“Your beauty is what I am looking for in my future wife. Your thinking is the same as mine; I think we can be a very nice couple. If you agree, please reply because I can’t wait anymore, I love you so much.” Seham received this message on her Facebook page from a man who knew nothing about her.
Seham, 22 years old, likes to put her personal photos on her Facebook page because she believes that she is human and has the right to put her personal photos and information on any social networking site. It is not because she is looking for a husband or to show off her beauty for a sexual relationship.
Seham and many girls who put their photos on Facebook receive daily messages asking them on dates, revealing a new kind of harassment. Their message folders contain dozens of messages that contain promises of marriage, pornographic pictures, or sexual phrases, just because they have their own accounts on social networking sites.
Aml Ali, a reporter for al-Saeedah, said that electronic harassment is not limited to those who post their photos and information; it affects all females. The difference is that a girl who posts photos is treated as rebelling against the community and trying to break habits and traditions. They start to be classified as activists.
“Some may see this group with hope, optimism and pride but they are few. Others, unfortunately the majority, see them with contempt and treat them badly,” Aml added.
According to Maram al-Abbasi, a teacher and activist, says such superficial ideas have no connection with reality. “I put my photos and information on Facebook not to look for a groom or to prove that I am beautiful, it is because I am free and my face is my identity.”
Al-Abbasi wonders why men can post photos wherever they want. “This is because our masculine society treats women with a sense of superiority and arrogance, which is unacceptable because I am free.”
Ghada Al-Wazeer said that to avoid such harassment she usually doesn’t accept strangers on her Facebook, but she still gets disrespectful messages from people she doesn’t even know. “If one of my friends posts a negative comment, I simply unfriend them, even if it’s a family member.”
For those who say that girls uploading their photos are searching for a groom, Al-Wazeer said that she doesn’t think so, because girls who post their pictures on Facebook know that Yemeni society perceives it negatively, and most Yemeni men dislike it when a girl posts her pictures online, so it’s the complete opposite. “Whether a girl posts her picture or not, both should be respected and I think it’s very personal,” Al-Wazeer said.
Faten al-Hamdani, a secretary, has a very different opinion. She wonders that what the benefit is of posting girls’ photos. “Yemenis are very closed-minded so they think negatively about such girls. It is ok if a woman is famous because if anyone who tries to misuse her photos will not affect her because everyone knows who she is. But normal girls can’t do anything when their photos are misused.”
Hussein Showman, a company worker, said that overconfidence of girls can put them in a scandalous situation because many men try to destroy girls’ reputations through their photos. “Girls look at it as equality between men and women but they are forgetting the traditions of Yemeni society.”
Shahd Nas, a married woman, says that Yemeni men are very emotionally weak, and they think that a “like” or a comment means that girls are in love with them. They don’t realize that women are admiring their post, not them. Shahd added that in general men like to have relationships and girls who post their photo are very easy victims. “Actually I am against posting my photo or even my husband’s photos, not because it is allowed or forbidden, but because Facebook is a virtual world and I can’t trust anyone on it. I am also not strong enough to hear, read, or see shameless words,” Shahd said.
International laws vary on punishment against electronic harassers, but most agree it should be classified as a crime. The United States has issued several local laws and criminalizes harassers who use technology to annoy others. The punishment against electronic harassers is still unclear and unorganized in the Arab world.