BEIRUT: The best-known Lebanese blogs tend to be run by men, and though they are often vociferous supporters of women’s rights, there’s no replacement for hearing it from the horse’s mouth. Similarly, female perspectives on domestic and international issues are often missing from the online debate.
In celebration of International Women’s Day, here are three little-known but thought-provoking blogs written in English by Lebanese ladies across the world.
Marwa Berro – Between a Veil and a Dark Place
Marwa Berro is a pseudonym, and a brief scroll through her carefully worded posts about the abuse she was subjected to while she lived in Beirut explains why.
The 25-year-old former English and philosophy teacher, originally from the south, has since moved to the U.S., from where she began her blog last summer. She categorizes herself as “an ex-Muslim, an apostate, an atheist, an escapee from the Middle East, [and] a victim of both religious-based violence at the hands of my own family and the crushing Western war machine in my homeland.”
The posts are often long and academically written, a world away from the more skim-friendly fodder of other blogs. Yet they are also fascinating, absorbing and carefully reasoned. She writes about Islam, identity, women’s rights, Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Arab world and increasingly, her own personal story. “Informed critique leads to reform and leads to solutions,” she told The Daily Star.
It’s an attitude that she admitted was dependant on her location. “I would never have been able to do this, even secretly, back home ... What I do is very unpopular and controversial in many circles.”
Excerpt: “Part two: What it is like to be a Muslim woman.” Dec. 4, 2013
This life that I lived was only possible because of the religious and value systems of not only my family, but the society and culture and country that surrounded them. Because I lived in a country that refused to pass a law criminalizing domestic violence and marital rape due to protest from the two largest Shiite and Sunni authorities in the country, based on religious grounds. Because I lived in a country where I had no legal recourse or opportunity to gain freedom or independence, where girls did not move out unless for marriage, where marriage legally required a guardian’s consent all on religious grounds.
Paola Daher – Myrrh and Mint.
Daher may have grown up in Europe, but her thoughts are strictly focused on Lebanon and the Middle East. The 29-year-old Lebanese writer, currently based in Switzerland, actually runs two blogs, of which Myrhh and Mint is her personal creative outlet.
For Daher, blogging is a form of therapy, a “venting outlet.” It’s a place where she can organize her thoughts and share her writing with a larger audience, such as her popular series Tales of the Phoenix City, a number of intersecting stories about the life of Beirutis.
More Lebanese women should blog, Daher told The Daily Star, because “many people speak on behalf of Lebanese women: [and] I think it’s high time they claim their own reality and narrative back.”
A heartfelt mash-up of creative writing and personal essays, Myrrh and Mint offers up a stimulating exploration of women’s rights, feminism and the little-discussed subject of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Excerpt: “Childbearing, Breastfeeding and the Battle of Motherhood.” Jan. 3, 2014
Childbirth is like a particularly intense hazing nature puts us through. To me, it was this unimaginably violent, painful, radical test my body and mind had to bear, and here I sit, writing about it, trying to put words on the impossible, looking at my child yet not realizing I have done it and lived to tell the tale.
Another part of me is laughing, pointing at the very pretentious act of writing about something experienced by millions of women every day, these millions not feeling the need to be writing about it all. ... In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say childbirth really is a big f---ing deal. If men were doing it, there would be memorials in every city to every fallen comrade who died or sustained injuries giving life.
Lamia Moghnieh – The Interrogations of Shamshouma
Burnt-out by doctorate exams and broken-hearted, Moghnieh had to have a breakdown to end what she calls a decadelong period of writer’s block. The result was The Interrogations of Shamshouma, an opportunity to re-empower herself. “Writing gave me strength and later it made me feel less lonely and fragile,” the 32-year-old told The Daily Star.
But rather than simply being a personal account of her life, Moghnieh – an anthropologist – uses the space to write, in both Arabic and English, “about things that have become ‘common sense’ in Lebanon, or taken for granted as normal.” Things such as racism, violence, humanitarianism and NGOs.
“I think about my posts as being political in a sense that they challenge and reveal mainstream ideology.”
She said online debates, like other conversations in Lebanon, get dominated by men, who tend to be more aggressive and silencing of women, “partly because talking and expressing one’s opinions, especially political and social ones, are highly valorized masculine traits in our society.”
Excerpt: “Soon the space will be too small: the total normalization of racism in Lebanon.” Aug. 5, 2013
It is becoming really hard to breathe in Lebanon. ... And I find myself silenced. It is not the oppressive slap-on-face-shut-up-dumb-woman kind of a silencing. It is a much more dangerous form of silencing, and a completely terrifying and isolating one. ... When racism and classicist hatred of the other becomes “common sense” in Lebanon, a normalized relaxing routine of daily relations, a funny TV show, a delightful sob7iyeh chitchat over coffee, a concerned policy implemented nationally to protect ... I myself disappear.