Muslim and Hispanic Women in Literature
Women have been stereotyped and marginalized across the globe and throughout history. Although there have been strides and improvements in the ways women are treated in certain countries, such as the United States, there is still a very wide berth between the way women are perceived and the way men are recognized. As exhibited in the essays “Identity Reduced to a Burka” and “The Myth of the Latin Women,” the marginalization of women transcends nations as well as cultures. Each culture, though sharing a trademark for subjugation of women, has a unique format in terms of women are specifically minimized and marginalized in the culture in which they belong.
The modern world has been connected through technologies. Nations and cultures which were once inaccessible are now open to anyone for an attempt at understanding. In the past, stereotyping of cultures was often the result of simple ignorance. When people were more or less isolated from one another and there was little cultural action, this was more acceptable. However, in the modern moment, there is no excuse for any more ignorance about other cultures. It is too easy to gain information to be forgivably ignorant of a culture with which one wishes to communicate. Yet, even with information and education so easily accessible, people still resort to identification through stereotypes propagated by media.
In their essay, “An Identity Reduced to a Burka,” Laila Al-Marayati and Semeen Issa begin by relating a story about how someone from the Feminist Majority Foundation contacted them to acquire a burka. The photographer who wanted the hairpiece was intending to use it to show how women were struggling during the time of the Taliban. “She didn’t understand that her assumption was the equivalent of assuming that every Latino has a Mexican sombrero in their closet” (1). The photographer, being a person who exists outside of the culture, can only understand the Muslim world through the stereotypes they know beforehand. Though their intentions are pure, they still show themselves to be ignorant by assuming that every person living in this part of the world is similar to the point of assimilation. The world perception of the Muslim culture has been determined not by the actual population but by the media portrayals of certain individuals who do happen to wear traditional garb. What the authors are trying to explain to the readers of the article is that although women in the Muslim culture have obstacles because of religion or because of the patriarchal nature of their community, there are women who are independent and intelligent and strong. “Given the opportunity, Muslim women, like women everywhere, will become educated, pursue careers, strive to do what is best for their families and contribute positively according to their abilities” (2). Whether a woman chooses to wear a burka or not is not emblematic of her indoctrination into the culture, but rather a symbol of her choice to either embrace or reject the traditional garb.
Another heavily stereotyped culture is that of Latina women. Stereotypes say they are hot-tempered and usually of lower class. Again, the Mexican and Spanish cultures are predominantly patriarchal and the stereotype Latin woman is primarily a mother (usually to a large brood of children) and wife. Her focus on activities outside of the home is secondary to this stereotypical position. For the author of “The Myth of the Latin Woman,” she has been haunted by the media-portrayed versions of Puerto Rican women for her entire life. “I resented the stereotype that my Hispanic appearance called forth from many people I met” (1). Although she is well-educated, a chance encounter with a drunken Irishmen reminds her that no matter how many degrees she has earned, there is a part of her that will always be associated with the stereotypes of Puerto Rican women. In the piece, the author lists other similar events where her ethnicity dictated how she was treated, at one time being accosted with filthy lyrics in a hotel and another time being assumed to be a waitress at an event where she was a speaker. The essay is a first-hand account of the nature of cultural ignorance and how it can cause frustration and doubt in the abilities of talented individuals who should not be forced to overcome the ignorance of others.
Both pieces talk about cultural ignorance that stymies not only minorities but women as a gender. Women on the whole are perceived as the weaker sex by the population at large, at least the male members of that population. The more patriarchal the society, the more difficult it is for a woman to obtain a position of power and autonomy in that culture. What these three women truly prove is that the stereotypes have no basis in a world where understanding and information is so easily accessed. No one has an excuse for ignorance in the modern world.
Al-Marayati, Laila and Semeen Issa. “An Identity Reduced to a Burka.” Women’s Muslim
Cofer, Judith Ortiz. “The Myth of the Latin Woman.”
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