muslim woman stereotype that’s been perpetuated.

[bctt tweet=”After the night was over, I don’t know if I changed his mind about Muslim women.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I am ultra-conscious of my unfortunate, coincidental personality when my husband and I go to dinner parties with people I’m meeting for the first time. My husband is an extrovert — he loves meeting new people, talking to strangers, joking with them (which I suppose breaks the Muslim male stereotype of a serious, brooding bearded man plotting his next terrorist attack). So when we were invited to a dinner party at one of his colleague’s homes, I knew I would have to speak up. I couldn’t be the hijab-ed, reserved wife, forbidden to speak in public, standing by her husband master all night, nodding in agreement with everything he says.

[bctt tweet=”I was tired of feeling the need to be someone I wasn’t.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I had to break the stereotype I embodied. I thought about how I could be the only Muslim woman these people might ever interact with. Here was my chance, three and a half ample hours, to cleanse their minds of everything they may have heard from FOX, CNN — heck, MSNBC. This was their chance to meet a loud, opinionated, hilarious Muslim woman who would tell the joke of the night and who was going to put the white males in their place when they become microaggressive — and then they would respect her for it, and they would stop bombing Afghanistan and Yemen.

But I was tired of feeling the need to be someone I wasn’t. Besides, I didn’t have any hilarious jokes on hand and I hadn’t heard anyone say something microaggressive yet. So I let my husband lead the dinner conversation. In fact, because seats at the main dining table were scarce, I eagerly volunteered to sit in the corner of the dining room with another guest. Much more comfortable with one on one conversation, I asked him how he liked medical school so far. He asked me about my aspirations as a recent English graduate. We talked about Anne of Green Gables and our stances on book banning in American public schools.

[bctt tweet=”I can’t immediately come up with feisty comebacks to Islamophobes.” username=”wearethetempest”]

It’s unfair that I felt the need to act like someone I wasn’t just to change people’s minds about Muslims. When we try to prove that we are indeed bada$$ Muslim women, so different than anything they thought we could be, we’re not doing anything revolutionary. We’re being reactionary. When we try to avoid stereotypes, to show we aren’t the caricatures Orientalists, Islamophobes, and bigots created, we begin defining ourselves in their language. It’s a destitute, limited language of discrimination and marginalization and othering.

After the night was over, I don’t know if I changed his mind about Muslim women (because that’s a topic to have an opinion about). I don’t even know what he initially thought about Muslim women. We just talked about our interests, our career pursuits, and the moist texture of the dinner’s cornbread.


*I’m even hesitant about swearing in public forums.