The Struggle is Real

What am I supposed to believe?

There are almost too many angles about Muslim women. Those angles might be a good thing. Not the slants, mind you (although those also abound.)

Do I misperceive Muslims? Or is the news riddled with misconceptions of those who live out the Islamic faith. Is my opinion built by rumors, fear, or perhaps even listening for too long to one side of the story? If this is the case, then the problem does not end with me.

Fear is not just a shadow when dealing with cross-cultural dynamics, it is a reality. Journalists are not exempt from this alarm. Reporting an honest narrative can be risky when the people on whom you report are disliked in droves.

If I find some bold (and supposedly true reporting) how do I narrow down the information in this broad topic? I can focus on the human rights issues assaulting numerous women in Arabic countries. Or are the controversial aspects of their faith the real news story? That last question has not gone without debate; is Islam misogynistic? Also, not all Muslim live in the tension of Terrorism sweeping through the Middle East, but there is violence in this religion.

The point? All these facets can confuse me away from an opinion. It isn’t two sides of a coin, but twists in a labyrinth. Journalists (professional and citizen alike) report opposing religious views, fascinating cultures, gender equality struggles, terrorism threats, and the tender or rough hearts of a lot of women. Sorting can be time consuming, and I don’t have a lot of spare time.

Sometimes the journalism is stunning and accurate, calling attention to victories, struggles, and everyday life of these women. But in the end, a detail will be forgotten, a definition or clarification neglected. This is not an easy one for journalists to present well. Someone will be offended, but the story has to be straightened out. (Hint: this is not going to happen.)

I can knock the journalist off the pedestal, or remove them from the chopping block. But it’s my own opinion I fear. I will never be thoroughly correct. I’m one woman, with one perspective. I can choose to see broadly, but I will still develop a bias (and everyone should.)  If I stop pressuring for an unobtainably pure opinion, I can continue my research.

The struggle is real, and never complete.

More School?

 

People talk about getting out of college like they’re being released from prison.

Yes, I think learning should continue throughout life, but a degree demanding four or more years of school, and thousands of dollars is not always a good choice. Education is not one size fits all.

If someone is going to give me a physical examination and call himself a doctor, he better have a degree (posted on the wall.) But if you are going to pound the keys in data entry, or receptionist work, then I don’t even care if you finished high school. Now don’t suppose I’m degrading the administrative assistant, or exulting the physician; but these occupations do not require an equal amount of formal schooling.

The answer to figuring out whether or not to further your education is not as simple as giving a pat answer to the query “what do you want to do with your life?” As if people have that figured out.

Yet, many millennials (including myself) have reached for that lauded degree. Whether or not they finish it is another discussion.

What about learning on your own? There are home-made YouTube millionaires for a reason. In fact, drudge up some history, and we can find a long list of esteemed people who did not follow traditional schooling for one reason or another.

So what’s the problem? Just learn, and don’t get the degree. Employers are the problem. I have studied and practiced writing for over ten years, and what am I doing? Data entry, and trying to finish my damn degree so I can land a few freelancing gigs without so much hassle. Sure there are ways I can do that without the degree, but boy would I like some help from that piece of paper (or more likely computer file.)

When will people wise up and see the evidence that college is no better than trade schools, self-teaching, and apprentices? Stop hounding millennials about getting a degree. Fewer and fewer are listening anyway.

Why Destroy Things?

We’re doomed; the future has been left to the Millennials.

That statement is both true, and ridiculous. Make no mistake, society will change, and Millennials are drawing up the blueprints as I write this. Many people are uncomfortable with this fact. What is it that today’s young adults have done (or are doing) that frightens the populace? Even I worry about repercussions of these ideas thrown around by me and my peers.

Millennials have been accused of killing culture en mass. Breastraunts, fine dining, and luxury homes have taken a hit. Churches are loosing their youth, and face-to-face interaction just isn’t what it used to be. One of the accused has made what she calls a “memorial” to the parts of society thoughtlessly killed by Millennials. What if this slaughter of society turns out not to be an accident, but a planned destruction?

