Women Of Faith Are Missing From Our TV Screens (And It's A Problem)

Women of faith in mainstream British culture are rarely properly developed, well rounded characters - and when they do make an appearance, they are often presented either as victims of a patriarchal system or as tragic virgins.
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I've always believed in God, even if I don't necessarily go to Church every Sunday, or get a kick out of watching Songs of Praise. My Christian faith is an important part of who I am and has helped shape my political beliefs and wider outlook on life. But as I've gotten older, I've increasingly felt that my spiritual experiences, and the experiences of women from other faith backgrounds, are not being represented in the TV and film readily available to us.

If I asked you to think about well-known female Christians on British TV, I imagine that the first (and only) show likely to spring to mind would be The Vicar of Dibley. At the time, Dawn French's portrayal of a female Anglican Vicar was couched as being progressive, but Geraldine (French's character) was essentially a humorous caricature. Whilst the show did tackle some stereotypes, it finished airing ten years ago, when I was 14. Since then, Christianity in Britain has consistently been portrayed as being painfully traditional, white and ultimately boring. Far from connecting with French's character, it makes me cringe to think that this is the most well-known example of a female Christian in the British cultural milieu.

Of course, I know it's not just Christian women who have suffered this fate. In December, the BBC aired the satirical sketch 'The Real Housewives of ISIS' as part of its new show Revolting. Opinion was divided about whether or not the show overstepped the mark - but once again, women who subscribed to a particular (and in this case, extremist) form of religious practice were the butt of the joke. Outlandish examples of belief are stereotyped, used for comedic effect.

Women of faith in mainstream British culture are rarely properly developed, well rounded characters - and when they do make an appearance, they are often presented either as victims of a patriarchal system or as tragic virgins. These are lazy tropes, which have damaging consequences. My relationship to my faith is so much more than a list of things I don't do; it is my community, a place of solace, and the reason I am an intersectional feminist. So whilst of course I find The Vicar of Dibley funny - the joke soon wears off when it remains the only incarnation of your identity mirrored in mainstream culture. I imagine this is even more frustrating for young Muslim women, whose religious practices are frequently given a public airing by the media, with little thought to how varying belief systems and interpretations shape those practices.

In the US, there's no shortage of cultural influencers who are able to highlight the complexities of their faith in their art - Beyonce's Lemonade did this to stunning effect - but the same cannot be said of the UK, where any discussion of faith is met with a stifled snort. Alastair Campbell's famous dictum"we don't do God" continues to be oddly instructive for film and TV producers, who remain blind to the diverse religious makeup of the UK.

There are independent black churches throughout the UK that have large memberships and lots of young people, but are no-where to be seen on TV. I know lots of LGBT Christian women who feel similarly overlooked. By consistently resorting to narrow Anglicised characterisations, TV executives are perpetuating the idea that Christianity in the UK is ageing, white and heterosexual - I'm tired of having to point out to friends that this isn't necessarily the case.

Thankfully, there will always be artists and writers who recognise these limitations and look for ways to counteract them. Ambreen Razia's new play The Diary of a Hounslow Girl is a one woman show about a 16-year-old British Muslim teenager growing up in West London. In a similar vein, MAGNIFY, a new independent magazine founded by 19-year-old Durham student Ruth Yimika Awogbade, is encouraging young Christian women to challenge traditional stereotypes, and does this by instigating discussions about 'faith, feminism and fashion' with millennials. These examples may be a small start, but demonstrate that there is a real need for cultural producers to recognise that women of faith are multi-dimensional, complex beings.

To be a young woman of faith in 2017 can be an isolating experience. WOMANKIND is a new digital community launching this summer, that supports women of all faiths to express themselves creatively and share their experiences with each other. If this sounds like you, please do get involved, and be part of moving this important conversation forward.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com


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