United Arab Emirates UniversityChallenging stereotypes and championing under-represented voices

Challenging stereotypes and championing under-represented voices

Minority Women and Western Media

Researchers at United Arab Emirates University are providing valuable insight into media bias and the misrepresentation of minority women

Researchers have been exploring the under-representation of women and minorities in Western mainstream media for some time. But the breadth and diversity of minority experiences are less understood, and too often ignored.

Maha Bashri and Sameera Ahmed, two associate professors in the United Arab Emirates University’s (UAEU) department of media and creative industries, are working to address this imbalance. 

Their co-edited book, Minority Women and the Western Media: Challenging Representations and Articulating New Voices, is an anthology of seven chapters, each studying how a particular group is portrayed in the public eye. The volume is part of the Communicating Gender series by US-based publisher Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield. 

“Historically, and still today, minority communities don't trust the mainstream media to some degree because they are fed up of being misquoted or misrepresented,” explains Dr Ahmed. “Our research delves into that, but we also wanted to create a space to ask what representation means today.”

Drs Bashri and Ahmed put out a call for contributions with the aim of including the most diverse range of global experiences possible – exploring how women are misrepresented on account of their race, socioeconomic status and religion, as well as their physical ability, politics and other invisible differences.

One chapter, for example, analyses the way a woman with a stutter is portrayed on television, while another explores the relationship between black women’s hair and identity. 

“We wanted to show the intersection of different or overlapping identities, and what we received did challenge our definition of representation,” says Dr Ahmed.

The motivation behind the book is strongly aligned with UAEU’s commitment to meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals – and the researchers hope the book can be “a starting point” for further conversations on diversity and inclusion.

“You cannot have gender equality if you do not address race, religion, sexual orientation and all the other parts of one’s identity,” says Dr Bashri. “I think that our book really speaks to that because there’s a lot of intersections in these identities.”

Their research draws on their own experiences, Dr Bashri adds: “With Muslim women, for example, there’s a tendency for us to be represented as a one-size-fits-all stereotype that’s very narrow.”

Despite the diversity of the experiences outlined, the chapters share some common themes. “The pattern we could see across the board was that all these women had a lack of agency,” Dr Bashri explains. “When you’re a minority, no matter your skin colour or religion, whatever your background…you're not the one who has the power, and therefore your representation is in the hands of other people.” 

It was therefore important to allow the featured groups to detail their experiences in their own words. “Just the same way I wouldn't expect anyone else to speak for me, it's about having that ability to express and voice your opinion on your own terms,” says Dr Ahmed.

Minority Women and the Western Media is a stark reminder of the discrimination faced by women across the globe. Dr Bashri points to the fact that while minority women’s experiences might be different across the globe, a sense of solidarity and catalyst for change emerges when they are examined through volumes such as Minority Women and the Western Media.

Dr Ahmed also sees some positive changes worth celebrating – particularly in the way minorities are critically engaging with the media. “We are also seeing allyship from those different groups coming together on account of the discord…It’s slow progress, but there are definitely pockets of light,” she concludes.

Read Minority Women and the Western Media: Challenging Representations and Articulating New Voices.

Find out more about UAEU’s department of media and creative industries.

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