No, I do not think that today’s youth purposefully set out to take down what the last generation built up. (Although this certainly happens.) But they get a choice. Today’s young adults have no obligation to follow in their parent’s footsteps. And with changing employment options, different wars, and new ways to make it in the world, why would they? Do not misunderstand me; I value the past, but it is unlikely to be the future.

Industries rise and fall, and fads grow and fade. America may be in culture shock, but that is one of the few consistencies in this country’s short history. America went from a rebellious British colony to a super power, and we are constantly being challenged as a world leader. The refining, sacrificing, planting, and uprooting of culture to create and sustain this nation can be volatile. Roughly 130 years ago, boys wore dresses, sometimes pink, as a norm. That would incite quite the debate today.

The blatant truth is that Millennials are the largest generation in America’s history. They have changing power in this country. Financial strains force some decisions, such as cooking at home, and grabbing a Redbox. But that same choice can stem from a desire to learn culinary skills, take some time away from people, and get to know a friend without a movie theater hindering conversation.

So yes, we Millennials are leveling some culture, but maybe these changes are not mere destruction, but clearing ground to build something else.

Is There a Problem?


I have a job. My coworkers from an older generations complain about the measly pay (13 dollars an hour), but for me this is real money. I’m not an oddball among my peers for thinking this. In fact, I am close to the average pay in my state among my contemporaries.

Then again, people my age are still considered relatively young, and not so bright. I am a Millennial after all. But I believe the broad social definitions that my generation is lazy and lack intelligence is a bit off.

The average Millennial grew up hand in hand with blossoming technology. I remember my awe when watching a DVD for the first time and not needing to rewind it after. Television itself however, did not astound me. I played with the digital advances like a child with toys (although sometimes it intimidated me.)

At 18, finding myself in utter financial dependency, I pounded the pavement to find my first job.  I wanted to leave my mom’s house, and soon. Thinking of my future, I also enrolled in community college, figuring I could get the basics at a lower cost. I even qualified for a grant! Seven years later I am now living with my dad, giddy about a job that pays decent, and considering whether or not I have time and finances to knock out a couple college courses next year.

My experience is too typical. The other common story being the young adult getting scarce sleep, little money, much debt – possibly pushing through the ominous Bachelors degree – and happy to be independent of their parents. If I and my peers are to blame, then we ought to be punished justly. If not. . .  well, what then?

Most Millennials I know are working themselves into constant fatigue, and getting nowhere. Post-recession, a crashed housing market, and changing laws for health care have changed the economic rules. Not everyone is handling this socioeconomic obstacle course well, but Generation Y must move forward.

Through this series of posts, I will take a look at what Millennials have to work with. There are ways for this generation to get un-stuck, and acquire some decent finances, perhaps even a place to live and a way to buy healthy food. But I don’t know all the answers. So, first on my to-do list is dispelling some nasty rumors spreading around media sources which are blaming Millennials for the state of the United States. I’m not going to point the finger at older generations, either.

The real truth is that many Americans struggle financially on a regular basis. We can shame each other, or find a place to express frustration and propose answers.

The Point Behind the Pictures

What did 29-year-old Atena Farghadani do when she learned of her near-13 year prison sentence? At first she couldn’t accept it, and then she settled in. Prison would be home. And she would create.

Farghadani did not live in prison though, not for too long. She was released after 18 months. But good lord! 18 months in prison is still a tack on of mental weight. She endured passed the dingy, inhumane conditions.  For some of her imprisonment she stayed at the notorious Gharchak prison. Deadly criminals shared cells with those charged of political crimes. Sanitation was not an issue, because there is no sanitation in this prison. Four showers and 189 inmates to a chamber. Farghadani told the Washington Post, “I consider Gharchak prison as a graveyard of time . . . where time dies. I sometimes see those inmates in my nightmares.”

