Lebanese media and Bad Representation - A Prolonged Saga

Lebanese media and Bad Representation - A Prolonged Saga Maryna Kizilova

It's almost redundant being in this time and age and still having to discuss the portrayal of women and their struggle in media. However with the way things are progressing, old worn out subjects seem to be constantly pushed back to the front.

 This of course is no surprise to anyone. It is quite well known that liberal media pushes its agendas by simplifying structural matters into trends and slogans to distract the populace. In an era where feminism gets such a bad rep, not that it had a peachy rep in other eras, it’s of little to no surprise that the mere phrasing of anything related to the issue  is met with aggressive hate waves  and prolonged repetitive debates. Now, you might think, the bad rep comes from misogyny, and you’re right. You are, I promise, but this topic is like an onion, it has layers. And at some point, it will probably make you want to cry.

 Now imagine this; you’re a social media warrior, and you posted something pro-feminist. An ensuing wave of replies to that post will include generic support, ridicule, suggestions to make the phrasing more inclusive, mansplaining of the post in question and or man-debunking of the issue all together, with a sprinkle of kitchen jokes -of course because we all have that one person that never outgrew seventh grade and just has to remind us all the time of our “place”.

 That chaos you’ll find on your feed is replicated in our daily Lebanese media. In university, you are told that you are supposed to present an information of value to the viewer. That of course is a load of crap. One thing and one thing only matters when it comes to media, and that is the source of the cash. If it gets you viewers and ratings then it gets you better paying commercials, if it gets people talking then it’ll have traction on social media, and that serves for higher AdSense. So it’s a surprise to literally nobody that broadcasters will try to jump the bandwagon with the "trendy" topics, while having little to no understanding of the matters themselves. And quite frankly, while not bothering to try and educate themselves about it at all.
But if it gets a disagreement or some semblance of a fight on screen, then it’s doing the job, right?

A recent example would be Rabia al Zayyat's episode a couple weeks ago on "above 18" titled "Rabia al Zayyat sheds light on men's rights" -as per the caption- courtesy of Al Jadeed's YouTube channel. You might want to take a moment, and chew on it; you might even think to yourself "Well the captions are meant to be attention grabbing, right? But a decent presentation would be to prove the clout chaser headline wrong." If that's what you've been thinking, then don't waste your breath, you're not getting any value content here. 

 What you get is Nidal Al Ahmadeyye, a journalist, saying we import our ideology from the foreigners, and that she does not support feminism, she only supports equality. She's right on one front; we do import our ideology from our surroundings. Usually by influence, and usually that influence works because it shows us a better possibility of living to the one we perceive ourselves to be existing in at the moment. Another lady guest starring the show, Hayat Mirshad, a feminist activist, goes on to explain to our dear journalist Nidal that women in fact have led feminist marches and acts since the sixties in the country for the sake of equality and justice.

 "Equality and justice"; jargon that repeats in the episode as another lady on the show, Boushra Khalil, attorney, emphasizes her distaste with the word feminism, for she is instead all about justice. Fitting.

 It's always funny and jarring for me when women in positions of influence are against the cause, considering had they been born a couple decades back they would have been ostracized for who they are and what they do. I understand the gratitude for our current state, and understand where a confusion might arise as to the correspondence that "we, in our state, are doing so much better than others". However I find it, and I will risk sounding elitist, simply obtuse for these women to hold on to these opinions while ignoring the facts. The facts being had there not been feminist waves in a mainly patriarchal society, they would have been dead for the barest minimum of things they get to do today. The right to vote, come and go as they please, and exist -simply exist, is a result of those feminist waves. Another guest on the  show will go on to point out that since women can do these things then they no longer need  feminism, ironically enough misogynists back in the day did not believe women even needed these things either. So, in simplified  wording, this is not  being ungrateful for  our current privileges, this is  acknowledging that we  have  these privileges  because women decades ago fought so that  we can have them today, and the reason we are  still fighting, is so  that women in the future can also live a better life.

 So these people going on a televised  show to reduce and ridicule a cause that fights for their right to exist as a complete human being, a human being that is acknowledged by society and law to have a fully developed and functioning brain, a human that can partake in transactions, legalities, and custodies without a chaperone. Just like any other human being living in a society.  These ladies quite clearly enjoy the liberties Lebanese feminists fought to attain for us today, while not even recognizing these privileges. While it is elitist to demand of a tired populace to go and get educated, a lawyer and a journalist should do better. Or just shut up to be frank. They’re really out here associating feminism in the region with white liberal agendas, which is  a pure indicator of how detached and insensitive they are to the lives  of  minorities  and people that are not  in the upper classes.

