The secret’s out. If you’re active on social media, you’re likely to have heard of Soul Bitches, a closed Facebook group where over 4,000 women-only members are allowed to voice their unadulterated opinions without instigating anger, ridicule or judgement. If you haven’t heard of it, you have now.
What isn’t a secret though is that the discussions, conversations, anecdotes and advice posted on this group are things that ought to be said freely overground. But let’s face it, that’s next to impossible without facing repercussions by a religious, patriarchal and ever judgmental society.
With the rapid rise in smart phones, however, it’s become easier than ever to hide behind a screen as you write about your religious or political beliefs and desires. While this has given people on social media staggering amount of guts, leading to cyber bullying of all sorts as well as cat-fishing, hiding behind a monitor has also made it easier for people to voice their opinions, without worrying about the consequences.
Facebook in particular, has been used to make a plethora of online groups, in which people can discuss anything under the sun.
Two such groups created by Pakistani women have popped up on Facebook, where they can discuss anything they want: One is Soul Bitches and the other, Soul Sisters.
Soul Sisters was the first of its kind, where over 10,000 women joined in to discuss their careers, marital issues and opinions on social issues.
The group, however, hit a slump when the the page’s admin was accused of monitoring the group too heavily by deleting posts she deemed inappropriate. A former member, Rabeeya Latif, claims any post with the word “sex” was instantly deleted, and only married women could talk about their sex lives as long as they substituted the ever-so-scandalous word with ‘it’ or ‘…’.
When members had had enough of this moral policing, Rabeeya decided to make a group of her own, called ‘Soul Bitches.’
Contrary to the name, Rabeeya wanted to make a group free of judgment and policing. Rabeeya told The Express Tribune that with Soul Sisters “people didn’t have a completely open forum,” so she wanted to make a group where people could “find other people to connect with and weren’t bound by somebody’s rules.”
In the groups description, she writes, “I wanted to make a group where people aren’t scared to write exactly how they feel. I want everyone here to feel secure enough to rant or talk about anything and everything. It’s a judgement free zone, where I won’t be deleting posts, or comments unless you are insulting or ridiculing people.”
With over 4,000 members, the secret Facebook group has provided space for women to discuss anything in the world, including their careers, opinions on social issues, their lovers, alcohol and sex — all free of judgment.
Like anything you post on the internet however, the group has become far from secret and has gained a reputation for being — for lack of a better word — scandalous. Screenshots taken from threads on the group have been shared with outsiders, leading to immense judgment and ridicule.
The most recent of which came from Pakistan’s TV host and VJ Waqar Zaka, who posted a story on Snapchat mocking the women on the group by name, and threatening to hack their Facebook accounts to “show the world who they really are.”
Zoha, a member of Soul Bitches tells The Express Tribune that despite screenshots being shared, she is still comfortable posting on the group. In order to combat the lack of privacy, members can now post on each other’s behalf, to retain anonymity, reveals Zoha. “People can post anonymously for others so I still don’t feel uncomfortable about posting on the group. The group always encourages members to find alternative solutions to a problem and not just give up so I believe that where there is a will, there will always be a way.”
This begs the question: Is there really any space outside of the walls of your own bedroom where it’s safe to voice your true concerns and opinions? It seems highly unlikely.
Another member of Soul Bitches, Madiha, tells The Express Tribune, “I don’t believe there is a safe space for women. At all. Anywhere. Yes it’s absolutely important to have and many will keep trying to create it. The Internet can never be a safe space but if the girls on the group could try and respect each other’s privacy it can turn into the closest possible safe space one could ask for on the Internet. There are so many issues us women are either not ready to discuss, in fear of shame, or are just frightened to talk about… we need to protect ourselves and understand what we can do to build a safe, healthy environment.”
Another issue in such groups, however, is the aspect of cyber bullying. Where do you draw the line between freedom of speech, and bullying on such groups? Rabeeya explains that she monitors posts on Soul Bitches regularly, and claims that there is a difference between an opinion that offends someone, and bullying. If a member has a differing opinion, she should “give a reason why she feels that way,” explains Rabeeya, instead of talking down to people without reason.
In a society brimming with rules about what is appropriate and inappropriate for women, a group where women can find support in each other, is crucial.
Zoha reveals, “I’ve heard some people say that ‘SB is such good entertainment’ and I always wonder how they would feel if the problems the girls were posting, were happening to them. They pick and choose only to look at the information that appeals to them and supports their claims about SB being ‘useless’ and ‘entertaining’ and ignore the parts where other girls are uniting and helping each other out.”
On the surface, it may seem like fashion trends and male-bashing are the topics of choice, but women have questions about what to expect from their wedding night in an arranged marriage, what to do if a male authority figure such as a teacher acts inappropriate, and how to succeed in a male-dominated labour market — all questions that need to be addressed. With a lack of privacy, however, there is no space safe enough to find support.
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