Creative Resistance: Diverse Ways in Which Women Protest for Democracy

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Sometimes we forget that when we see a picture, we see only one piece, one tiny snapshot, of a greater story happening not just in the frame, but all around it.  We don’t see the images that the camera forgets to capture (or intentionally leaves out), and we certainly don’t hear many of the voices that those images belong to.  Here in the West, when we turn on the TV and see newsflashes of violence and protest in the Middle East, we see exactly that: only flashes.  We are given images and stories that leave us “with scenes of violence, gender, and democratic transition” (xv), but these images are only fragments that often ignore, as Segall puts it, “creative resistance”(xvii), simplifying the ways in which people, especially women, rise up and protest, despite and because of their traumatic histories and economic challenges.  Segall’s introduction in Performing Democracy in Iraq and South Africa: Gender, Media, and Resistance highlights a number of creative ways in which women have risen up and protested against political oppression and injustice, giving unique voice to their stories and struggles.

Some women, like Marwa al-Mtowaq, staged protests for democracy by creating images of themselves on social media (in her case, wrapping herself in the national flag and smiling at the camera) that reflect “excitement for a newborn democracy” (xv).  Other women, like a group of Xhosa women who fought as militants and were tortured as political dissidents, voiced protest through televised stories.  Still other women, like Fadwa Laroui, protested state dictatorship by going to the courts and police, before finally enacting one last unforgettable protest – Fadwa lit herself on fire in front of the police station in a desperate attempt to express her “deepest desire for a new nation that granted justice to the poor” (xvi).

These stories, which grasp at diverse desires for democracy, are already widely ignored by Western Press, but even more in the shadows, are the nuanced histories and traumatic experiences driving all of these women’s unique protests.  The camera lens swoops from political spring to winter, highlighting the violence and uprising but ignoring the vital histories and the stories wound up intrinsically with the protest.  The Western camera forgets to capture Marwa’s exile to Saudi Arabia or the generational gap with her parents created by her rather militant claims for nationalism.  It also ignores the retelling of the Xhosa women’s stories through public performance or the fact that Farwa’s protests, and subsequent suicide, stemmed from a desperation to secure low-income housing for herself and her children.  And yet, despite being forgotten about by Western Media, these women’s stories, and many others, are still being told through blogs and popular media, through YouTube channels and other creative performance mediums.  Their stories are out there, and all it takes is for us to shed our own narrow perceptions and preconceived notions of Arab uprising fed to us by Western camera lenses, and hear the voices behind the images.  As Segall writes, these stories are “important creative acts, voicing diverse political identities in a young democracy” (xvi); these voices, and the individuals attached to them, are “performing democracy”.  And we should listen.

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