by Atter Kalsi
Photo by rawpixel c/o Unsplash
"Why does the visible matter so much in this world? Why does everything seem to come down to what we see, to what is skin-deep, to what is on the surface? No matter what anti-racist science says, and it currently says we are all the same, from the same common ancestor ‘out of Africa’, young black people in Britain, those marked by physical, phenotypical, external, visible difference- those with dark skin, curly hair, almond eyes, full lips, proud noses- do not enjoy the same opportunities as young white people" (Mirza, 2009, p.44).
The ever looming shift towards right-wing politics entering the mainstream, continues to impact the lives of minority communities. Boris Johnson’s ‘letterbox’ slur is just one of the most recent ways in which the media fuels stereotypes and the idiots who are willing to stand behind their prejudices without question. This dangerous alliance between the media and right-wing politicians is having a serious impact on the way Muslim women are affected in their daily lives.
In the context of the education system, wider stereotypes in the public trickle down causing impact in schools and classrooms. Here we find Muslim girls missing from important conversations around race and education (invisible) yet over-represented as stereotypes when they do appear (hyper-visible). This creates a racist-sexist dichotomy that these girls face in schools. On the one hand, patriarchy silences women; failing to centre their voices and experiences. On the other, racism creates stereotypes; reducing BME girls to our own expectations and beliefs. bell hooks describes this experience as being ‘dually victimized by racist and sexist oppressions’ (1981); the impact of this racist-sexist dichotomy and how these young girls show resistance is important to note.
Intersectionality can be used as a useful tool to analyse this racist-sexist dichotomy Muslim girls find themselves in. Kimberle Crenshaw (1995) coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe the experience of multiple oppressions. For example, in reference to the American Black woman, Patricia Collins (2000) claims that this social group lives ‘in a different world from that of people who are not Black and female…U.S Black Women encounter a distinctive set of social practises that accompany our particular history within a unique matrix of domination characterized by intersecting oppressions…’ (p.23). In the case of Muslim girls at school, the increase in Islamaphobia and right-wing rhetoric in mainstream media, causes a culture-specific space in which young female Muslim students experience the cross-section of invisibility and hyper-visibility in schools.
In school policy surrounding Islam and radicalisation, Muslim girls are simultaneously invisible and hyper-visible in the way they appear and disappear from these conversations. After conducting research, Mirza (2015) found that there was a clear preoccupation with Muslim boys rather than girls in the frank and open discussion she had with national policy makers. A ‘gender perspective’ was perceived as related only to ‘girls’, implying that targeted measures for boys are not gendered, but reflect a normative position (p.40). Shain (2003) further argues that ‘youth cultural studies took young men’s experiences as the universal norm’ (p.30). She also suggests that after the London bombings the political conversations surrounding multiculturalism shifted to discussing the ‘extent to which Muslims can integrate into a ‘British way of life’. These discussions however were hyper-focused around Muslim men; this had an impact on the representations of Muslim women. She argues that since ‘femininity is defined in relation to masculinity, the more dangerous, volatile, and aggressive Asian and Muslim men and boys appear to be, the more passive, controlled and vulnerable Asian and Muslim girls and women are assumed to be' (Shain, 2010, p.83).
This use of stereotypes is the way in which Muslim women and girls have become hyper-visible in post-7/7 discourse. They are ‘overwhelmingly constructed as pathological victims of their familial cultural and religious practises. While ‘gender equality’ is integral to mainstream school policy and schools must comply with legislative monitoring of pupil’s attainment, where Muslim communities are concerned, the policies aimed at girls are almost always culturally oriented’ (Mirza, 2015, p.40). Teacher’s narratives of the headscarf (hijab) is a way in which Muslim girls are made hyper-visible in education. Mirza (2015) finds that ‘Muslim young women are subject to teachers’ expectations about what it means to be a ‘true’ and ‘good’ Muslim girl, which is particularly manifested through bodily regulation and dress’ (p.41). She suggests that White teachers reluctantly accept the wearing of the headscarf as a given in a multicultural school context yet young Muslim women still ‘recounted many negative experiences linked to wearing religious dress’. Teachers felt that the headscarf was an imposed religious necessity, a burden, behind which young Muslim girls ‘hide their true self’ (Mirza, 2015, p.42).
Whether it’s policing how they should wear it, or having an opinion on why they should or shouldn’t wear it- the hyper-focus on what Muslim girls wear creates a situation of hyper-visibility through use of the hijab as a way to stereotype and confine Muslim girls to a narrative of being oppressed, docile and not in control of their own bodies.
In spite of being invisible in spaces where they need attention and hyper-visible through negative stereotypes Muslim girls defy the notions that they lack agency, determination and have low self-esteem by: doing well! An all girls Muslim school in Bolton was one of the only non-London schools to reach the top of the GCSE league tables! ‘When judged alongside other schools where at least 30% of students are from disadvantaged backgrounds, it’s third in the country for GCSE performance. This makes [Bolton Muslim Girls’ School] one of the only non-London schools to break the capital’s stranglehold on the top league table spots’ (Ratcliffe, 2016).
Furthermore, Muslim girls are claiming their spaces in higher education. In a research paper by Brown and Saeed (2015) they find that despite racist ‘radicalization’ policies implemented at universities, female Muslim students are ‘practicing their faith and participating in such ‘glocal’ politics and challenge Islamaphobia. While ‘recent student politics tend to include protests, direct action or formal forms of campaigning the activism that the participants of this study employ is more usually at the individual level through the medium of dialogue. This approach is also reflected in Islamic societies where there is a continuous insistence on the medium of dialogue to overcome misunderstanding and holding Islamic Awareness weeks has become a capstone event of this approach’ (Brown and Saeed, 2014).
Also in higher education, ‘more young Muslim women have been gaining degrees at British universities than Muslim men, even though they have been under-represented for decades’ (Doward, 2016). Again, challenging the notion Muslim girls are docile and lack agency.
Racism and Sexism are two oppressive forces that come together simultaneously and oppress Muslim women and girls, rendering them invisible and hyper-visible in the education system. Invisibility occurs when Muslim girls are excluded from conversations about girls in general. Hyper-visibility also occurs when teachers perceive and treat their female Muslim students differently and their uniforms and ultimately their bodies are policed.
If an intersectional approach to education policy is taken- that considers and acknowledges that racism and sexism oppresses Muslim girls simultaneously, that ultimately it gives them an experience in education different to the experiences other students in general, then perhaps they would not have to navigate an education system in which they clearly do well and want to do well but it renders then invisible and hyper-visible at the same time. Perhaps.
This section will not be visible in live published website. Below are your current settings:
Current Number Of Columns are = 1
Expand Posts Area =
Gap/Space Between Posts = 7px
Blog Post Style = card
Use of custom card colors instead of default colors = 1
Blog Post Card Background Color = current color
Blog Post Card Shadow Color = current color
Blog Post Card Border Color = current color
Publish the website and visit your blog page to see the results