This piece explores the ways in which feminist blogging has the potential of re-politicizing feminist movements and offers an overview of the discursive strategies as reflected from the blogs of women from the MENA region to strengthen feminist activism and transnational feminist solidarity.
She never stopped writing. She misses her readers, and she is still writing. Writing is life. Writing is being. Writing is everything about her life. She never understood why they want her to stop from doing it. Now, bereft of her words, writing has become a fight! She's fighting using either her pen or her keyboard… Giving up? You must be joking!! Ben Mhenni, 2010
In her blog A Tunisian Girl, prominent Tunisian activist Lina Ben Mhenni (1) states that “writing has become a fight!” and that she will fight “using either her pen or her keyboard”. As her blog got censored at the onset of the Tunisian Revolution in 2010, she rebels against the oppressive system that is systematically trying to silence her. Ben Mhenni tells us that expressing her opinions and thoughts has become a struggle that she is not willing to give up on; writing is not only personal but also political, she tells us.
A lot of feminist activists - for example, bloggers in Lebanon, Tunisia, Syria, Yemen, and Egypt - have turned to blogging out of frustration and anger about their voices not being heard in the traditional media. They wanted to provide different narratives and put forth an alternative discourse that calls for social change outside heteronormative patriarchal norms. A lot of these voices have faced an enormous backlash after contributing to these digital platforms, as digital violence became an extension of all the violence they have faced on the streets during their participation in protests. These defenders of women rights had to face physical, sexual and political violence that aimed to silence, defame, and intimidate them. This violence has gone unnoticed and unacknowledged in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and beyond.
Eleven years after the multiple civil and political uprisings in the Arab world that followed the Tunisian revolution and the overthrow of dictator Ben Ali have marked a new chapter in the MENA region and in the lives of many women activists. Today, we need to position feminist blogging in its temporality focusing on different aspects of a very broad and dynamic subject in an ever-expanding digital landscape. Bloggers devise several strategies to overcome the countless challenges that feminist activists face across the MENA region in organizing, mobilizing, and displaying solidarity against the patriarchy and all the systems that uphold it. Feminist blogging remains one of the current strategies being deployed to re-politicize and strengthen the feminist movement across the region.
Blogs are more difficult to control than broadcast and print media. As a result, in politically sensitive areas, authoritarian regimes often seek to suppress blogs and/or harass and punish those who maintain them. Activists have used blogging as a tool for political action with the help of the Internet, new technologies and social media platforms through which they were able to rapidly and widely spread the news about upcoming protests. Within a decade, these technologies have tremendously changed, constantly evolving and shifting the methods used in transnational feminist activism.
Feminist bloggers and activists in the MENA region have used their writing to strategically expose ongoing repression. Their blogging practices produce knowledge and identities, and involve different strategies to destabilise power and challenge hegemonic authoritarian, neoliberal, neo-colonial, and patriarchal discourses. With their affirmative rhetoric, and a rather emotional tone at times, combined with metaphors, poems and different styles of writing and audio-visuals, women’s blogging reflects varied expressions of individual and collective resistance.
Feminist blogging can be conceptualised as historical archives of feminism documenting socio-political events and creating memory. The production of feminist knowledge is a longstanding practice of feminist activism and therefore, documenting history is perceived as creation of memory, one that can potentially destabilise power. Through this dynamic process, bloggers hold space for other voices and intersectional perspectives. The powerful images and audio-visuals incorporated in the affirmative rhetoric of the blog texts provide us with an uncensored understanding of the illegitimate attacks and violence that the ruling regimes are exercising on activists, bloggers, journalists, and citizens on the ground. This strategy also serves as a collection of evidence against such crimes, creates a written memory of what happened during the events, and consequently is by itself an act of resistance.
The blogging practices of feminist activists raise the following questions: How do we ensure the acknowledgement of these political acts as ‘her-stories’? How do we ensure the survival of the knowledge produced by feminist bloggers in the digital age? These questions are only starting points for interdisciplinary research and highlight the need for these valuable narratives to inform academic and socio-political interventions and policymaking.
New lessons emerge from the blogging practices of transnational feminisms as they contribute to the debates on inclusive and meaningful solidarity. For example, the mobilisation of blogging communities against oppression and violence, and for legislative change, justice, equality, and dignity for all, are part of multiple calls to overthrow patriarchal political, economic, and social systems. Feminist blogging during the 2011 Arab revolutions played an important role in connecting with local movements, building transnational solidarity and sisterhood which continue to expand and develop into instrumental power. Another example is the mobilization that we have seen around digital security and online hate, that have led to amendments of national laws and put in place resolutions for women and the digital sphere. Solidarity has been the core driver behind those changes. This dynamic process extends beyond geographical spaces.
At the trajectory of new evolutionary stages in contemporary social movements, the conversations taking place in blogs reveal newly formed communities that protest and promote diversity and social justice. Even more importantly, they also offer political acknowledgement to women. This highlights the value of communicative democracy through dialogical participation, a dynamic citizenship practice engaging in multiple, glocal and interconnected counterpublics. The process of glocality allows voices from the margin to be visible and destabilises power through the creation of online communities that are inclusive and intersectional. Women’s engagement in the feminist blogosphere brings local realities and global perspectives together. In addition, the bloggers engaging in digital advocacy platforms such as Global Voices, Medium, and Majal, are bringing women’s experiences and the voices of those living in exile and diaspora from the margin to the centre, offering critical political analyses. This interactive engagement in the ecosystem of digital platforms fills a cultural and political gap, transcending local boundaries and oppressive systems.
Blogging, together with vlogging and podcasting (see for example Hammam Radio and Masaha podcast series), are vital tools in the efforts to re-politicize movement(s), in the following ways: 1) they help realign feminist groups with core feminist principles, 2) they share and produce knowledge that fills the gaps between feminist activism and feminist theory, 3) they make feminist knowledge accessible to diverse groups of women, 4) they facilitate and provide the space for conversation about social change, demands and shared visions of social justice, and 5) they employ diverse discursive strategies through networks and digital platforms for ‘glocal’ resistance to mobilize collective effort for all women by all women, revealing the critical perspectives of marginalized groups. These participatory emancipatory projects keep reminding us that feminism is rooted in each woman’s voice every time she stands up to oppression, exploitation, and injustice.
(1) Lina Ben Mhenni (1983-2020) was the first in Tunisia to blog – A Tunisian Girl (in Arabic, French and English) – using her real name; she documented the struggles and openly stood up against the authoritarian regime of president Zine el-Ben Ali. Ben Mhenni’s untimely death in January 2020 brought great sadness across the Arab activist world as well as, to myself as a scholar and a feminist activist. In her blog Ben Mhenni chronicled the Tunisian revolution in 2011, exposed human rights violations and neglect of the most marginalised in her country, advocating for freedom of speech and women’s rights.
Christina Kaili holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Cyprus with highest honours (Valedictorian), an MA in Human Rights from University College London. Her undergraduate degree is in Sociology with a minor in Political Science from the University of Cyprus. Her research interests include political sociology, feminist theory, human rights, social justice movements, discourse analysis and new/social media. She has 15 years of experience as a civil society professional and activist promoting gender equality and women’s rights in Cyprus, across the Eastern-Med and Europe. Christina’s writing in this field has also been expansive: she has authored or contributed to a number of publications, including research reports, e-learning modules and journal articles. This article is based on her PhD research: ‘Glocal’ Voices: Feminist Blogging Reconstructing Political Participation.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.