3.2.2 The internet
Before the advent of the Internet, the communication networks were very much limited, there were only phone lines or sent letters, but thanks to this medium of communication, things have become easier. All what people need is to sit in front of a computer and get connected which will allow them to meet people all around the world, no matter how much they are far away. The Internet is argued to be dangerous; but in fact it has its positive and negative sides just like any other aspect of life.
The Internet use has become popular in the beginning of 1990as, since then; it has had a great impact on both people and cultures. According to Media Virus (1996) the Internet is growing bigger and bigger and it has gone beyond our ability.
Rushkoff writes; aThe computer net is an ever- expending new territory and it is growing faster than our ability to document or civilize ita (Rushkoff, 1996, p.235). This means that the Internet is becoming nowadays very much important; it has imposed itself in a way that it has become a necessity that is almost impossible to get rid of it.
Historically speaking, the Internet began with the Rand Corporation, a war think tank in United States used to defend itself in the face of the cold war. Computer networking was used as a way of communication between soldiers and the Pentagon back then and the result was the APRANET, a network by the US army to allow communication and operate a defence system as well.
When the APRANET stopped working in 1989 the network was very popular, in universities and companies and it became known as the Internet (Rushkoff, 1996).
Wellman and Hythornthwaite have their own view about the Internet in their book The Internet in Every Life. They believe that the situation has changed from the elite only using the internet to be used by everybody in the everyday life for the Internet has become accessible to everyone at every time. They comment on the positive side of this tool of communication saying:
In the early 1990as, the first age of the internet was a bright light shining above the everyday concerns. It was a technological marvel bringing a new Enlightenment to transform the world, just as the printing press fostered the original Enlightenment a half- millennium ago in Renaissance times. (Wellman Hythornthwaite, 2002, p.4)
In addition, the Internet is more than just a means of communication; it can be seen as both a facilitator as it can be considered as a danger. It has made things easier for researchers and intellectuals since it allows them access to information in various fields but on the other side of the coin, it gets them introduced to negative things, like for example pornography. The net is a double edged weapon then and it is up to the person to use the side he or she is going to identify with.
Rushkoff believes that the internet is dangerous since it can create social disorder; he expresses such an idea saying aNeedless to say, the internet is a social anarchya (Rushkoff, 1996, p.238). This is done since there is no governing body for this means of communication. He continues his opinions aThe internet is inherently threatening to anyone in a position of power because no one- at least not yet- can regulate the tremendous flow of informationa (Rushkoff, 1996, p.238). Thus the internet can be used to harm instead of helping.
In fact, this idea is quite true because of the fact that a great number of rumours have been transmitted through the net about stars and politicians without being able to pursuit the doers. Furthermore, it is known that this means of communication is the preferred one for wanted people to talk to the world knowing that they will not be caught, in addition to viruses that are sent through it sometimes
which harm people themselves and destroys their computers as well. All of these factors have constituted the other face of the internet, the negative one that is claimed by some.
Boneva and Kraut have come with another study in the book The Internet in Everyday Life (2002) about the gendered use of the internet. According to a study, women search on the net for certain subjects such as health and education whereas men search for others like news and entertainment.
The only difference between the genders is the use of emails. They say aThe most profound gender difference in the use of the new technology, however, is electronic mail, with women, on average, using email more than mena (Wellman Haythornthwaite, 2002, p.346). This might be analyzed in terms of socialization; women do so since they are always concerned with maintaining relations and friendships unlike men who are looking for self- knowledge.
Technology has been proved to be a male domain, where men are expected to excel and where they have a full access. Women normally have less time to search on the net that is why they search less and send emails more since they look for socialization and making use of the human connection it offers, meanwhile men use it for the experience; it allows them to entertain themselves. There is then a kind of division and difference in the use of male and femaleas usage of the internet.
Womenas bodies and sexuality have been intruded upon by the Internet. It is argued that pimps send hies of prostituted women via the internet to customers and exploit them in the pornographic movies as well. This means the internet has been used by men as a way of normalizing the exploitation of women. This is well detailed in the following passage from the articlea The Internet and the Sex Industry: Partners in global sexual exploitationa:
Pimps and criminal syndicates use the web to advertise and display various forms of sexual violence, including sex tours, live strip/ sex shows, pornographic images and movies, and escort/ marriage services, and to recruit unsuspecting women for these purposes. (Hughes, 2000, p.4)
Thus women are victims of the Internet through the way it portrays them. The web has allowed men to violate womenas rights by showing them in such inappropriate way and has contributed also in creating a world of misogyny where women are to entertain and please men even on the screen of a computer. Thanks to the Internet, men can now exploit women in different ways; they can buy, abuse, violate, humiliate and even sell women without being afraid to be detected and punished. The internet then has resulted in a sort of a sex industry.
