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Double Marginalization: The Invisibility of Syrian Refugee Women's Perspectives in Mainstream Online Activism and Global Media

journal contribution
posted on 2023-01-17, 20:17 authored by Katty AlhayekKatty Alhayek

After the “Arab Spring” uprisings, an optimistic strand in the field of media and social change emerged which presents the role of social networking websites as key tools for Muslim and Arab women to change the dominant representations about themselves in the media and literature as oppressed and sexually objectified by their men (Nahed Eltantawy 2013). While I acknowledge the role of online social media spaces as resources for social change, this paper incorporates feminist scholarship on gender, postcolonialism, and representation (Abu-Lughod 2002; Chandra Mohanty 2003; Aihwa Ong 1999) to critically evaluate social networking websites as spaces that actually promote stereotypical and/or hegemonic understandings of Syrian refugee women's issues. As an example of what Ong (1999) calls “self-orientalization,” I analyze the discourses of the Facebook campaign “Refugees Not Captives” (RNC) and argue that this campaign's messages transfer to and interact with mainstream global media coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis. My main goal is to show how what may appear to be a local authentic online campaign aiming to encourage feminist actions to end the suffering of Syrian refugee women is, in fact, disconnected from the offline realities of these women and the activist groups who work with them on the ground. My concern is to critique a form of feminist online campaign that claims to represent the voices of women who generally do not have the economic and educational privileges to access the online spaces to speak for themselves. Methodologically, this article is part of a broader study based on my fieldwork during the summer of 2013 in Jordan, where I conducted ethnographic research as well as thirty-three in-depth interviews with Syrian refugee women and activists, including the representative of the RNC campaign. My paper discusses how the discourses of both this online campaign and the Western media reinforce hegemonic orientalist representations of Syrian women, as well as marginalizing both refugee women's voices and the voices of activists that do not fit dominant representations of Muslim women. 



Reprinted in Women of the Middle East, edited by Fatma Müge Göçek, Routledge (December 2, 2015)]



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