Anonymous, 27 Jun 2017
Online Journal of the Virtual Middle East
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Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016


Constructing and Consuming Gender through Media

Gender is constructed, performed and consumed through media in multiple ways. In this special issue of CyberOrient, we aim to bring together research on a range of Middle Eastern and Muslim cultural media products. In addition, a couple of the articles and essays shed light on the ways in which gender and gender activism may be enacted online in a variety of ways. The overarching goal of this special issue is to examine how gender roles are constructed, transmitted, performed and negotiated, and at times put forward as part of lifestyle or ideological choices. At the same time, we are interested in how such media products are received, imagined, and consumed in the every day lives of audiences. This special issue focuses both on media practices and media cultural production in the Middle East as well as products intended for consumption by Muslim and Middle Eastern diaspora.
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016


Performing Piety and Perfection: The Affective Labor of Hijabi Fashion Videos

This article examines the work of a popular Muslim woman on YouTube, Amena Khan, who has attracted over 310 thousand subscribers to her channel and runs a successful online boutique. While Amena’s hijab tutorials and lifestyle videos might appear to be just about superficial topics like fashion or makeup, this article argues that she does actual labor to not only produce an aesthetic style but to also create an affective condition of what it means to be a Muslim woman living within a neoliberal context. Amena’s videos illustrate what Michael Hardt (1999) defines as “affective labor” within this neoliberal economy. Amena might sell hijabs online, but she does not actually produce physical objects. What she does produce is an affective state—feelings around how to properly act within this neoliberal culture while still maintaining Islamic piety. The space of YouTube also allows for Amena to blend different affects and aesthetic styles, such as neoliberal elements of aspiration, creativity and individuality with Islamic ethics like piety, modesty and submission. Ultimately, the reason why Amena can attract viewers and run a successful fashion business is because she works to produce an affective state that seamlessly moves between Islamic ethics and neoliberal values.
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016

Let’s Talk About Sex: Counselling Muslim Selves Online

Islam Online Arabic, and particularly the counselling service Problems and Solutions, received harsh critique for being too ‘open’ or even ‘un–Islamic’ in their views and dealings with sensitive topics, not least with regards to sexuality. The counselling service Problems and Solutions can be considered the emblem of Islam Online’s efforts to unite secular and Islamic perspectives and relate to contemporary Muslims’ real lives and problems. Counsellors argue that there is a total lack of sexual education in the Arab world, a problem which must be faced head on. Problems and Solutions questioners could ask the most intimate of questions without shame or embarrassment. This article provides an overview of the types of questions about sexuality and sexual relations that questioners sent to Problems and Solutions counsellors. Moreover, the analysis sheds light on: 1) the various aspects of contemporary Arab marriages and taboo–ridden sexuality which counsellors believe to be detrimental to marriages, and 2) a variety of proposed local remedies, including encouraging men to aspire to the ‘new man’ ideal.
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016

When Shaming Backfires: The Doublespeak of Digitally-Manipulated Misogynistic Photographs

This study examines the case of an iconic digitally-manipulated news photograph, a controversial product of political propaganda featuring Majid Tavakoli, a student leader of the Iranian opposition in 2009, human rights activist, and political prisoner. The photograph depicts Mr. Tavakoli wearing a chador, traditional women's clothing in Iran, and appears to be digitally manipulated with the help of image-editing software. Published during the "Green Movement" protests of 2009, it triggered controversy and the production of a series of political memes mocking the Iranian authorities. This study analyzes how misogynistic shaming tactics utilized to discredit Mr. Tavakoli failed, transforming his digitally-manipulated image into the symbol of resistance. Accounting for the role of social media in raising awareness about the public's discontent regarding gender inequality, human rights violations, and media censorship in Iran, the study extends the typology of standard photojournalistic icons (Perlmutter, 1998) by adding the dimension of credibility to categorize ambiguous digitally-manipulated photojournalistic content in contentious times.
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016

Satellitization of Arab Media: Perceptions of Changes in Gender Relations

This article explores how students living in East Amman in Jordan perceive a link between global television entertainment and social changes, particularly changes in gender relations. The study relies on a questionnaire distributed among university students in Amman in 2009 and 2010 with 946 Muslim respondents, and focus group discussions and individual interviews with 44 Muslim students living in East Amman in 2013. The theoretical framework for the discussion is cultivation theory, moral panic, and audience reception. The main conclusion from this study is that many students believe that watching television makes viewers see ‘reality’ in view of TV programs. Another conclusion is that students seem to tailor their use of television according to their own needs. A third conclusion is that many students experience moral panic and see global television as an attack on cultural values. Other students, however, welcome global television’s transmission of what they consider new liberal ideas. The students’ experience is that television entertainment products such as Turkish and American films and series, have an actual impact on social changes linked to gender relations in the East Amman society. The impact of global TV on local society is envisioned as being either “good” or “bad”.
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016


Contextualizing Internet Studies: Beyond the Online/Offline Divide

This essay discusses the issue of contextualization in studies of online platform usage and online material. It argues that a separation between online and offline cannot be sustained, as social media users relate to many different online and offline contexts simultaneously. Why protagonists make use of online platforms, which platforms they use, how they make use of them, who they seek to reach, and so on, is all dependent on the various geographical and social contexts within which they work. At the same time, these users are also part of and are influenced by different online contexts that may be based on topic, identity, or geography, and which may be local, national, regional or international. When we study online material – be it activism, language use, discourse, or something else - we must do so with all these relevant settings in mind. Throughout the essay, I seek to illustrate these complex relationships between different online and offline contexts through concrete examples from Egypt and Kuwait. I argue that the material shows that we cannot generalize and simply assume similar patterns of usage of online platforms producing similar outcomes across different contexts. Still, research so far has provided insights that are important both in their own right and, not least, as methodological and theoretical considerations for future studies, and I conclude by suggesting three principles that should guide our investigations of online material.
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016

Five Questions About Arab Women’s Activism Five Years After the ‘Arab Spring’

The Arab world witnessed unprecedented waves of revolt in 2011, which have taken the whole world by surprise, and led to many unexpected outcomes and varying results. Five years after this wave of revolt, it becomes necessary to examine its wide array of effects, especially on certain groups who played a significant role in the midst of these uprisings, such as youth and women. This article addresses a number of important points pertaining to Arab women and their future, such as the effect of the turbulent political environment in the Arab region on Arab women’s movements and their ability to organize; the impact of violations of human rights and the curbing of media freedom on Arab women’s online and offline activism; the implications of the prevailing environment of fragmentation and polarization in many parts of the Arab world on Arab women’s activism, both offline and online; rethinking the potentials and limitations of “cyberactivism” and “cyberfeminism” in terms of enhancing Arab women’s empowerment, activism, and inclusion; as well as coming up with a more inclusive and comprehensive approach, which accounts for different categories of Arab women, when rethinking the notion of “cyberfeminism.”
CyberOrient, Vol. 10, Iss. 1, 2016