What crime did she commit to earn such punishment? It had to have caused terrible consequences to result in threats of a 12 year nine month sentence. Or not. She published a cartoon poking fun at the government. This might seem odd to an American who has seen droves of memes and satirical bobble-head-like representations of any US citizen crazy enough to get into politics. Half way around the globe though, mocking the government, pointing out their wrongs, and making them look bad is still illegal. So Farghadani sat in prison, making art on paper cups, until even those were taken from her.

At length, Farghadani went free. And she still creates art with political and social themes.

“You, of course, have become an inspiration to so many around the world, Atena — a beacon of creative and political resistance.” Such is the praise afforded Farghadani by Michael Cavna, one of the numerous reporters to cover this story. Why wouldn’t people flock to the front page to present such a heart-warming and blood-chilling tale? Some gave a call to action, trying to persuade people to sign petitions while the cartoonist remained in prison. What now does her story inspire, now that she is out from behind bars . . . ?

Well, I could feel wimpy about my efforts in the arts, and writing, or I can open my eyes and realize that Farghadani did not aim for prison. Her point was to pursue a passion to be heard. Sometimes the limelight focuses so much on the cost that people don’t see the starting point. The beginning of this story is a stubborn female Iranian artist who draws cartoons. I want to see her art, and hear her voice.

Atena Farghadani holding one of her recent cartoons

 

 

Women Who Fly

Breaking dusk, a C-130 takes off from Shindand Air Base.

Being a pilot takes a lot of work. A lot of time. And an obnoxious amount of math. For the women I’m about to highlight, rising to the aforementioned challenges is the easy part.

For Flight Lt. Ayesha Farooq, her path to the sky was riddled with turbulence. Just a couple years ago, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) was lagging behind other nations’, holding women back (although not blatently) from attaining the rank of fighter pilot. In fact, at the time of Binah Shah’s 2015 article (a great read if you have the time,) Farooq was the only woman to claim the title of combat ready pilot. Big deal? Well yes, it is. Because women in Pakistan are still expected to fulfill wifely roles, and joining the air force for Farooq did not come without the usual disdain from her family. She took the rebuke, turned it to fuel, and transformed herself into a pilot.

Now in a Muslim country, doing what Farooq did is gutsy to say the least, but for this next fighter pilot, getting the position was only half the battle.

“You knew this was going to happen, (Rahmani) said they told her” in response to a plea for help from her superiors in the Afghan Air Force. Al Jazeera has a long article trying to get this story straight. It starts out as a classic tale, a Muslim woman rises in the ranks of a male-dominated occupation, in this case a fighter pilot. Afghanistan’s first fixed wing fighter pilot, to be exact. Less than a decade later, and after two years of training to fly a C-130, she was applying for asylum in America. So what happened? First the Taliban decided she had to die (a threat she still fears,) and then her extended family harassed her family so that the latter had to move several times.

More women have trained as fighter pilots in the Afghan Air Force, but pressure, and probably fear, has kept many from taking up active duty. At least one other female fixed wing fighter pilot exists, but she (for obvious reasons) stays out of the lime light. But Rahmani maintains a Facebook and Twitter profile, because she wants to inspire other young women to reach for the sky.

It’s inspiring to hear about stories like these, and I am sure there are thousands more like them, in many occupations, and many nations, and many religions. But inspiration comes at a cost. And once you’re in that situation that is so inspirational, you feel every penny of the price to be paid.

Following a Child

I wanted to be someone else.

I watched a little girl walk through a wardrobe, into a dark world with faint illumination beckoning her forward. Cold snow crunched underfoot, crisp night air bit at her cheeks, and silence engulfed all sound save her tiny breaths making heat clouds against the winter night. No one held her hand, told her it would be alright, or told her how to escape if she went too far. Still, she wandered further. Finally she reached the light, a small marker that she made the right decision. Then, at a stranger’s request, she walked deeper into the forest, tentatively trusting this odd person.

