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Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems




Today, I have been asked to address the domestic context of civil rights issues facing Muslim women in the United States. Admittedly, examining the experiences of Muslim American women is a risky endeavor because they are such a diverse group of women ethnically, racially, socio-economically, and religiously in terms of their levels of religiosity. Hence, I acknowledge the risk of essentializing, despite my best efforts to recognize the individual agency of each Muslim woman.

This lecture is based on a larger project that examines the myriad ways Muslim women are adversely affected by their intersectional identities, and how it impacts their ability to be economically independent through gainful employment. Due to time constraints, I will be summarizing my thesis and supporting arguments on this complex topic. For those interested in delving into the details, I refer you to my article in the Michigan Journal of Race & Law entitled, Coercive Assimilationism: The Perils of Muslim Women’s Identity Performance in the Workplace. My presentation today also builds on the thesis of a prior article, From the Oppressed to the Terrorist: Muslim-American Women in the Crosshairs of Intersectionality, wherein I proffer that Muslim women are caught in the crosshairs of bias at the intersection of religion, gender, and race or ethnicity.

After September 11, 2001, the stereotype of Muslim women as terrorists, co-conspirators, or aiders and abettors to their male terrorist family members has superseded the stereotype that they are oppressed, subjugated, infantile beings, without individual agency who need to be saved by upper-middle-class white American women. Because a woman’s financial independence contributes towards her ability to defend her rights and pursue the lifestyle of her choosing, the treatment of women in the workplace is fundamental to discussions on women’s rights, whether in the United States or abroad. As such, my presentation today theorizes how implicit bias, stereotyping, and assimilationist demands adversely affect Muslim women of color in employment.

Specifically, I will examine how bias at the intersection of gender and religion has affected Muslim women’s identity performance at work as they struggle to receive equal opportunity in hiring, equal pay, promotions, equal professional development opportunities, and the same treatment as other similarly-situated employees. In doing so, I coin the term “coercive assimilationism” as a form of implicit and explicit bias, which adversely affects minorities in many white-collar professional workplaces — the hypothetical backdrop of my analysis.

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University of Iowa College of Law



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