- Feminisms and the Social Media Sphere
I have maintained a coherent journal of my daily thoughts ever since I was eleven. Before that, there was the notorious “secret diary” that was never as much a secret as it was a source of entertainment for my elders. The diary dealt with what Anaïs Nin called the “immediate present.” It involved gathering my immediate thoughts about lived experiences, which revealed the power of reaction that remained in a little girl’s sensibilities instead of verbose critical perception. Writing had not been a conversation until I began blogging. There was little to no concern for visibility until, in my late teens, I used social media. After that, writing became hypervisible and often took the form of a clash of opinions between me and my readers. Depending on the context of the posts, it was a curse or a blessing, but more than that, it was a constant dialogue.
By the time I was in my late teens and had moved to the bustling heart of Lahore from a rather small city, I began blogging with no specific purpose in my mind; for me, it was simply to store my thoughts. After several posts, I gained popularity among the Pakistani blogging world for a post that humorously described the sociocultural meanings behind the certain ways Pakistani women don the dupatta. Several journalists found it hilarious and my blog was listed as one of the top blogs in Guernica magazine’s “A Year in Digital Discoveries in 2010” (Khan 2010), in which the categories were “gender,” “South Asia,” and “Islam.”
My history of slowly amassing thousands of readers and followers on social media is imperative for me to mention so that the chronology of my political blogging and the change of tone in my online presence becomes evident. After I established my voice as a Pakistani blogger, a political reality [End Page 236] surfaced and became uncomfortably obvious: nonwhite voices, particularly Muslim and female, were treated and received as anthropological projects but rarely as sources of personal musings, in comparison to the kind of treatment white female bloggers received. There was always, and sadly perhaps always will be, a certain kind of Orientalist fascination that brown Muslim bloggers invoked in their global audiences. There was no escaping it.
In addition to the veils-and-harems image seeming to be evoked every single time a Muslim woman, such as myself, blogged, the deep hostility that many Western neoconservatives and even liberals held for Muslim women and their online presence was a source of constant harassment and undeserved animosity. Added to that bitter concoction was the presence of sexist bloggers—the majority of whom are male—who used all sorts of narratives to shut Muslim women bloggers down. In several unfortunate cases of harassment, Muslim women chose to give up their social media presence; but the support they received from their readers showed that they had garnered a network of solidarity and unity—regardless of the profiles of their readers.
For marginalized voices in social media spaces, solidarity becomes essential. With the increasingly dense and confusing landscape of communication spreading throughout the world, various political-activist groups are attempting to gain more access to information as well as more opportunities to engage in public speech. The power of social media, in this context, lies primarily in its support for civil society and social justice. It is through the tools of social media that a group of bloggers, including myself, coordinated our political voices and demands. The diversity of our network was undeniable and politically significant; Arab, South Asian, and African American bloggers and others coordinated their voices and highlighted political and social issues before their own audiences. Regardless of the outcome (or lack of it), these networks still exist and continue to raise voices for each other on a plethora of issues. One can describe this as transnational solidarity in online spaces.
Before further elaborating on the necessity of the counternarratives generated by solidarity in social media, I would like share the work our group of bloggers and activists rendered online on several issues. The manner in which our network increased, followers sprung...