Fatemeh Fakhraie is one of those amazing women you know who is not only juggling between her roles as an author, editor, and blogger, but whose writing packs a wallop. She founded Muslimah Media Watch in 2007, a space that examines media representations of Muslim women in popular culture, as well as in the news, movies and in feminist communities. She has written for several other well-known outlets, such as Racialicious, B*tch magazine, and AltMuslimah on issues such as Islamic feminism, Islam, race, and women’s rights. She has also recently contributed to the book I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of 40 stories of American Muslim women under the age of 40. By taking on stereotypes one at a time, Fatemeh offers a unique perspective that keeps her words honest and real, offering up solid critiques of xenophobia, mediated imagery, immigration, sexism, power structures, Islamophobia, and racism as they affect Muslim women as well as the rest of the world’s perception of Muslim women. A woman who is indeed changing the game, please welcome the amazing Fatemeh Fakhraie to Persephone.
Persephone Magazine: You are the founder, owner, and editor in chief of Muslimah Media Watch, an online space dedicated to critically analyzing images of Muslim women in media and pop culture. Why did you start Muslimah Media Watch, and what was that process like?
Fatemeh Fakhraie: I felt mainstream media representations of Muslim women were unfair but still felt very marginalized by feminist media outlets. I needed a place to share my media criticisms as a Muslim feminist, so I started a blog.
PM: How has the site, and your role in it, evolved since it first begun?
FF: In the beginning, it was just me. After a few months, I recruited a few friends from Facebook who I knew would be capable thinkers and writers, and that tiny blog has grown into a website with global contributors and media focus. I’m the editor, which means that I do a lion’s share of the behind-the-scenes work, and Krista Riley, an MMW writer since 2008, is my associate editor:
“I could be a feminist and a Muslim. I was a feminist before I knew what a feminist was.”
PM: Where do you hope the site will go? What is your response to the success that it has seen?
FF: Originally, I wrote under a pseudonym, because I simply wasn’t sure what kind of response I’d get. Aside from one vehemently vicious reader who would post incredibly awful comments and send similar e-mails, the response was incredibly positive and eventually convinced me that a pseudonym wasn’t necessary. In our almost four years of operation, we’ve received so much love and encouragement from our readers and colleagues – it’s humbling and reminds me that my work is important, because I’m not the only one who thinks this way.
PM: How have you worked to create a safe environment for your readers and contributors? Why do you think this formula has yet to translate into other spaces?
FF: MMW is not a free speech zone. We have strict commenting rules to ensure the safest possible place for our readers, and this same commenting policy applies to our Facebook group.
Sometimes people get very hung up on free speech and its importance, which may be why other sites don’t do the same thing. I believe free speech is important, but I believe in its usefulness to further debate, too – I don’t believe that degrading each other or certain groups or identities is useful.
PM: There’s so much baggage on the contemporary state of Western feminism and its perception of Muslim women as one-dimensional people. Why do you think there is so much concentration on the idea of the “oppressed Muslim woman”? Do you think current events are changing these perceptions? What are ways to propel the thinking out of this context?
FF: The “oppressed Muslim woman” stereotype is one that’s been around for decades. I think the Arab Spring may be changing some minds, but Western media often trades in stereotypes. I don’t think Western perceptions of Muslim women will massively change until media coverage evolves.
PM: Do you think that the Internet and social media have opened up a new outlet for Muslim women’s voices? Or do you think people are just finally starting to pay attention?
FF: I think it’s a little bit of both. Computer literacy and Internet access are still privileges, even in industrialized countries, which means that we still don’t hear everyone’s voices. But the growth of Internet access has opened up spaces and opportunities for Muslim women that have not existed before via blogs, Facebook networking, and Twitter.
PM: How did you get into writing? Was it always something you cared about?
FF: I majored in journalism at the University of Utah, and my favorite class was media criticism. I’ve always loved reading, writing and editing – I’m definitely a “commas go here” kind of person.
PM: What has been the biggest obstacle in your work?
FF: MMW is all-volunteer right now; it’s a labor of love for me and everyone who works on it, and most of us have day jobs or academic careers. My biggest obstacle is lack of funds and not being able to pay my writers. As a media person, I hate the fact that our industry is so hard-hit that writers get paid less than they ever have – if they get paid at all. I’m looking into options, but my biggest goal for MMW’s future is to be able to pay my writers for their work.
PM: You also recently contributed to the book, I Speak For Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, a collection of the writings of 40 American Muslim women under the age of 40. Can you talk about your piece and what you are hoping the impact of this collection will be?
FF: My piece for ISFM was about the sometimes-difficult relationship that I have with my parents. I wrote about that because I think it’s something that almost everyone can relate to, which is what I hope ISFM can do: be a peek into the lives of young American Muslim women and help readers realize that we’re all pretty much the same, even if we have different labels.
PM: What awesome work can we forward from you in the not too distant future?
FF: I’m doing a lot of book readings for I Speak for Myself, which is a new experience that I’m really enjoying. Follow me on twitter (@fatemehf) or at fatemehfakhraie.com for announcements on whatever I’m up to.