Stupid Girls

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Facebook feminism transforms Middle East

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Ok, so you don't want links to outside sources, but only personal correspondence. I'm reading an opinion piece in Al Jazeera, "The Middle East feminist revolution Women are not merely joining protests to topple dictators, they are at the centre of demanding social change." by Naomi Wolf

I wasn't sure why what's going on it the ME an Northern Africa "feels" so different to me. Was it cultural? I mean, in Egypt, they cleaned the streets of litter as they protested. And the organization of Tahrir Square, from overhead shots, was fascinating: shops over here, bathrooms there, medical on this side; child care over there, space to pray here . . . etc.

Why did it appear leaderless? Why was it secular? How did it incorporate, as near as I can tell, almost every aspect and race of society? Why wasn't it violent? Where were the angry men with megaphones? How did it succeed so quickly, organically, like a sudden infection?

The answer is women. They weren't just making coffee and photocopying; they are intrinsic to the movement, on all levels. The movement was, organically, collective and leaderless, as a result. The movement reflects the priorities, skills and social preferences of WOMEN!

"The role of women in the great upheaval in the Middle East has been woefully under-analyzed. Women in Egypt did not just "join" the protests – they were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable. And what is true for Egypt is true, to a greater and lesser extent, throughout the Arab world. When women change, everything changes - and women in the Muslim world are changing radically."

Education of women has made this happen. It's not just the data they absorb. It's the atmosphere of mixed-gender education, as well. of course, they learn critical thinking, public discourse, debate, expressing points of view. They also learn, and this is what is probably scariest to men in power, to challenge men in power!

"But, as Westerners should know from their own historical experience, once you educate women, democratic agitation is likely to accompany the massive cultural shift that follows."

But, with all that, one ingredient has been missing in prior social protest movements that has kept the influence of women from creating collective revolution, without heirarchy, without charismatic personality leadership. That's social media: twitter, facebook.
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"The nature of social media, too, has helped turn women into protest leaders. Having taught leadership skills to women for more than a decade, I know how difficult it is to get them to stand up and speak out in a hierarchical organizational structure. Likewise, women tend to avoid the figurehead status that traditional protest has in the past imposed on certain activists – almost invariably a hotheaded young man with a megaphone."

Facebook mimics, quite well, the small town. I can sit here in my little house trailer and communicate quite efficiently and effectively with my small communities of friends. And my influence, preference, analysis, argument, radiates outward, like ripples in a pond. I find thigs as I surf around the internet and post them on Facebook. And other people post things on their news feeds, and I share them, too. Links I post, people I quote, pictures I like come back to me, as my "friends" post them on their news feeds. Sometimes, weeks go by and I'll still see people, farther and farther from my center, post back things I received earlier.

The piece I wrote that published is influencing conversation. As I told you, I have made a blog post of it and have been spreading it through progressive media sites, such as Mother Jones, Utne Reader, Rachel Maddow. I've posted it to my Congressional representatives' and Barack Obama's facebook pages. And guess what has now happened? The conversation is beginning to shift toward my argument that union busting is actually a way for corporations to privatize the public sector at taxpayers' expense. A new Dennis Kusinich interview is peppered with my idea. NOBODY was talking this way before I published my article and spread it around!

Now, as a feminist, I absolutely know it's important to reclaim language and words. One word that has always bothered me is "gossip." Women gossip to share news, evaluate social situations, decide what to do about those who have violated cultural and social norms, etc. When we were illiterate, had no say in public policies, laws or law enforcement, gossip was the best, most efficient and most effective way we had to organize ourselves around issues impacting our larger community and do something about it.

Facebook is the logical extension of that! And it's better than gossip, because it doesn't turn into a game of "playing telephone." If I post a link to you, it doesn't change by the time a friend of a friend of a friend posts it to her friend. And my original comments about that link are often passed on, as well, depending how subsequent users post it. Ripples.

And I am not the center, nor are you, nor is anybody else, of the ripples, because there are millions of other people making their little ripples, too and they interconnect as they spread out: we are all influencing each other, even me, stranded in a house trailer in a drive way in frontier New Mexico, with no political clout, no influence, no car, no toilet.

I'm quoting now the summation of Ms. Wolf's article. I think she is right. I think it is a very exciting time to be a woman. I think the last barriers to female influence in culture are dissolving. Any literate woman who can get to an internet cafe or has wifi in whatever confinement she is sequestered now shapes the world. There's no going back. The Jinn, as they say, is out of the bottle!

"Projection of power

"In such contexts – with a stage, a spotlight, and a spokesperson – women often shy away from leadership roles. But social media, through the very nature of the technology, have changed what leadership looks and feels like today. Facebook mimics the way many women choose to experience social reality, with connections between people just as important as individual dominance or control, if not more so.

"You can be a powerful leader on Facebook just by creating a really big "us". Or you can stay the same size, conceptually, as everyone else on your page – you don't have to assert your dominance or authority. The structure of Facebook's interface creates what brick-and-mortar institutions - despite 30 years of feminist pressure - have failed to provide: a context in which women's ability to forge a powerful "us" and engage in a leadership of service can advance the cause of freedom and justice worldwide.

"Of course, Facebook cannot reduce the risks of protest. But, however violent the immediate future in the Middle East may be, the historical record of what happens when educated women participate in freedom movements suggests that those in the region who would like to maintain iron-fisted rule are finished.

"Just when France began its rebellion in 1789, Mary Wollstonecraft, who had been caught up in witnessing it, wrote her manifesto for women's liberation. After educated women in America helped fight for the abolition of slavery, they put female suffrage on the agenda. After they were told in the 1960s that "the position of women in the movement is prone", they generated "second wave" feminism – a movement born of women's new skills and old frustrations.

"Time and again, once women have fought the other battles for the freedom of their day, they have moved on to advocate for their own rights. And, since feminism is simply a logical extension of democracy, the Middle East's despots are facing a situation in which it will be almost impossible to force these awakened women to stop their fight for freedom – their own and that of their communities.

"Naomi Wolf is a political activist and social critic whose most recent book is Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries."