By Vittoria Volgare Detaille
Overcoming stereotypes and offering authentic female perspectives, Arab women in the entertainment industry are thriving. Social media has played an important role by not only offering platforms for women to be heard and seen but also providing them with opportunities to earn income from online content. In some cases, social media has even been revolutionary when used to demand legislative changes and take on issues such as sexual harassment, patriarchy and gender-based violence.
Arab women’s presence on social platforms is huge, and many have large audiences, some comprising millions of followers. Although plenty of female influencers promote themselves and push products, there is also an army of women who have become drivers of change. According to ‘Social Media in the Arab World: The Impact on Youth, Women and Social Change,’ a study by the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed), Arab women have played a leading role in the historic, political and civic changes sweeping the region.
Notwithstanding the challenges, women such as Haifa Beseisso and Maha Jaafar have played parts in overcoming stereotypes about the Middle East and Arab women. Beseisso achieves this through her travel videos and satirical songs, and Jaafar does so through comedy.
Born and raised in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 31-year-old Palestinian Haifa Beseisso is a YouTuber and TV host, but she considers herself a creative change maker as well.
Beseisso was 24 when she decided to quit her stable job as a TV producer to concentrate on her YouTube channel, Fly With Haifa, in which she uses travel videos to bring her subscribers around the world with her . As one of the most popular Arab YouTubers, with over 1.5 million followers across various social media platforms, she has no regrets.
Beseisso’s vlogs are born from her desire to bridge cultures and regions, especially between the Middle East and the West. With time, her passion to foster understandings grew to encompass the world. ‘I wanted to show the worldwho Arab people are. I always felt we were misrepresented in the media; we didn’t have a voice,’ Beseisso says. So, in her 2018 video ‘Stereotype World: The Middle East Speaks,’ which has more than four million views on YouTube, Beseisso encourages Arabs to speak up and tell their own stories while inviting the world to rethink stereotypes about the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
The video opens on a dark theatre scene, in which women and men dressed in traditional Arab attire sing,
Welcome everybody to the stereotype world
I am the man
And this my woman
I always walk behind and stay low
We live in sand castles
And always ride camels
Even on our way to school
Yes, I’m oppressed
Just like how you guessed
I don’t get a say in what I do
And I have 10 wives
Then I bomb up my life
Then I go to eat homoooooos,
until Beseisso interrupts the sombre scene, introducing the real version of the Middle East. In a more colourful tone, the YouTuber takes us around Arab countries full of traditions, where women thrive.
We got doctors, lawyers
Coffee shop owners
Now I ain’t come here to say
That we never struggle
But then again show me one place
Ain’t got no trouble
This feature article is part of The Womanhood Issue. To read this article digitally click here to buy a digital copy of the issue. To read the entirety of this article in print, click here or here to order a print copy of the issue.
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