Women of Faith in the Media - Women of Faith Panel Series

Thu, 09 Dec 2021 18:00 in Discussion Forums

Venue: Online
Date: Thursday, 9th December 2021
Time: 18:00-19:30

Speakers

  • Chine Mcdonald, Head of community fundraising & public engagement, Christian Aid
  • Dr Anna Piela, Scholar of gender and Islam, Northwestern University
  • Rehena Harilall, Psychologist, coach and management consultant
  • Manpreet Sachdeva, Output Producer, Sky News
  • Hannah Lowe, Research Fellow, Dialogue Society


Abstract

The final panel discussion of the series on “Women of Faith in the Media” will take place at 6pm on 9th December and will feature panellists in conversation around the experiences of women from faith backgrounds and none working within the media, extending discussions from previous panels to explore the narratives around women of faith that exist within the media and in the public realm more broadly. Indeed, the social climate of the UK is heavily affected by the predominant media stories that surround certain groups, including women from faith backgrounds. This panel discussion, therefore, aims to explore how women of faith are portrayed in the media and how far this impacts women of faith’s role in their local communities and their workplaces. We will explore the underlying narratives that impact how women of faith are seen within society and how this impacts ongoing dialogue between women of faith and those around them.

Highlights

Chine McDonald

Chine began by reflecting on several of the fictional portrayals of Christian women found in popular culture and the media such as Dot Cotton from East Enders and The Vicar of Dibley. Chine then compares these two characters, describing one as a stereotypical depiction of a British Christian women and the other as a more controversial depiction of an Anglican vicar. Chine goes on to state that these two depictions of Christian women are not very dissimilar from depictions of women in the media, with all women coming up against many of the same barriers or stereotypes. For example, a focus on appearance, or accepted behaviour. Chine highlights that in many ways women of faith in the media are seen as representing every person of their gender, therefore what one woman of faith does in the media is seen to be a reflection of all women. This presents a challenge for women in the way that they present themselves, should women of faith wear the uniform of their faith when in the media?

Secondly, Chine highlights intersectionality within the experiences of and representation of women of faith. She states that a black, disabled or gay woman of faith has additional challenges to overcome when in the media compared to a white, able-bodied, straight woman of faith. Black Christian women are often presented in the media as angry, scary, domineering, and over-sexualised while at the same time being undesirable. Chine argues that black women are the losers of white supremacy and patriarchy and that this is often played out on our screens. A lack of positive role models that are black women of faith in the media encourages black religious women to search for acceptance elsewhere. Chine then highlights this as part of her motivation for the work that she does in media and broadcasting, stating that she does not separate her authentic self from her radio or TV self, attempting to present an authentic representation of a Christian woman. To conclude, Chine highlights that women in the media “cannot escape their bodies”, mentioning the example of pregnancy sickness creating a fear of recording live for the BBC. Chine states that there will always be physical challenges that women face related to their bodies or their health that men don’t have to experience. Reflecting these unique challenges that all women face, and those specific to black women of faith, Chine aims to dethrone white supremacy and patriarchy within the church by proving that black women of faith are just as able to represent God as white middle-aged men.

Dr Anna Piela

Dr Piela begins by acknowledging that representations of women of faith in the media are always classed and racialised, with different religions being afforded different power differentials in the way that they are represented. Therefore, different displays of religiosity are welcomed differently in the media. Dr Piela demonstrates this by showing headlines about women from different faiths, highlighting the particularly negative representation of women wearing the niqab. Dr Piela states that women who wear the niqab, and Muslim women more broadly, are often spoken about in the media rather than given a voice themselves. Dr Piela describes the difficulty in finding articles about wearing the niqab written by women who wear who wear the niqab themselves and explains that in much of the media wearing the niqab is described not as a religious practice but as a culturally enforced practice. In Dr Piela’s research all her participants saw it as a religious practice, and these women were often using secular language of rights, freedom, and feminism to engage different arguments and discuss their ability to choose the way they dress their bodies. Dr Piela then moves on to highlight that the rarity in women who wear the niqab being invited to share their perspective in mainstream media, has resulted in women becoming very adept at using social media and other alternative media outlets as a platform for their voices. Paradoxically, the pandemic in which mask-wearing became mandatory shed light on the hypocrisy in countries where the niqab has been outlawed. Social media became a tool for highlighting this hypocrisy.

