When I was querying my novel and trying to come up with a colorful, shorthand way to describe one of my main characters--Zainab Mir, a kick-ass, sharp-tongued, brilliant, successful Muslim woman--I immediately thought of what writer and activist Asra Nomani said in a 2005 op/ed for The Washington Post about Muslim feminists.
"To many," Ms. Nomani pointed out, "we are the bad girls of Islam."
This is, of course, different from "sluts," although certainly some people conflate women who speak out against patriarchal paradigms and women who exhibit so-called "loose morals" in an attempt to maintain the status quo.
Topic for another day.
And early in the process, one agent rejected my query/pages with the plucky lament, "I would have enjoyed this more if they had been truly 'bad' Muslim girls!"
When I use the term "Muslim bad girl," I mean to convey something more along the lines of the slogan that women of my generation are apt to sport on tee-shirts and buttons and refrigerator magnets holding up school lunch calendars:
Well-behaved women seldom make history.
My embracing this term also probably suggests that if someone calls a woman "bad" for speaking out, for thinking for herself, for challenging social/cultural/religious gender norms, he/she and I might have some work to do.
I like this term so much that I closed my query letters by saying, "Like Zainab, I've probably been called a Muslim bad girl."
I mean, a woman can hope, right?
The last time I did an update here, the little pink stick figure in this post was a strong contender for my author photo. It was a close call, but I've decided to go with this instead, with a debt of gratitude to Brian Ziska for putting up with me during two photo shoots and even enduring a bee sting in the process. Talk about taking one for the team!
Last, but so not least, I was thrilled and honored to receive another lovely blurb recently. This one was from Anjali Banerjee, author of numerous novels including HAUNTING JASMINE, which I read a couple of years ago and loved, and ENCHANTING LILY, which is on my to-be-read pile near my bed:
An enlightening first novel, Jennifer Zobair's PAINTED HANDS dismantles the myths and stereotypes about what it means to be Muslim in American society today, Through interwoven stories of career-oriented women of Pakistani and Indian descent, navigating the tightrope of politics, personal ambition, and family expectations in modern Boston, PAINTED HANDS ultimately celebrates the redemptive, transcendent power of love and friendship.**********
PAINTED HANDS, my debut novel about "Muslim bad girls," but not "truly bad" Muslim women, is now available for preorder.