by Guest Contributor Melinda, originally posted on Muslimah Media Watch
Last month we wrote about the introduction of a Muslim character on the popular American soap opera As the World Turns. Ameera Ali Aziz, arrived freshly from Iraq, faced deportation unless she married Noah, who was already in a relationship with boyfriend Luke. In the episodes since the wedding, the plot has thickened as the difficulty of maintaining a marriage of convenience has set in. Additionally, Ameera’s gone through a few changes.
The most immediately noticeable is her dress. Ameera arrived on the screen dressed in the standard under-chin hijab, no hair showing. Post-marriage she appeared to have started experimenting, trying out the style of hijab that tied in the back, leaving her earlobes bare. From there she went to leaving off the hijab altogether in front of her marriage-of-convenience husband, eliciting a “Your hair is so beautiful” comment. Now she’s settled into covering her in the Southwest Asian style — a scarf tossed loosely over her head, letting the front of her head (and hair!) show.
I’m not sure what the show’s writers or costume directors intended in this change. Perhaps they noticed what Noah did — that actor Tala Ashe does have pretty hair and perhaps they should capitalize on her looks. Quite possibly it’s part of an “Americanization” process the character is undergoing. Since, of course, American women don’t wear hijab. Immigrants might, but after awhile, they’ll see the American light and take it off.* Ameera provides no stated explanation, but the change reflects the idea that a fully covering hijab isn’t really compatible with being an American, as she is becoming.
At the same time, she seems more confident. That doesn’t mean the other characters abandon the patronizing comments and tones of voice, but Ameera has become less likely to put up with it. Trying to engage a discussion, Luke cajoles Ameera, “Come on. Let’s sit. Let’s talk.” She’s having none of it. “Just let me go,” she replies, irritated and uninterested in pleasing him.
Nevertheless, some of her old deference remains. “If you think that’s best, I’ll trust you,” she tells her husband obediently in another moment, her tone of voice clear that she doesn’t agree.
The writers continue to throw in stereotypes about Iraqi culture where they can. They simultaneously paint a picture of the U.S. that is completely blind to the sexism (and subsequent xenophobia) present in modern society and displayed by the show’s characters. One morning Noah wakes up to find Ameera in the kitchen, making a “real American breakfast” of eggs and orange juice — minus the bacon, one of the few (indirect) references to Ameera being Muslim. Noah tells her that being waited on makes him nervous. “But I’m your wife,” she protests. With the air of the all-knowing American, he explains, “That’s not the way it works around here.” I know plenty of American men who expect their wives to cook for them. I don’t know what world of gender equity Noah’s living in, but it’s one that nevertheless lets him get away with making comments like this:
“You’ve got to learn our customs here. Come, sit.” It’s like speaking to a toddler. Continue reading