She took my breath away —still does. Lucy Pevensie. She had the strength to walk into a dark wood at night, and I did not. I could never leave my family behind, especially without a word of warning. I needed support. Her belief confounded her siblings, her best friends and only allies, landing Lucy in a heap of insults. She trusted in the goodness of a kidnapper; I feared them. She fought for hope in a captive land; I avoided frightening situations.

Years after her siblings joined her crusade into the land of Narnia, Lucy still faced the choice between her personal belief and the words of those she loved and admired. She saw Aslan and wanted others to notice him, to.  Eventually, she leaves her siblings to follow what she hopes is her king, this time they follow.

How a little girl accomplished such massive feats, I did not understand. As a child, I would wake a family member for comfort after a nightmare. As a teen, I second guessed myself, using friends and family as sounding boards. I would never be like the beloved Lucy Pevensie, not as long as I waited for kinship before making a decision, and approval before walking into the night with only a distant lamppost as my guide.

Only now do I see my fatal flaw; Lucy’s character cannot be acquired by copying. Walking into the unknown, alone, willing, full of wonder and belief in the good of a land and people is what set her apart all along. In Prince Caspian, Lucy sees Aslan before anyone else, so she can trust only herself and her king that she has not fallen off the crazy truck. Lucy is a pioneer. A brilliant example. But I cannot duplicate someone’s first steps into unexplored land, they would be following footprints, not leading marks.

Here’s to Lucy Pevensie for showing me Narnia with her brave actions. I want to find my own land, now, with only a dim light to follow.

The Challenge that Sent me Searching

What is there to Muslim women besides a hijab (or najib), an often disputed and judged religion, and controversial traditions? These are the aspects that frequently draw pity and attention, but it is, thankfully, not where their identity ends. And although the clothing choices, free or otherwise, of Muslim women has been a source of contention, there are brave Islamic women who have stepped beyond the boundaries, stereotypes and classic roles of their culture.

To be up front, there are issues in the way of seeing these women without an inflated bias, and many concerns are not unmerited, as threats from Islamic extremists have covered a large portion of the globe the last several years. It is now clear to many, though, that grouping people in a particular religion with troublemakers of their faith is creating silence, not clearing up knowledge . Muslims are impacted by the modern terror dynamics probably more so than other people groups, and that factor doubtlessly feeds into coverage by typical news sources.

A number of Muslim women are and have been standing up and making extreme moves away from tradition, while staying true to their faith. What part of that story is conveyed through the media, and what might be missing? Do tales of heartbreak and challenge receive too much coverage, or is that the truest condition of Islamic women? What are the rewards and consequences of challenging the status quo? And what progress has been made in creating a greater variety of opportunities for Muslim women?

I had more questions than answers as I began this project, (although I had strong suspicions, and followed my instinct during research.) I found compelling reasons for more people to see and value Islamic women, appreciate aspects of their faith, and applaud as an entire mass-culture of women claim their place among the global society. I wanted to see their lives, because Muslim women have intrigued me, with beauty, pain, bravery, and a rich culture. Reading stories about such women as I have described here briefly is much of what has inspired me to pursue journalism, research, and education. But I wanted to know the facts behind that inspiration. Whether or not the truth meant disillusionment, I waned to understand these women and their stories. Because, regardless of the results, they were taking risks and changing their culture, just like they do today.

Survive and Thrive Online

This is a letter I wrote, thinking of what a younger friend might need to know about the online world. 

 

My dear younger sister,

The Internet is a big place, full of liars, dreamers, elaborators, and collaborators. I want you to feel safe there. But there are a few things you have to learn. You’ll learn them in your own way, and in your own time. I hope you learn well. I’ve been working on my media journey, and thought you might learn from a few of my hurdles and highlights. So here they are.

