Bill Maher's amusingly titled comedy show But I'm Not Wrong aired Saturday night on HBO. Unfortunately, Maher's encore performance - which featured a fashion show for "Muslim Dior" - was full of fail.
Maher opens his bit by expressing shock over a newspaper article reporting that Saudi Arabia has had its first fashion show. He then bases the rest of his routine on lampooning the abaya, featuring white models in bare feet and shortened coverings who twirl around the stage as Maher lobs barbs at Islam in the style of a fashion announcer, conflating specific regions, Islam at large, and Saudi Arabia into one huge Orientalist mass of fail.
Unfortunately, the set-up fails from the start. The news item Maher refers to is close to a year old, and refers to the first fashion show for Saudi Arabian designers - obviously, Saudi Arabian women wear far more than abayas on a regular basis. Indeed, as Muslimah Media Watch editor Fatemeh Fakhraie points out, the opposite stereotype is often in effect for Middle Eastern women:
I wrote earlier on the popular perception of Muslim/Middle Eastern women as label whores, and many of these articles play up that exact angle. The Independent's article, written by Sarah Buys, openly states, "This [retail development in the Gulf], in turn, has given rise to one of the most sartorially savvy, high-fashion buying demographs in the world. Middle Eastern Muslim women aren't just prolific shoppers, now they are discerning, prolific shoppers."
"Quit your bitching," you might say. "It's a compliment to be considered fashionable. What's your problem?" My problem is that, with this characterization of Muslims as rich and fashionable, we slide right into "label whore" territory, which brings along with it the labels of the "rich Arab teenager" or the "spoiled Persian princess," both younger cousins to the harmful Jewish-American Princess stereotype. These are class-based stereotypes that attach themselves to specific ethnicities and, now, to Muslims. They are not compliments.
Maher's sketch wouldn't be as gross if there were adequate representations of Muslim women on the small screen to provide alternate views - or at the very least, a Muslimah's perspective on the same types of jokes. But since that type of space or showcase is not afforded to Muslim women, Maher's jokes just keep reinforcing what some call the triple threat:
This "triple threat" is one we often face as Muslim women (especially if we are also women of color). We always seem to be battling against one (or more) of these three issues: racism (for Muslim women who are also non-white), Islamophobia, or misogyny (not just from our own Muslim communities, but also from non-Muslim communities who think they know what's best for us). [...]
Being ignored/condemned by the Muslim community and ignored/condemned by the non-Muslim community is "double trouble" for Muslim women. This "double trouble" causes us to keep our mouths shut, leading everyone in Muslim community to think that there's never anything wrong, and leading everyone in the non-Muslim community to think that we're oppressed and can't speak for ourselves. This is a problem as well, and it rears its ugly head when something like this 200 lashes thing comes up. It's a veritable elephant in the room, and everyone's waiting for us to talk about it. But if we think that our dialogue will be twisted, ignored, or condemned…why should we talk about it?
Indeed. There isn't enough time to deconstruct Maher's use of white women to lampoon Muslim women, or how the women's bare legs hint at another sexualized stereotype that hovers around discussions of Muslim women and clothing.
"I don't want a million, billion pissed at me for any reason," Maher said as he introduced the skit.
Hey Bill? Good luck with that.
But I'm Not Wrong [HBO]
Saudi holds first fashion show for designers [Al-Arabiya]
Official Site [Muslimah Media Watch]
En Vogue: Muslim Women in Fashion News [Racialicious]
Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Triple Threats and Double Troubles for Muslim Women [Racialicious]
Oooh, Baby, Put it On: Ripping up Veil Fetish Art [Racialicious]