The American Veil: Media Inspired (Mis)Conceptualization of Muslim Women of the Middle East

Author: Zoelene Hill


West Philadelphia High School

Year: 2010

Seminar: History of the Modern Middle East

Grade Level: 9-12

Keywords: mass media, Middle East, Muslim women

School Subject(s): Global History, Social Studies

With our nation’s current military engagement in the Middle East, the American public is highly reliant on mass media for information about the politics, economies, religions, peoples and cultures of the region.  Unfortunately, the mass media does not provide a thorough or accurate representation of the richness and complexities of peoples and systems of this region.   The inability of mass media to accurately portray the multitude of people and experiences is not a new phenomenon. Since the early 1800s Americans have been reliant on mass media as their source of information on the Middle East, and have been presented with second-hand, stereotyped and myopic images and views.  Muslim women of the Middle East have been particularly stereotyped. The current media imagery and narrative depict Muslim women of the Middle East as powerless and oppressed.  This imagery and narrative does not accurately depict the multiplicity of experiences that exist for women who bear this identity.

The historical background of this unit traces the development of media portrayal of Muslim women of the Middle East from the late 1800s until today. During this time the media has presented changing but monolithic images of Middle Eastern women. These images have been shaped by the country’s political and economic involvement in the region and these images have in turn shaped American popular conceptualizations of Muslim women of the Middle East.

This unit seeks to guide students’ recognition of the role of mass media in shaping their knowledge and understanding of this region.  It also seeks to guide students’ evaluation of their own conceptualization of Muslim women of the Middle East, and provide them with less popular voices, images and points of view to serve as points of comparison with popular conceptualizations.  Students will begin this unit by analyzing population distribution maps of peoples of the Muslim faith.  Next, each student will create country profile fliers that compile population, political, religious and economic data of a country in the Middle East.  Then, students will work in small groups to create semantic maps that identify, analyze and evaluate their own conceptualization of Muslim women of the Middle East. Students will also discuss and evaluate the validity of their sources of information.  Finally, students will analyze articles to compare the points of view presented in these sources to the point of view presented in American mass media.

Download Unit: Hill-Zolene-Unit.pdf

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