There is also what is called asex violencea that is being shown nowadays on the Internet. Women and girls working in this held have been found to be abused and violently treated by the pimps who employ them aThe methods of control used by pimps and traffickers are similar to those used by batterers: women are denied freedom of movement, isolated, deprived of their earnings, threatened, and made dependent on drugs or alcohola (Hughes, 2000, p. 2). This can be considered as another violence to which these women are subjected to.
In addition to the violence these women endure on line; they are subjected to all the sexual diseases transmitted to them by their clients. They also suffer from the social stigma since they are involved in a kind of work that is still considered a taboo in the majority of communities even though they are supported by the (ISPs) which is the Internet Service Providers who states that these women are workers just like any other workers and that sex work is like any other work (Hughes, 2000, p.2). The focus here is on the condition of women sex workers rather than the nature of the work itself.
The woman then is given the image of the immoral, the prostitute and the inhuman creature who is abused and beaten every now and then. In fact the role of the internet in the society is to normalize what has been considered for centuries to be a taboo and the example of online prostitution is a shouting example where women are fully used and where the morals of society are declining.
This has also a great danger on children if they get access and see such online pictures and movies. They are going to be future exploiters of women through the net and more dangerously, they can get involved in the abuse of women in the future.
The image of the Arab woman in the internet is not that far from their images in the other types of media. They are shown mostly as sexy and beautiful young girls whose bodies are being focused on by the cameras. This is apparent in Youtube videos which is one of the most popular broadcasted media in the world as a whole let alone the other websites.
To give an example, aSexy Arab womena is one of these videos where Arab star singers are shown in a sexy cloths, sometimes even in bikinis with erotic looks and smiles. These stars are shown as if they are the representative of Arab women even though they are the very minority (Youtube, 2009).
Yet in another instance there is another video whose title is aLebanese girlsa and it is almost the same image like the previous one where many beautiful Lebanese girls are shown on the beach dancing in their bikinis and also in night clubs and there is much focus on their bodies and facial expression to show how beautiful they are.
These videos are widely watched in the first example, which is in the first video aSexy Arab womena, the viewers are 2241631 whereas in the second one they reach the number 126324 (Youtube, 2009).
This huge number of viewers shows that these videos are getting much attention and that they are circulating perhaps everywhere. The problem lies in the fact that not all Arab women look like these girls and that they are not the representatives of Arab women with their diversity and difference.
Another thing that this images lead to, is the way Arab women will be viewed by the non Arabs who have no idea about them but these videos; they are likely to consider them to be no more than eroticized and sexualized bodies.
Another image that is given to the Arab women through these videos is the image of the belly dancer. The video aBelly dance Arabesquea is an example where there is a group of Arab women belly dancers whose outfit as well as their dances are very much erotic. Normally dancing in relation to women goes beyond just being a dancer; it is related to immorality and prostitution. This show how horrible is this portrayal of the Arab woman in the internet (Youtube, 2009).
In other web sites Arab women are involved in pornography to fill the fantasy of men who used not to reach them in the past. If this to be explained, one can say that not only the image of the Arab women has been destroyed by the mass media in general and the internet in particular, but also that the Arab culture and norms have been distorted as well.
This does not correspond to Arab women and it is not a sign of modernity and joining the world of today.
One has to acknowledge that these images of women do exist in the Arab society, there are the belly dancers, the sexualized, the prostitutes and the erotic Arab women; but then again these are not the only genre of women found; there are also those who are educated, who have good carriers and who were able to accomplish a lot.
These women should be also included whenever talking about Arab women in order to have a kind of equilibrium and in order not to be biased as well. The current images of Arab women in media do not reflect their reality, but perhaps just a small part of it.
Eastern media in general whether written or visual have brought great changes to the Arab society, and Arab women particularly have acquired a new way of living thanks to what they are exposed to by media. It has also portrayed them in a way that is alien to their culture and norms.
The questions to be asked at this stage are whether media changes and the cultural norms and traditions are compatible and whether it is possible for Arab women to pin down their negative images in media while still holding their identities.