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A feminist clears her name using the same Web 2.0 tools that tried to degrade her

I had applied to be a Voice of the Future correspondent a year ago and decided to apply again after experiencing a certain situation during the call for 2011 applicants. Besides the political ramifications the incident had, it had ‘really hit home’ in terms of the power of media and social networking, particularly in regards to feminism.

I had been asked to be part of a debate for Al Jazeera’s social media show “The Stream,” and although a few friends coached me before hand, nothing could really prepare me for what had actually happened. The issues of discussion were quite unclear—in terms of the topic of debate I was told beforehand verses the actual debate—but I was quite excited knowing that the guest host was supermodel Alek Wek, not because she’s famous but because the country she’s originally from, South Sudan, had just become the newest country to my region, the Horn of Africa.

Before the debate started, Alek was asked whether she was a feminist or not, and I was taken aback by her answers. Not only did she blatantly state that she wasn’t a feminist (which is her right), but the subsequent comments that she made were odd. She said she wasn’t a feminist because she learned how to share in a household full of brothers. For the first time in my life, I heard someone say that feminists don’t know how to work as a team.

As awkward as her comments were, I was again shocked by a comment made by the person I was ‘debating’ against. He said that young women in Eritrea do national service only to become the wives of army generals. Not only is that completely false, but I felt personally offended as a young woman who has done her military and national service, not to become somebody’s wife but to ensure my rights as an equally participating citizen in the national development drive.

Further on in the ‘debate’, I had been interrupted by Alec Wek as she completely distorted my words and falsely accused me of being insensitive. Her misinterpretation of my statement, though I had corrected her later on in the show, caused many people to write me demeaning ‘hate mail’ and use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to tarnish my name and image.

I had felt awful for about a day, but then it hit me: “If there are those who use Web 2.0 to degrade me, than why can’t I use Web 2.0 to spread the truth and clear my name?” A couple of days after the show, I had started a blog and had it networked on to my Facebook. That weekend, I had a total of 1,975 hits! Through friends, I had learned that my blog posts were all over Twitter. Taking advantage of Web 2.0, I was able to take a potentially demoralizing situation and turn it into liberation! Through Web 2.0, I was able to find my voice and let the world know it.

Comments

Hello dear Rahel, this is a very serious argument you are raising. I am a little reluctant to accept that Alek Wek will react like that on an International Media. I am thinking she was just role playing, to see your reactions. And if that isn’t the motive, then she is ignorant because, there is no such thing/rule as feminists grow up with girls only. All the feminists that i have meet are married to men, some of them have only boy children and some are from a family of boys-maybe being the only girl or last girl and still do live a happy live. so how ideology about feminism is a total outside/out of topic to the fundamental principle of feminism. It is people like her who moves around and tannish the true image of feminism. People like that Mama; one of my favourite write refers to them as State Feminist. 'State Feminism’: this is a group of middle class women willing to propagate highly conservative ideas, never failing to remind women of their primary obligations as Wives and Mothers (mama 1997:418).

I am glad at the force you are taking. Those people will slowly learn and understand your argument. It is just a matter of time.

Thank you so much for sharing this interesting piece here with your sisters.

Stay Blessed

Zoneziwoh

Blog: http://zofem.blogspot.com/

facebook: Zoneziwoh

twitter & Instagram: @ZoFem

Gertrude Bvindi's picture

Interesting how a war of

Interesting how a war of words on TV can easily berectified by a blog on the internet. I suppose those are theadvantages of Web 2.0 and other social media networks, you can easily get views across.

With your story, you have also brought about a great point regrading the general misconceptions on femminism. Many people out in the world i live in believe that feminists are those hard headed women who are totally aganist men and anything to do with men. Many beleive feminists to be lesbians, who have no respect for societal values and the traditional male dominated society.

I suppose the only way to rectify this will be to continuosly educate people on the basic frameworks involved in the femenist movement, the various types and the common ideals. This is an argument that we can run with all day long, but as long as we don not get that right, there are going to be misfired statements and quotes like what happned on this show.

Well done hey for educating other people.
Go Web 2.0

Gertrude Bvindi

Rahel Weldeab's picture

Hey Friends, Thank you for

Hey Friends,

Thank you for your insightful comments!

To call oneself a feminist is tough business because it is so easily misinterpreted as 'girls who want to be men.' And especially for straight women who still love to cook and clean, and likes to receive a bouquet of flowers once in a while (LOL!), such a label is damaging. In fact, the misconception of feminism or feminists has seriously hindered me personally (and I'm sure many of you) to a point that just mentioning gender equality, especially in decision-making processes, has gotten me labeled as a loud mouth. To stand on an equal footing as my male colleagues means I have to work even harder than they do, and still I don't receive the same benefits of them.

I had tried to hyperlink some of my statements in my post so that you can easily refer to certain articles. But apparently, hyperlinking isn't possible on our VOF journals. So I'm posting the links here:

http://stream.aljazeera.com/story/alek-wek-refugee-supermodel
[Check it out! Alec Wek blatantly states "I'm not a feminist I think, not at all. I came from nine brothers and sisters, I grew up to share, to be a part of the team. To not just take and take but also give back… Shine the torch on the next person just like it's been shined on you… My mother always said, what makes you beautiful as a woman is the woman you are and you must celebrate other women."

The political scene in my country, as well as 'opposition groups' abroad is quite complicated, and those who use Web 2.0 to demoralize youth into being inactive had a weird reaction to Alec Wek's misinterpretation of my comment. In reaction to this misinterpretation, I had written this blog post: http://therealrahel.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/embarrassing-eritreans-putt...

But the initial post that I had made, the first blog post I wrote in reaction to the whole incident, titled "How many of you belong to the exclusive club of being ‘put in place’ by supermodel Alec Wek?!", can be found at this link: http://therealrahel.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/how-many-of-you-belong-to-t...

RenKiss's picture

I totally see where you're

I totally see where you're coming from, there's a lot of misconceptions about what feminism is. Here in the West feminists are portrayed as evil man hating lesbians. In reality feminists come from all kinds of backgrounds. Though I get why some women don't want label themselves as feminists because there are valid reasons for not doing so, but other times it just seems to be based on misconceptions.

Claire Leland's picture

Constructive Dialogue

Hi Rahel,

Thanks for sharing your compelling story. I'm glad that you were able to seek out support through your own blog/Web 2.0 community following what sounds like a frustrating conversation on the AJ program.

One question I'm curious about your views on is how a blog or other Web 2.0 forum, without the limitations of time and sound bites as more mainstream (esp. TV/radio) media tends to have, can be used to move a conversation forward in a constructive way. I read some of the responses on your blog and it seems that some people really supported you while others took a more attacking/confrontational approach. How did you find yourself responding to the more negative responses? Do you feel like the Web does provide that safe space for constructive and open debate on complex issues?

Thanks again for your honesty and energy.

all the best,

Claire

Hi Claire!

Thank you for your input and your interesting questions! I am under the impression that Web 2.0 can be used to move a conversation forward in a constructive way; in fact, I'm vigorously working to understand exactly how I may do this! The web should provide a safe space for open debate, but in the current virtual political environment I am in, there are too many people who immediately make things personal. The issues are complex and it affects people on a personal level many times, but instead of having constructive debates, many people choose to attack people on a personal level (ad hominen). Web 2.0 tools like Facebook doesn't always help in this situation as people can have access to some personal information (i.e. like using one's profile pictures to spread demeaning and misinterpreted propaganda). Through my own personal experience, I have found myself in a situation where me being a female is enough information for some to personally attack me (i.e. using derogatory terms such as 'whore' or 'slut'). But still, it takes so much inner strength to over come such type of situations. It takes stamina and serious girl power to look beyond such things and still press for constructive debating. This is why I just love World Pulse... with World Pulse, we have a community of extremely bright women who share the same challenges but are determined to use Web 2.0 to get the stories straight and to battle the current status quo.

Food for thought: Many-a-time I have had people say to me that I must be doing something right to receive so much negative feedback (i.e. haters trying left and right to push my buttons). Despite what type of feedback one gets, let it be positive or negative, the fact that they are getting any feedback is a good sign. It means people are listening (even though they might not always choose to listen with both ears and their heart).

Claire Leland's picture

Hi Rahel, Thanks for your

Hi Rahel,

Thanks for your thoughtful reply. We learned in my conflict resolution courses about separating the "person" from the "problem" but sometimes, as you say, it does seem impossible to keep ourselves from either directing personal comments or taking things personally (to heart).

I totally agree with your point about negative feedback, especially if challenges and assertions can be transformed into the opportunity to learn from other people's views. I think I remember reading on your blog a comment from one person who agreed with part of what you said and then had a counterpoint to the rest. This is the kind of communication I think we can really grow from -- and I'm glad you feel that World Pulse also provides the space to have that kind of healthy debate that comes out of getting personal -- sharing our own personal experiences to make connections, to challenge and to collaborate.

Girl Power -- you said it!

Take care,
Claire

akaneko's picture

Dear Rahel, Thank you for

Dear Rahel,

Thank you for your post - it's quite powerful and brings up a lot of issues that can be addressed through Web 2.0. As others have already stated, I think the the misconceptions surrounding feminism need to be addressed and women like you can help do so through the power of your words and social media. I think it's so great that you can take a somewhat negative experience like the debate you had and turn it into motivation to make positive changes in the world and in discussions about women's rights. Thank you!

Alison

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