It’s been over six years since Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Magnum Opus, the Emmy Award winning show Fleabag’s first episode aired on BBC Three. She may be most known for Fleabag, but Phoebe Waller Bridge had already written a feminist, liberal show before that. Named Crashing, it aired in January 2016 on Channel 4. Channel 4's legacy of feminism since Crashing has only grown with shows like Derry Girls and Ackley Bridge. Along the veins of those two shows, We Are Lady Parts created by Nida Manzoor is exceptionally feminist, unapologetically liberal, and openly confrontational. To top it all off, for the Muslim viewers who wish to see themselves and their culture on screen, almost all of the characters are Muslim. The show takes a bold but powerful stance on the role of religion in our lives as well.
Starting with a scene of Amina (Anjana Vasan) meeting with a potential partner along with her parents, We Are Lady Parts establishes itself as refreshing. It doesn’t show a Muslim girl dressed in a hijab suddenly take it off, rant against her religion, and call men misogynist. Instead, it shows Amina’s parents trying to talk her up by mentioning her ability to play guitar and getting frowned upon by both the parents of the prospective partner and Amina herself. Later, Amina’s mother Seema (Shobu Kapoor) tells Amina that she should really reconsider her decision to go looking for brides because there’s more to life than marriage. I get that they’re immigrants in Britain and they’re living in the 21
century, but believe me when I say that’s the last thing I’d expected a brown parent to say about a marriage, especially as the protagonist’s parent. Turns out, Amina’s looking for a groom because everyone she knows is either engaged, married, or about to be engaged. Her best friend Noor (Aiysha Hart) is herself engaged.
So with the parenthood dynamic, the show is a winner as someone hailing from an Indian family. Contrasting with Ms. Marvel, which is also centered around a Muslim girl, this is a dynamic of fantasies instead of reality as far as I know. I love that we have an apparently traditional protagonist in Amina. It’s a complete reversal of usual Asian representation where the parents are restricting and the daughter is searching for freedom and ambitions outside marriage. Through Amina’s journey, We Are Lady Parts achieves the very important job of destigmatizing marriage as a construct. Due to its history of being a misogynist concept often used as a means of holding a woman back, marriage itself is criminalized in the minds of many women. Saira (Sarah Kameela Impey), the lead vocalist of Lady Parts, takes on this view in a later episode. It's a refreshing experience to see someone oppose that view—which I personally hold, too—and not sacrifice any feminist notions to justify her desire for marriage.
Now we come to the punk rock band. Known as Lady Parts, its members are lead vocalist Saira, drummer Ayesha (Juliette Motamed), bass guitarist Bisma (Faith Omole) and manager Momtaz (Lucie Shorthouse). They’re introduced through voiceover during the first scene of the show itself with little backstories. Saira works as a butcher; Ayesha is an Uber driver; Bisma is a homemaker who creates feminist and explicit comic books but doesn’t have much luck selling them; and Momtaz works at a ladies undergarments store. Each of their introductory scenes clearly demarcates them as a different brand of person compared to Amina. Saira, who has no headgear, loves the band. She brought the members together and would do anything to protect it. She’s also physically strong, able to chop meat with ease. Bisma, who wears a turban, is a mother of one whose graphic novels are openly confrontational, addressing taboo subjects like menstruation rather graphically. Momtaz clearly loves her day job and takes the undergarment business seriously. Dressed in a niqab, she’s an embodiment of liberation. And then there’s Ayesha, driving an Uber, wearing a hijab over her head, and talking back to problematic male customers. So unlike Amina, these women are not mild-mannered and do not steer away from confrontation.
In fact, that’s what I like about We Are Lady Parts. Each member of the group is liberal and fighting for their rights, but none in the same way. I love the way the show depicts the hijab and the niqab. Someone asks Momtaz about why she wears the niqab and she clearly states that she chooses to wear it. As a resident of India where the hijab has been banned, it means a lot to see someone clarify on screen that there is no inherent oppression in wearing a hijab. It’s not mandatory in many Muslim communities nowadays, and choosing to wear it doesn’t mean you’re surrendering to oppression. Watching these women—two with their heads covered in a hijab, one with her whole face covered in a niqab, and one with no headgear sporting side-parted short hair—all break barriers together is a liberating experience.
The Islamic faith itself is under attack in a lot of countries and I can’t exaggerate how important it is that We Are Lady Parts doesn’t associate liberation with anti-Muslim sentiment. All the band members are devoutly religious, making it a point to pray regularly. Amina herself, who joins the others later as their lead guitarist, is a microbiology major masters student and is still religious. This is important representation in the debate of science vs religion. Scientists can be people of faith and I appreciate that there is no debate about any of the characters being religious, let alone the scientist.
So how is it that such an idyllic show is honest representation to keep an eye out for? It might sound like a fantasy being lived out, right? Well, that’s where the drama of the show comes in. Lady Parts’ music, which is explicit lyrically, isn’t something Amina is initially comfortable with. Again, We Are Lady Parts does an amazing job of representing the nuances of the Muslim identity. None of these girls have anything against their religion; their songs are about addressing oppression in general. Amina’s discomfort slowly melting away—eventually leading to her screaming the words “Voldemort’s alive and he’s under my headscarf”—goes to show you that feminism comes in different forms. While still abiding by their religious customs, these women are leading a fight.
Their music is very much inspired by the Riot Grrrl Movement of the 90’s. If you’re a fan of headbanging to loud music with aggressive and liberating lyrics, Lady Parts’ music could be perfect for you. From a song about addressing the questions on wearing a hijab to an anti-Capitalist anthem about 9 to 5 jobs, their music is openly confrontational and addresses a lot of social evils. Trust me, their cover of a very popular rock song at the end of series will leave you wanting a lot more of their music. Within just 3 hours, which covers a lot of personal narratives of all the characters, We Are Lady Parts has enough scenes depicting songwriting to inspire the dormant writer in you. There’s a particular montage in the beginning of the third episode where the members are literally writing a song together.
There’s a lot of awesome Muslim representation here and I hope my words have done We Are Lady Parts some justice. Plus, it’s an essentially feminist show. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a queer narrative. I’ll leave you to look for the hints and then watch the queer dynamic develop into a sweet romance. As far as representing Muslims goes, there’s an amazing drama developed in We Are Lady Parts which I must mention. Amina’s best friend Noor is a traditionalist, believing that openly performing as a woman is forbidden by her faith. For this reason, Amina has to live a double life while practicing with the band and helping Noor plan her engagement party and wedding.
There’s just one flaw with We Are Lady Parts as far as I’m concerned, and that is the voiceover by Amina. To keep things from her perspective, there’s a lot of retrospective narration during scenes depicting events in other characters’ lives that weaken the blow of the drama. It also gets a little frustrating because the scenes could have been more immersive without the background narration. Apart from that, We Are Lady Parts is funny, dramatic, inclusive, and keeps you guessing on the edge of your seat with every new twist in the tale. And there’s some great news for those who are suckers for British shows like this: it’s slated to return for a second season soon.