Pashtuns, Social Networking, and Gender Empowerment: What does it mean to be empowered?
When I first decided to write on the topic of Pashtun women’s empowerment through social networking and specifically through blogging, I was searching for the blogs of those Pashtun women who engaged themselves in “intellectual” discussions, writing on “serious” topics, such as politics, society, and religion. I was not, for example, looking for blogs replete with “gossip” or “every-day things.” I wanted to find signs of heterodoxy, explicit discussions of taboo subjects (though I hadn’t yet decided what “taboo” meant in a Pashtun context), perhaps disagreement with status quo, with the roles typically associated with Pashtun and other Muslim women (which are primarily domestic and private roles as opposed to public). But I realized that I was excluding an important circle of Pashtun women bloggers who perhaps simply had no problem with the roles with which they might be associated. Although this is not to imply that they are indeed necessarily satisfied with their current roles, I did realize that the absence of discussions of certain topics in itself reveals quite a lot about what this particular circle of bloggers view as important. Hence, what does it mean to be empowered? What does an empowered woman do or talk about, and how does she show her empowerment? These are the questions I intend to answer in my study.
It seems that much of the research on social networking and women’s empowerment suggests that in order for a female blogger to be empowered or to express her empowerment, she must be engaged in public discussions of “taboo” subjects such as sex. While I am not denying the empowerment of such women, I do question what it means to be empowered. What of those women who feel empowered but do not feel comfortable writing about, or simply do not wish to write about or are not interested in, such subjects? Is it not possible for a woman to work and live inside the social, political, and religious system that has bred her and in which she continues to live and struggle, but still feel empowered? Must, for example, she express disagreements with her society and surroundings in order to show that she is an empowered being? I suggest that this reading of women’s empowerment excludes those women who prefer to express their empowerment through other means rather than through writing about subjects such as sex and love….
Going back to the earlier point about my initial objective of seeking only “serious” blogs, I’ve been asking myself what exactly a “serious” blog is. And why was I excluding “non-serious” and “gossip” blogs from my study? Indeed, why is gossiping bad? More importantly, what constitutes gossip? How do we know, for example, that women talking about “non-serious” topics does not empower them? I opine that gossiping is given a negative status among intellectuals because it is generally a women’s activity—not a men’s activity—and women’s activities tend to be given much less importance than men’s activities. Since gossiping is often not associated with intelligence and one way through which intelligence is measured is by the lack of gossiping one does, women who do choose to gossip are simply not “intelligent” then. Could this be why I was seeking “serious,” “intellectual” discussions—searching only for “intelligent” Pashtun women?
My definition: I propose that empowerment is a process that mobilizes an individual intellectually, mentally, and/or physically in such a way that she realizes her worth as a participant of her society and community and thus contributes to it by engaging in activities she finds purposeful and productive, whether for herself or for her society, activities that instill in her a sense of personal significance; through this process, she recognizes, appreciates, and exercises her power as significant community member. Blogging is one such activity that may lead to one’s feeling empowered.
So, what do YOU think it means to be empowered, and what do you think an empowered person acts like and talks about?