On November 1st, 2017, Muslim YouTube phenomenon Dina Tokio premiered her documentary project “#YourAverageMuslim,” a four-part Creators for Change series produced by YouTube. This documentary is a prime example of the meaningful feminist digital activism being undertaken by contemporary Muslim women. Such activism seeks to reframe the discourse around Muslim women by showing that successful, independent and bold Muslim women are not the exception, but the norm.
For centuries, Muslim women have been subject to the Orientalist gaze, which paints Muslim female bodies as exotic, veiled, and oppressed victims in various visual and written depictions. These depictions have largely shaped the experiences of average Muslim women, who must deal with constantly being stereotyped by the public as victims of their culture and religion. These Muslim women have now taken to the online world to fight against these stereotypes. By using online platforms to make documentaries such as #YourAverageMuslim and music videos like “Somewhere in America #Mipsterz” (both of which received millions of views online) these women have been quite successful in extending their perspectives to wider audiences.
#YourAverageMuslim highlights the lives of three Muslim women in Europe – Dalya Mlouk, Emine, and Sofia Buncy. Dalya Mlouk is the world’s first female hijabi power-lifter, who has broken the world record for deadlifting in her age and weight category. German hip-hop dancer Emine dominates Berlin’s underground hip-hop dance world, and is the first hijabi dance teacher in Europe who also owns her own dance school. Sofia Buncy stands out from the other women, in that she doesn’t wear the hijab, but works primarily in an overlooked area of social work, catering to the needs of Muslim women in prisons.
While all these women are doing exceptional work, whether it be individual or community based, the aim of this documentary is not to showcase how exceptional these women are. Rather, its priority is to normalize the idea that your average Muslim woman may come from diverse backgrounds and is successful, multi-talented, and determined to live her life the way she chooses. Western media representations of minority groups play a large role in shaping how the public conceptualizes its notions of such groups. When these conceptualizations are depicted repeatedly, they become normalized and shape the experiences of minority group members. #YourAverageMuslim seeks to disrupt those representations by normalizing an alternate conceptualization that refrains from reducing the complex nature of the Muslim female experience in the West. This project is unique as it is dedicated specifically to showing amazing women who are not breaking any stereotype, but are instead leading #YourAverageMuslim life.
Inaash Islam is a PhD student in Sociology at Virginia Tech. She specializes in the areas of race, culture and identity, and focuses specifically on the Muslim experience in the West.