Arab Girls Unveil on Facebook

Posted: August 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Degrees of Caution: Arab Girls Unveil on Facebook” is an article written by Rodda Leage and Ivana Chalmers who examine the impact of social networking sites, specifically Facebook, on Arab ‘girls.’ Leage and Chalmers engage in a study that examined 42 Arab girls between eighteen and twenty-two years of age. These 42 girls attended university, lived with their parents, and were from Qatar – a country that is viewed as very conservative with high value on its cultural and religious traditions. Through the study Chalmers and Leage interviewed the women to find out how social networking sites (SNS) impact the girl’s identities and the way they chose to express their identities.

Essentially, Chalmers and Leage found that the young ladies had a strong desire to establish and maintain a good reputation, which ultimately affected the ways they performed their identities on Facebook. Both authors argue that the girls “negotiated identity expressions within their culture.” This is illustrated through four approaches the authors categorized the girls taking in terms of Facebook use. First, some of the girls chose not to participate in social networking sites at all. Others used Facebook, but very carefully in order to follow the conservations of the culture. These girls used the website as limited self expression. The third approach found during the interviews was that some of the girls used creative methods in order to allow more self expression such as writing notes that only specific people could read and understand. Finally, some girls disregarded cultural norms altogether in order to have greater freedom of expression.

Overall, I believe the research done by Chalmers and Leage display confirmations of social discourse. Generally speaking, when one discusses Islamic women or Middle Eastern women, they assume that these women are oppressed by the men who play a more dominant role within the culture. Social discourse portrays Islamic women as conservative, unable to freely express their appearance or voices in some cases. Through Chalmers and Leage’s work, this discourse seems appropriate and ultimately true. These 42 women who have been interviewed all spoke about how they use Facebook in a way that maintains their reputation and a way that doesn’t disrespect or dishonour their families. Most of the women interviewed chose not to put up pictures of their faces in fear that rumour would spread or that they would appear to be “bad” or misrepresented. Instead, they would find creative ways of depicting their identities such as using pictures of themselves that didn’t show their full faces, or pictures that expressed something they were interested in that only some friends would understand.

The dominant discourse that identifies women of Islam as oppressed is ultimately reinstated within Chalmers and Leage’s study. One of the participants of the study state, “It frustrates me, and its not part of Islam. It’s a part of our culture…The culture gives extra opportunity for men to do whatever they want.” These women are oppressed in the sense that they are unable to freely express themselves without worrying about getting into trouble, while the men of their culture are able to do as they please. Leage and Chalmers state that throughout their interviews the Arab girls expressed that the reality for them in Qatar is that they currently “must live with inequality – both online and offline.”Even those who chose to go against societal discourse, who put up pictures of themselves and engage in activity that is usually disregarded in their culture, end up facing severe consequences. One of the participants state that “My brothers will have the right to maybe beat me” when asked what her family would do if they found out she was participating on a dating site.

While researching online, I found two interesting blogs that related to girls posting their pictures online. One blog written by a Zara Syed titled, “Hijabi? Putting pictures on Facebook?” discusses how more and more Arab girls are putting pictures of themselves on Facebook.  Zyed shows the perspective of an Arab girl who decides not to post her pictures online and in fact finds it disturbing that some girls do. I found this blog extremely interesting as it seems this writer is not only conforming to the dominant social discourses, but also advocating it. She even critiques the girls who do post their pictures, stating that they are “all are so dolled up in their display pictures that it seems as though someone forced a headscarf on the winner of America’s Next Top Model.”

Another blog I found online was titled “Muslim females STOP uploading PICTURES online” written by “KING-slave of Allah.” Within this blog, the author seems to advocate that Muslim girls need to stop posting their pictures online by referring to text found in the Quran. KING says, “My dear sisters, You say you love Allah SWT ,but when it comes to beauty or looks then you are asking Qs. and finding where it is written to stop showing on Internet or asking Why not saying for Males. I’m requesting you to remove your pictures becoz Its Allah Order to Hide your beauty. THE USE of your pictures are very bad.”

Both these blogs disturbed me. I am a frequent user of Facebook and always post pictures of myself and my friends. Of course, I am concerned about who sees the pictures and put my privacy settings as private as possible, however I see nothing wrong with expressing yourself through your page. Facebook is a social networking site that allows to you keep in touch with friends and at the same time express yourself and show your growth in life. I feel that everyone should have the freedom to do so without feeling like they’re being judged or with the fear of getting in trouble. While reading through Chalmers and Leage’s work and the blog posts I began to question what I would do if I were in the Arab girls’ position. If you were/or are an Arab woman living in Qutar, would you choose to conform or challenge the social discourses, and use Facebook the way you wanted to? Do you consider the “creative” ways Chalmers and Leage explain that the girls express themselves in a conservative form to really be a form of expression and real identity?


Syed’s blog post:

KING’s blog post:

– Amber Kandola

  1. Viel T. says:

    I think that Amber’s post about Muslim girls’ participation on Facebook is interesting because it raises the question whether or not social institution’s rules should apply to the internet. This also shows the binary between reality and virtual reality, just as Nakamura’s article addressed last week. In my opinion, cultural or religious traditions are as important as one’s participation on the internet. In fact, I believe that the internet is an important way to harvest information about the world, to seek different realms of perspectives and it’s a way of learning about the world, but through the comforts of your own home. However, I think that women and young girls, no matter what background or what beliefs they harbour, should have a choice on how they represent themselves. In reality, religious institutions were not created in the virtual world, but in the real one. Therefore, in my opinion it is up to the girl to decide how she should represent herself.

    In respect to one of the blogs that I’ve found, called Blog of an American Muslim Girl, Iman represents herself as primarily Muslim and chooses to represent herself with a picture of her with her hijab on. Leafing through the commenters of her blog, the profile pictures of other Muslim girls are very different. Some have avatars enrobed in their traditional hijab and some have pictures of objects. I think that though it may seem difficult to be a Muslim girl in the confines of her religion, participating on social media sites, their experiences speak more than their self-representations. On the internet, she can address her concerns about her religion and about the culture she’s in. Here, she can find people who understand her and eventually form a community of their own. I don’t believe religious institutions should have the right to deny a girl’s access to the internet because of how they represent themselves. Varieties of people make up the internet, as it does the world, but the one difference is that the internet is much more fluid, in terms of identity. I think that people are overlooking the benefits of the internet and paying more attention to one’s representation on the internet. I leave you with one question: Do you think that religious institutions should have a say on what is allowed on the internet? Or should it be a choice?

    Look over Iman’s blog as it addresses the concerns about the difficulties of keeping up as a Muslim living in a country like the United States…it’s really interesting!

    Viel T

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