WOMEN
04/05/2017 03:59 pm ET

Pepsi's Portrayal Of A Muslim Woman Was As Tone-Deaf As The Rest Of The Ad

A headscarf is not a prop.

Pepsi’s attempt to use protest imagery to sell soda backfired dramatically on Wednesday after the company was forced to pull an ad featuring Kendall Jenner.

The ad was lampooned on social media by people who said it trivialized Black Lives Matter and other movements that have brought protestors out onto the streets in recent years. 

Along with making light of protests against police shootings, the ad was also criticized for using images of a Muslim woman without amplifying the issues that have actually caused Muslim women to protest. 

The ad failed to mention any of the issues that have troubled American Muslims over the past few months ― continuing religious-based discrimination and surveillance, President Donald Trump’s backdoor Muslim ban and his resounding silence about attacks on mosques, the bullying of Muslim kids, the rise in prominence of white supremacist groups, the fight for black lives.

But it used the image of a Muslim woman in a headscarf to sell soda to the masses. 

Although Pepsi has removed the ad, this kind appropriation of a Muslim woman’s image is not new and not likely to go away soon.

In the ad, a woman wearing a headscarf works on a photography project at her desk. Frustrated by her progress, she hears protestors outside her window and decides to grab her camera and head out onto the street.

In an ironic twist, she arrives just in time to capture Kendall Jenner solving racism by handing a Pepsi can to a police officer. 

“The Muslim woman in their ad operates as nothing more than a signifier for diversity and a vague notion of resistance. She’s merely window dressing, in the same way that images of Muslim woman are used as tokens in protest photos,” Herwees writes. 

The presence of the woman in the ad sparked a strong response on social media. 

A request for comment sent to Pepsi was not returned. Pepsi released a statement about the ad on Wednesday. 

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue.” 

Coca-Cola and Microsoft have also released ads featuring Muslim women in headscarves in this position of protest. 

For Herwees, these kinds of images are problematic because they turn Muslim womens’ bodies into objects that can be used as props. And she believes the fact that these images are manipulated in this way is actually a reflection of the stereotype that Muslim women are “docile or subjugated.”

“This is how movements are sanitized and co-opted and how revolutions are defanged. This is why Muslim women make perfect vessels for messaging; they are so often depicted as passive subjects to violence, rather than perpetrators of it,” she wrote.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Misha Euceph, a Muslim journalist who does not wear a headscarf, pointed out that the ad also represents Muslims women “through a single item of clothing.”

“I understand the desire to create a culture of inclusion, but the line between welcoming and tokenizing is very thin,” she wrote. “Today, the culture wars are being fought on the bodies of hijabis, as these women are the easiest Muslims to notice. They should be relieved of the burden of representing 1.7 billion diverse people.”

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