Fear will not define me. Although I’ve considered myself a newbie to the Internet world, I’m seeing clearly how the digital universe develops with rapid updates and  a news cycle which takes seconds instead of hours, or even days. People have talked for years (take this ancient 2009 article for example) about the rapid news cycle, and we’re still not catching up. There are ways to breathe through the speed of the digital age though, and if I don’t catch a breath . . . let’s just say I should catch a breath. Dan Gillmor suggests a slow news approach to help remedy a cultural phenomenon of over-belief of quickly reported stories. And while I have agreed with that for some time – I still enjoy print news – the idea is to stay skeptical, and move at a human pace through the pixelated realm of information overload. Only bite off what you can chew, and chew thoroughly before swallowing.

This is important because one of the glaringly obvious take aways from studying media in the digital age is that all pedestals must go. Even big-time reporters flail now and then. They scratch the bottom of the barrel, instead of reaching for the sky. And while I can’t help but pity the proffesional journalist for loosing some of their edge in the competition, the mistakes can be unbearable.

All that said, when the rubber hits the road, this is my media. My digital citizenship in a technologically driven world. While I want to see the flourishing of a human soul off the screen, behind the pixels there are still people, stories, stunning photos, and instant video feed. If I want to have any impact in the digital world, I feel I have to start showing up. Make my media presence begin by signing in and logging on. Bringing with me skepticism laced with an optimistic outlook. The tenacity to study and a will to research. Not trust, but interest.

That interest can be my jumping off point. What do I want to know? And why. I had to write a blog. I had to follow the developments of a subject covered in the media. And I learned that I do care enough about things to dig them out of the screens around me. I can take ownership of my content. Facts and fiction are spewed out online at ferocious speeds, some with authenticity, and some in flagrant disregard for the humanity of human beings. So I can start by making choices. Sorting. Searching. Posting. Checking and re-checking. And deciding when to dig deeper, and when to let it go. It is my choice how much to invest, and how much to withhold. But I need to realize my media interaction is my responsibility. I can contribute and consume well, but what well looks like to me . . . I still building that definition.

And you can build your own definition, too. Good luck, and ask lots of questions along the way. What we learn in community always outweighs what we learn trying to work alone.

Sincerely,

Evelyn

How I Learned the Internet

The web used to scare me, so I had no power there. Pushed and shoved by privacy policies and fears of censorship, my speech froze solid. I did not know my rights, and felt confounded by the internet. I didn’t know the rules. So, I backed away from the keyboard, daring only to post surface-deep information on Facebook, and worried that searching certain topics would get me on some government watch list. I had paranoia. But, at the core, I hadn’t a clue as to who had the power I feared.

I don’t think money is the reason specific groups have power — although money still talks, loudly. No, the web is run by those who study it. Those who know or care little for the internet will control nothing.  Financial status still impacts the digital divide, separating the lords from the peasants of the Internet. But there is more to the hierarchy than socioeconomic status. Dan Gillmor explains how “short-sighted” journalists have been in feeding their content to social networks like Facebook. In this sense, the journalists are users, and the social media platform(s) remain the owners.

But how can I own a thing in this mess? Richard Stallman spent many years fighting to free up software so people can control their own devices. Software merchants usually maintain rigid ownership of their creations, even after selling them to customers. As I studied, anxiety gripped tighter. I don’t own the function of the computer and phone I purchased, with my money? This must mean I’m not positioned where I thought in the web-based rift between those who are users and those who get used.

How do we learn media, and will we?(Media being an official word which means, essentially, the conduit for conversation from one person to many) In part, it is teaching ourselves digital literacy, and owning some portion of the Internet. Otherwise you will always be one someone else’s turf. From this point (knowing and owning) the levels of power are divided by the amount invested. Monetarily? Yes. But also intellectually. Giving one’s time to gain knowledge and use of the Internet is crucial.

Keren Elazari frames this entire topic beautifully in the video below. Hackers? Well of course they have power! But Elazari is suggesting that’s problem. In fact, a hacker is a shining example of how people gain power on the Internet. Those active, and not just in living on someone else’s site (such as Facebook or Twitter,) are those we should learn from.

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