Digital Identity Building in the MENA: Contested Purities, Truths, and Heroisms in the Gendering of International Narratives
When it was announced in 2017 that the robot Sophia was granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia, it set off a media controversy about citizenship rights accorded a female-appearing robot in a nation where women had just been granted the (future) right to drive cars. This conflict is rooted, not in abstract conversations over the rights assigned to artificial intelligence, but over perceptions of gendered rights and gender biases associated with the MENA and Islam. While the social media driven narratives of “democracy” and “freedom” that emerged within the MENA during the “Arab Spring” were crafted, in part, to appeal to traditional narratives of Western culture, women’s roles and women’s places in those narratives remained relatively unexposed. Women’s voices from the MENA often focus on how gender rights are more threatened by the resulting Arab and Muslim regimes after the “Arab Spring”. Further, as US and European Nationalisms have risen, anti-Muslim propaganda has impacted the transferability of gendered narratives from the MENA. Here, not only does the story narrative need to translate to the global, westernized, patriarchal stage…the voices of women speaking from the MENA need to match the voices of the more Westernized, global feminist movements. Global political, ideological, and social polarizations are further reinforced by the architectural framework of social media, where consumer voices are drawn together into like-minded groups. Thus, the resulting gendered identities of MENA women advocates online are often found in collective identities and categorical narratives based on specialized concerns within popular social media applications.
Victoria Ann Newsom, Ph.D. is a Professor of Communication Studies at Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington. Dr. Newsom's research centers on the negotiation of power, gender, and identity in performative and communication contexts. Her current projects include work in media analysis and activism, peace studies, postcolonial feminism(s), performative pedagogies, fan and media studies, and cultural studies-grounded analyses of transnational policy making. She has published articles in, among others, International Journal of Communication, Studies in Symbolic Interaction, Global Media Journal, Communication Studies, Communication Yearbook, Journal of International Women's Studies, and Feminist Media Studies. Victoria's current research and activist interests focus on the intersection of post-truth media and consumerism.