 But hey at least they get to dress as they please and come and go, right? - Note my sarcasm, I beg.

 Anyway, back to the delightful episode, Rabia al Zayyat, goes on to put a little act of being upset with where the conversation is headed, declares that she is a feminist herself, then proceeds to ask our favorite law woman whether the Lebanese law differentiates between genders. Boushra El Khalil goes in a roundabout way answering the question, bringing in religion to the equation. I honestly zoned out every time she did so, I’m sorry but I have no clue what she said (I’m not really sorry). She does pitch in however with the brilliant الجميع سواسية أمام" القانون"

This phrase gives me Live Laugh Love vibes back in 2013. You couldn't go pee in peace without being face-slapped by Live Laugh Love in some shape or form. Same thing with these lawmen and women, whenever you try to converse with them, they’ll find a way to squeeze it in. My old law professor in college did it too, then proceeded to explain how not everyone is in fact equal, no. Same thing here, however long our lady's rant went on, the bottom line ends with the answer being no..

 But of course the hot debate does not delve into how the laws discriminate against women - that would be boring and wouldn't get as many views- it instead does a lovely camera transition and boom a man I've never seen in my life who looks too excited to declare his dislike of feminism. I won't bother looking up his name, if I have to see that face again I will have to gouge my eyes out. Anyway Mr. Shall Not Be Named, Voldemort for short, brings the never relenting argument to the table that "Y'all should stop talking about women's rights, today we need men's rights! Exclamation mark!" Insert his smirking face -oh lord- I'm having nightmares of this man tonight- "What exactly is the women fighting for, what can't she have? She can leave the house,”
"قادرة تضهر" is his literal phrasing.

 Then he goes on to say, "she can work, she can wear whatever she wants". 
 And honestly ladies, this stellar argument, chef's kiss. We should all now go and burn our Simone de Beouvoir and Bell Hooks publications, quit our activist activities, throw away those stupid headbands, and get on our knees and pray in glee for He Who Has A Puncheable Face has declared a statement from which no other statements deserve to be born after. You heard me right, girlies gays and theys, listen to him as he says "to not ask for anything more." We should stop nagging and be grateful we live and exist. What else could we possibly want aside from a lovely outfit- or not necessarily lovely, Voldemort never specified, y'all should be grateful you get fabric on your backs.

 Enough with Rabia and her performative feminism and back to the topic at hand.  The bad taste left in your mouth that  shows up whenever these issues are brought up comes from stripping an otherwise systematic fight into mere girlbossification; presented in the over simplifying of our fights into something surface level. Not that that in its own right isn't righteous, it very much is. I repeat, this is not villainizing what liberal feminism seeks out, it's only pointing out that those in oppressive countries and war torn towns, are struggling to survive. They're struggling to live. And when you're struggling to exist day by day, when your fight is rooted in a system designed to keep you in control and at its mercy, you cannot gentrify the struggle. This conversation cannot be had without someone trying to undermine it. There’s no doubt that in a capitalistic society that exploits men women and even children in the underprivileged countries where it can get away with it, the fight is focused against the oppressors. But to not create a cycle in which one oppressor replaces another, the structure that enables and indoctrines our behaviors and belief systems ought to be challenged.

  The disappointing representation of women in media does not end here. It’s like a rubber band, evermore in its elasticity, the more you pull the more it stretches out. An ad caught my eye regarding women’s participation in the political sphere and elections. The phrasing goes along these lines “let us take a seat where we belong”.  The automatic response my friends and I had to this ad was making pleading noise and childish baby faces at the imaginary enemy that is not letting us take a seat. This is disappointing on so many levels, because while the intention, as with all quota related attempts, is in its essence meant to be good, the execution leaves little to be desired. The participation of women in the political sphere is underwhelming, indeed. An ad could be constructed to encourage the ladies to participate. However to use this tone for the delivery was not it.

 Last but not least, is it even an article about women in media if we don’t discuss the cleaning and cooking advertisements being targeted solely towards women? This has been chewed on so many times, but if you see it on NBN with the lady and the annoying seller convincing her of cleaning products, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Stop it, just stop it. It’s exhausting at this point.