Image courtesy of Channel 4
By Ghazal Tipu
We Are Lady Parts tickled me, inspired me and I wanted more. Channel 4’s subversive six-part drama on Muslim female punk band Lady Parts was finally telling a story of Muslim women as normal people who swore, who desired, who were flawed. There was a strange sense of been seen and known, watching a comedy about brown Muslim women – a mirror of myself on screen.
Take protagonist Amina. At 26, she is desperate to settle down with the gnawing sense of being left behind. That is precisely what it felt like as a twenty-something Muslim student. You had that angst of observing the brothers and sisters getting paired up and worrying you’d be left on the shelf. There was also that sexual energy charging through the Muslim students and those furtive glances across the common room. Here, Amina’s new friends in Lady Parts observe that Amina is ‘horny’. In fact, Amina agrees to join the punk band in exchange for a date with ‘Bashir with the good beard’. We are Lady Parts names Muslim women’s desires. In sexually repressed south Asian cultures, the discussion of sex and desire is still a taboo.
Amina goes through a journey of embracing her singleness and making a group of friends in Lady Parts who are vibrant, sassy and are just glad to be making music. I wish I could go back in time to my 26-year old self and say: “Don’t fritter away your energy over thoughts of marriage and just grab life”. In this series, this motley crew of women is doing precisely just that.
Then there’s Lady Part’s foul language – wow. But Muslim women really aren’t monolithic creatures. Here they are injected with a real humanness. Each character is lovingly and competently crafted. Amina is a hopeless romantic. Lead singer Saira is grappling with fears of intimacy and dealing with estrangement from her family. Ayesha is queer and not yet out to her family. Bisma is the peacekeeper and a wife and mother while Momtaz wears a niqab – the traditional face covering – and is the manager of the band. These young women have dreams, fears and idiosyncrasies. Kudos to writer Nida Manzoor for crafting these unique characters.
Momtaz particularly subverts stereotypes. A journalist interviews Momtaz for an inside scoop on the band and Momtaz tells the journalist she feels confident wearing a niqab. The niqab is of course always associated with docility and meekness. Like Nora Ziegler explores in her article on obedience and disobedience, Momtaz’s obedience liberates her.
It was refreshing to experience these Muslim women and their journeys on screen, debunking the myth of Muslim women’s homogeneity in popular culture. Yes, there are Muslim women who are meek and oppressed. But the women I knew at university and in the Big Smoke went on to become barristers, solicitors and researchers, while during summer holidays in Pakistan I met aunts who were the matriarchs of their families.
This programme was subversive on many levels. Where does that prevalent view come from about Muslim women being oppressed and marginalised? Portraying Muslim women who empower themselves is a challenge to prevailing norms. If I think about representations of Muslim women in popular culture, I rack my brain and no character springs to mind. Now that we have We are Lady Parts – I can think of a fair few. More please Channel 4.
Ghazal Tipu is a senior communications manager, writer and psychology student.
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