Representative Tlaib is redefining for us what Muslim Women can do – and we’re freaking out


(Updated Monday, Jan. 7, approx. 10 pm PDT)

I am not a fan of public cursing. Not to say that I never do it, but I think it is often overused. I do use it in my plays where I believe it illuminates the world of my characters. Some of my plays have extensive cursing, some none at all.

One consequence of overuse is that it ceases to serve its function of emotional release/intensification. I had a college roommate who used the f-bomb approximately once per sentence and it just became noise. It’s when it is used sparingly that it is at its most powerful.

Representative Rashida Tlaib’s use of the mf-bomb is effective, because Rep. Tlaib isn’t known for public cursing, so when she does it, it’s clear she feels strongly about what she is cursing. The cursing is not just noise; it actually counts for something significant.

I find the public dustup over Rep. Tlaib’s use of the mf-bomb to be odd. I do think Bitter Gertrude (Melissa Hillman) has good points in her post “Rashida Tlaib Shouldn’t Apologize. You Should for Your Sexist Double standard.” but I also think something else is going on.

Bitter Gertrude’s idea is that white men get a pass on public cursing and women and people of color don’t. And I’m sure she’s right.

But I think what those who are freaking out about the mf-bomb are upset about is that a Muslim woman is engaging in public behavior that is contrary to our preconceptions of what Muslim women can do.

We’ve had to adjust to the fact that a Muslim woman not only can run for and serve in congress, she can also curse as freely as a white Christian male can. And I think that adjustment is a good thing.

I’ll admit that, like many other Americans, I am not knowledgeable about the broad variety that exists within the religion of Islam. I’ve been privileged to have Muslim co-workers, and this has taught me some about this diversity within the Muslim faith.

And yet I am surprised. On the Friday preceding this post, I passed on the street a woman wearing a niqab so that I could only see her eyes. She had a young girl with her, I’d guess to be about 7 years old, presumably her daughter.

As I passed them, she used her mom voice with her daughter. Anyone who has ever been fortunate enough to grow up with a mother (well, mixed blessing, but that’s another story) knows the mom voice. Including anyone whose mom wears a niqab.

Okay, so there are two mom voices, one for when she’s happy with you and one for when she isn’t, but there is no mistaking it for something else. And this was the happy voice. So I now have it in my range of experience that a woman wearing a niqab can have the happy mom voice. I don’t know why I might have thought otherwise – I really hadn’t though about this at all – but it’s good that I need to think about this now.

This all affects my perception of what Muslim women can and cannot do. And that’s a good thing – that my perception has been altered. And it’s what I believe the folks who are freaking out about Rep. Tlaib’s use of the mf-bomb are actually freaking out about.

I look forward to the 116th United States House of Representatives with all its diversity. May we learn much from the presence of Muslim women – one with and one without hijab – of Native Americans, of representatives of financial diversity. Hope!

(This post is a cleaned-up edit of my thread on this subject on Twitter.)

(Addendum to post in conjunction with the latest edit.)

In my original post, I incorrectly referred to Rep. Tlaib as wearing a hijab. Actually, Rep. Ilhan Omar is Muslim and wears a hijab. And I don’t even have a good excuse, as when I was doing the post, I had to look up Rep. Tlaib’s Twitter handle and saw her photo. Just a reminder that I need to slow down and see the complexity and individual-ness in individuals. My apologies to both Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Omar.

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