This article is published in an edited, Swedish version in the feminist magazine AstraNova’s October issue 2013.
When Xena Amro started the True Lebanese Feminist Facebook page in July 2012, it created turmoil. Xena’s own Facebook page had been reported and blocked several times, so she wasn’t surprised. On her desk in high school, random insults were written in the beginning of her school year: “Xena is stupid”, “Lesbian”, “Feminism sucks ass”, reads the messages that she shows to me when we meet at Starbucks in Beirut, pictured on her smartphone.
Why was it so provoking to her fellow students that Xena was an outspoken feminist? Was it because of the success of her page? Or was it because of her uncompromising position? “I am a feminist, because those ignorant rapists out there, have limited my Freedom! They have ruined my childhood! And made me lose my mental innocence!” says one post from September 2012.
Despite the harassments in school and on the Facebook page, Xena kept up her page and now it has over 6.000 followers. She has support from both men and women, and she says she loves it especially when men become feminists:
“That’s what’s keeping me strong” she says.
Xena became a feminist early in 2012 when she was one of the winners in a competition for young writers, on the topic “In Lebanon”. “True Lebanese Feminist” was the story’s name and it was chosen to be in the top 12 list nominated for the prize. After the story and the competition, it was impossible to look back.
Xena explains on how stories about domestic violence reached her and that the general suppression against women was what made her become aware at such a young age.
“The purpose of the page is to raise awareness about women’s issues not just in Lebanon, but also globally” she says. “There are too many stereotypes placed on women that I want to fight against.”
I started to follow the page myself in the beginning and have seen it explode in to what must have been a previous vacuum, where a similar feminist page didn’t exist before. On Facebook there are many pages for women’s rights, but few that create as much discussions. What makes the page different is also that when someone attacks Xena or her statements she often don’t reply, but let the discussion have its course, relying on her supporters on the page, and makes a point out of not insulting anyone back.
Every day the self-taught 17-year-old Xena updates the page with pictures combined with quotes; invites the followers to discussions; and shares other women’s stories. Female Arab writers like Joumana Haddad and Nawal El Saadawi inspired her. The numbers of followers quickly increased and the page turned into a place full of heated discussions. Not shying away from any subject, Xena brings up religion, sexuality and mass media from a feminist point of view:
“Today is the international day for safe abortion!” reads a post with a link to “Women’s Rights to Abortion in Lebanon”
“True?” over a photo that states “Girls see over 400 advertisements per day telling them how they should look”.
“Calling myself an outspoken dictator wouldn’t get me as much hate as I’m getting for calling myself an outspoken feminist” says another one.
Despite being as provocative in a society as Lebanon, one of Xena’s goals is to increase the number of Lebanese people on her page – out of 6,000 followers only 528 are from Lebanon (in comparison with 1,532 from US). It might not be a coincidence since her posts on religion and its links to patriarchy provokes many, and she has been accused of being a westernized atheist that hates religious people – a quite harsh insult in a society where religion plays a crucial role. Still Xena wants her page to stay relevant in her own country.
“I don’t hate religious people” she says. “They have the right to think whatever they want, and so do I – this is freedom.”
Since the beginning also emails for help has poured in. Many women from different countries have been writing to her about violence and rape, desperate for support, probably not knowing Xena is only 17. Xena takes her time to answer all emails, urging girls and women to seek help and not to feel ashamed.
I ask her how she handles it all. On top of managing the page on her own and the publicity it has given her, she gives feedback to all the members writing to her, and is also trying to finish high school to hopefully be admitted to nursing school this year. She admits that her parents, although very supportive of her feminist page, are worrying about the toll it might take on her grades.
“It takes all my free time… But the page is not pressure, it’s relief. I see a lot of injustice in the society, and I don’t want to hold these grudges in my heart.”
Photo credit: Xena Amro