In the wake of Lebanon’s latest pseudo scandal, Olympic skier Jackie Chamoun has been vilified for a three year old photo-shoot in which she posed topless. In a particularly poignant logical fallacy, even for Lebanese governmental standards, Minister Faisal Karami has requested an investigation into the shoot.
The irony that a minister considers a pair of breasts more of a threat to the country’s international reputation than weekly car bombings, crumbling infrastructure and rampant corruption is so absurd that it requires no further comment. The reaction to the scandal has been as visceral as it has been viral. And while the hearts of those involved may be in the right place, the movement, like so many in Lebanon, may be missing the point entirely, if not demonstrating the country’s inability to rally for meaningful social action.
The #StripforJackie and “I Am Not Naked” campaigns that have sprung up in support of the young athlete, while well-intentioned, are also prime examples of slacktivism – “feel-good” measures in support of a social cause that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed. Indeed, the onslaught of semi-nude selfies doesn’t achieve much more than to promote the Facebook and Twitter pages of the individuals posting them, who can then pat themselves on the back as they watch their “like” count rise.
Much like the Kony 2012 campaign, which garnered millions of likes worldwide but failed to produce any concrete results, it is unlikely that either of these social media-driven campaigns will produce real change.
The #StripforJackie campaign has temporarily placed Lebanon in the headlines – Buzzfeed has already compiled the sexiest images in another one of its interminable lists, various international news outlets are abuzz with the story of the attractive young skier being criticized back in her “conservative” home country, and the Lebanese twittersphere is aflutter with activity. But within days, the story will fade into the news cycle, and the campaigns largely forgotten. The well-meaning selfies will not bring justice to Manal al-Assi, a woman beaten to death by her husband not a week ago. Nor will it hold the government accountable for the unpunished deaths of the 24 other women who have been killed in cases of domestic violence between 2010 and 2013.
While fury in the wake of the slut shaming of one woman is commendable, why is this same rage not felt in reaction to the murders of others, or to the general lack of rights of Lebanese women, who as of today are not protected by law against domestic violence, and cannot pass citizenship on to their own children.
The second issue being misconstrued is the interpretation of Jackie as some kind of feminist hero as a simple function of her decision to pose nude. While she should be commended for expressing herself by confidently exposing her body, which she has undoubtedly trained countless hours to sculpt into one worthy of an Olympian, nudity is not in itself empowerment. Ironically, the voices hailing her as a feminist role model often objectify her in the same breath, suggesting that her power ultimately stems from her “hotness” rather than from her status as an internationally recognized athlete.
When added to the context of Lebanon’s rampant objectification of women, the argument of nudity as power, becomes increasingly problematic. Let’s not forget how actress Darine Hamze was criticized for her racy scenes in Beirut Hotel, a 2012 movie banned from being released in Lebanon because of its apparent potential to “endanger the country’s security.” (Unfettered media censorship – yet another issue actually detrimental to Lebanon’s international reputation.) It is no secret that women are constantly objectified in Lebanese media, whether through tasteless advertising, or the scantily clad figures constantly paraded across every local television channel.
Jackie Chamoun is a hero, but not because she posed nude. She is a female role model because she qualified to compete at the international level in an incredibly difficult sport. She accomplished this without the sponsors and proper training facilities that most professional athletes enjoy, and despite a massively corrupt Lebanese Ski Federation.
As described by stand-up comedian Nemr Abou Nassar in a statement on Mix FM, which he later uploaded to his Facebook page, the Jackie Chamoun story is a “distraction [from the real problems], and we are falling for it hook, line and sinker.” (In a more satisfying turn of phrase, he describes the selfie campaigns by saying: “They are stupid, they are hipster, and they are dumb.”)
The Lebanese political system is not designed for stability. It is designed to maintain the status quo – and upholds a system that promotes corruption, political deadlock, and allows the murder of innocent civilians, by suicide bombers or at the hands of their own families, to go unpunished. Though they may have good intentions, it will ultimately take more than hashtags to change a society so twisted it fixates on pseudo-scandals rather than the literal bombs being planted in its backyard.