American Television - Can you see me now?Ok. I admit it. I watch too much television. I am not like those who claim to be above the box. No, not me. I’m quite the connoisseur of popular media. And when pressed, I’ll say it is not for fun, it is research. But just between you and me, well ….
Tonight I caught the series premier of the new ABC show, "Commander in Chief". The story centres around Gina Davis’ character who through the sudden death of the President finds herself being the first woman to sit in the Oval Office.
Now I’m a big fan of anything that showcases strong women. And this woman is clearly out to flex her muscles. So how does the fantasized first woman leader of the "free world" [cough] prove her mettle?
By swooping down and saving a poor Muslim woman.
It’s obvious, don’t you see? Who else could serve as the perfect foil for a powerful white American woman, except a poor oppressed Muslim woman from Africa?
As the first act of her Presidency, Mackenzie Allen, mobilizes the combined armed forces of the United States to rescue a Nigerian woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning.
The fact that women in the real world are subject to horrific injustice is not in question. And clearly this fictionalized Muslim woman is known to us in the names of many women, like Bariya Magizu, who have faced such horrific punishments.
But what I find problematic is the polarity that is being constructed between the powerful white American woman who can have it all and the disempowered Muslim African woman who can have nothing.
And like all of these iconic representations of the perpetually persecuted Muslim woman, they accompany the twin construction of the unrelentingly oppressive Muslim man. [At one point in the show, the soon to be President is told that they can not have a woman president because Muslim nations would never take her leadership.]
And of course, the Muslim woman, is not meant to have any agency or identity in this plot. For if she did, then perhaps she would not be shown as being completely alone, with her only hope being a benevolent American president. Instead, she might have been shown with her family and with local women’s activists who were organizing a campaign for her freedom and with local lawyers working night and day to secure her freedom.
No, no, none of that. We can’t have the complex messy reality interfere with our fantasies of the new White [wo]Man’s Burden – saving Muslim women from Muslim men.
As they say, check your local listings.