Dr Piela concludes, by speaking on the most extreme impacts of media representation that includes violence and harassment in public, and particularly in airports.

Rehena Harilall

Rehena begins by highlighting the differences in the way that different religions are represented in the media, specifically she exemplifies the largely positive representation of Buddhism compared to the vilification of Islam in the media. Emphasising that this positive representation is not always accurate or reflecting the original intent of Buddhist ethics, Rehena states that the media represents Buddhism as peace-loving, synonymous with meditation and a wise teacher. Rehena argues that this depiction detracts from the current erasure of women from monastic communities and is in stark contradiction of the Buddha’s notion of inclusion. She states that Buddhism as represented in the media perpetuates the dominant narrative of white supremacy, which is endemic in our global institutions and reinforced by the media. We have a culture where whiteness and white bodies are the norm and all others deviant from that are seen as to be used to the benefit of whiteness. Buddhism viewed through this history of control and power evolves and we see in the media and in social media the study, scholarship, practice, leadership, and teachers of Buddhism are predominantly white despite being a minority of practitioners globally. In particular, the white women is portrayed in the forefront, while traditional figureheads that are predominantly Asian and male remain in the background. Rehena highlights, using yoga as an example, that Buddhist practice has shifted from traditional ethical application to globalised mindfulness and related practices that are commoditized as wellbeing practices. Rehena describes the image of a slim white, middle-class women practices yoga that is most prevalent in the media. Therefore, on a global level, Buddhism becomes visualised alongside whiteness and in accordance with a white saviour narrative. Rehena highlights that yet again the BIPOC women remain in service to the white body organisation.

Rehena concludes by stating the importance that each of us plays in our day-to-day lives in not perpetuating the narrative of white supremacy.

Manpreet Kaur

Manpreet begins by highlighting the lack of Sikh representation, particularly of women, in the media. Manpreet states that greater voice needs to be given to Sikh women and indeed women of different minority groups as often the opportunity to write on or cover a topic that concerns Sikh’s is not given to a Sikh individual, leading to inaccurate representation. Manpreet explains that in her job as output producer for Sky News, if an issue arises that concerns the Sikh community, she is the person in her workplace that people look to, to hear her point of view as she is the only Sikh representative in her workplace. Taking pride in her role representing her community in her workplace, Manpreet highlights that the Sikh community, particularly Sikh women should become more visible in the media. Manpreet moves on to highlight the two main aspects of Sikhism that are represented in the media and are most well-known. This is the importance of equality in the Sikh religion, and secondly Langar the free community kitchen provided by every Sikh place of worship. Manpreet explains the importance of being able to see yourself in the media, and how growing up she was unable to see anyone who looked like her, both in terms of race and religion. Furthermore, the way religion is spoken about in the media can often be through making fun of religions and Manpreet has experienced this with the way Sikhism has been portrayed by comedians. Manpreet concludes by emphasising the importance of being a positive representation of her religion and the significance in individuals in the media being positive representations for religion, and more specifically of religious women.

About Women of Faith Series

Dialogue Society is pleased to announce a new online panel series on “Women of Faith” that aims to highlight the experiences, challenges, and contributions of women from different faith backgrounds in varying spheres of society. Following on from our previous panel series on “Women’s Empowerment” that inspired our recent policy paper “Supporting Gender Equality: Examples from Politics, Business, and Academia in the UK”, which was presented at the UN Commission on the Status of Women. The Women of Faith series extends our existing work on gender equality more broadly, to focus on a particular, often-overlooked group of women.

The series has three panels, each one focusing on a particular theme: “Women of Faith in Community", “Women of Faith in Public Service’, and “Women of Faith in the Media’. The panel series aims to explore the experiences, challenges, and contributions of these women in different areas of life whilst also extending our gaze to examine the perceptions of women from all faiths and none within the public realm and the media.

The panel series will then inform a policy paper that will unpack the themes from each panel discussion and accumulate ideas and arguments discussed into policy recommendations.