Conference: Religious Minorities' Self-Representations

Elisabeth Eide

Professor dr. Elisabeth Eide
Department of Journalism and Media Studies

Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (HiOA)

‘From the Margins to the Mainstream: Muslim Women in Norwegian Media’
Decades of research on media and marginalization have demonstrated the need for constant update and discussion of approaches. Marginalization may generally be defined as rendering some (human beings’) experiences as peripheral and irrelevant (Tuchman 1978), at times bordering on de-humanization. Recent reports on gender representation (Eide & Orgeret 2015) show an increased proportion of women in mainstream media. Women and men of minority background are not particularly satisfied with the media approach, though (Eide 2010, 2011). Media coverage of Muslim women in Norway reveal that there has been a development from “symbolic annihilation” (Tuchman 1978, Hagen 1999) to increased visibility and diversity, but also hostility. Politicians and media actors may use veil-wearing women as symbols of ‘the outsider’ Other. This paper leans on a historical outline of gender representation, with particular emphasis on recent media developments.
Hostility/exclusion: A recent FB-update from an extreme right-wing parliamentarian in the final phase of our national elections contained a picture of veiled women outside the Labour party stand with a nasty comment, both of which were later withdrawn after massive critique. The non-inclusionary trend also occurred through debates on belonging and Norwegian-ness occurring after a government-commissioned report on “long-term consequences of increased migration to Norway” (Eide 2017), including a tacit understanding of Norwegian-ness as rather exclusionary. This speaks to a wider European debate of belonging and integration.
Increased diversity/inclusion: In April 2016, ‘The Shameless Girls” made themselves known in Norwegian media. Three young women declared that they would no longer be subject to honour culture and shaming, and more joined. From the outset, they clearly emphasized their diversity, although with roots in countries with a Muslim majority. They share an opposition to strict patriarchal practices, while simultaneously distancing themselves from racism and islamophobia. The women operated as a network, while previously women who ‘broke away’ from ‘their culture’ with some of the same critique, came forward as more vulnerable individuals. They received the prestigious Honorary Free Expression Award in 2017, and the mainstream media coverage was supportive.
Faten and her headscarf: One of the young women, Faten Mahdi Al-Husseini, known for her strong speech against the Daesh (IS) in a demonstration (2014), became subject to a new debate on Muslim women in the public sphere in the fall of 2017. Our national elections were held 11.9.2017, and Faten (who wears a hijab) hosted a series of three TV-programs in NRK (PBS) called “Faten and the elections”. More than 5000 complaints were sent to the NRK council, before the series even started, referring to Faten’s hijab. This resonates with previous Danish media coverage of Asmaa Abdol-Hamid who stood for parliamentary elections wearing a hijab (Andreassen 2010).
The paper tries to place trends in the media coverage of Muslim women, integration and exclusion, within a wider scope of media marginalization; and takes stock of the discursive situation in which specific media debates/events occur, using perspectives from post-colonial studies and feminist critique, such as El-Guindi (1999), Narayan (1997) and Mernissi (2001). Finally it discusses the ‘strategic essentialism’ (Spivak 1988) as media strategy for people facing marginalization and discrimination.