#MPNWomen Lean-In: Defining Ourselves By Our Success, Experiences, Not Gender

Founder & editor in chief of MintPress, Mnar Muhawesh, shares her speech from a women's lean-in event hosted by MintPress on January 30th about why she started MintPress, the backlash she received and the online bullying she experienced--all for being a young woman. Included in he speech is also advice for women who endure labeling when trying to do right thing.
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    Illustration by Anders Nienstaedt/MintPress News

    “Peace” Illustration by Anders Nienstaedt/MintPress News

    I’m so excited to have you all here for us to share our experiences and struggles as women movers and shakers, and hopefully gain some knowledge and exchange advice on how to overcome some of the obstacles that women face in the world.

    Well let me tell you how it all started for me:

    My name is Mnar Muhawesh, I’m 26 years old, and I’m the founder and editor in chief of MintPress News. As you may already know, we are an independent global online-journalism organization that provides long-form reporting through the lens of social justice and human rights. We have veteran journalists and correspondents based in six states and about five different countries and are currently expanding our network to about eight more countries and several other states.

    In the past year three years, I have put a very much needed kind of journalism organization together — a kind of media that works to educate the public on the most pressing issues that matter to the people by  bringing back the idea of long form journalism – while covering bigger-picture issues, including foreign affairs matters and national policies concerning the ideals democracy and human rights.

    We are in a major recession; we have just ended the war in Iraq after a brutal fight; we are still in a long-lost war in Afghanistan; unemployment has reached nearly 10 percent; we are expanding our military presence around the world, while there are over 50 million Americans living in poverty; austerity measures in Europe pushed nearly 80 percent of all workers in the entire continent to demonstrate on the streets for better social net programs in the past two years; government surveillance on civilians is out of control; and government whistleblowers are being treated as enemies of the state.

    Now, I’m not trying to be a debbie downer here, but this is the state of our country, and the world we live in today. But our media has failed us to such an extent that most Americans care and know more about Justin Bieber’s DUI  and court case, Kim Kardashian and Kanye’s marriage and Myley Cyrus’s supposed mental breakdown.

    The need for informative journalism in the interest of the people that helps educate the public on issues that matter to better influence policies and help citizens vote in the best candidates that represent them and not special interest, and a media that promotes peace through the lens of social justice is more important now than ever.

    The reason I brought up my age when I first began speaking is because you’re probably wondering how a young girl from Minnesota is trying to accomplish all of this. So let me tell you a little about myself and background. I was born and raised here in Minneapolis, and I grew up in Maple Grove, Minn. I graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. I interned with NBC -KARE 11 for over a year, where I gained tremendous experience in reporting and shooting video and basically producing my own video packages. I even anchored and reported the news as a backpack broadcast journalist independently and for UTVS news and eventually started my own blog called MintPress, where I posted my independent and freelance reporting and exclusive interviews on national politics and foreign affairs. I was even named the first American woman to wear the hijab anchoring and reporting the news in the American media. I then worked for two years to turn MintPress into the site it is today.

    But my interest in journalism goes back further. I actually first became interested in the media when I traveled to the Middle East in the late 90s and moved to Jerusalem for three years when I was a teenager. I had the opportunity that most Americans don’t have, which was to live under Israeli occupation and witnessed an entire people, the Palestinians, being told every day that they didn’t have the right to exist. I witnessed apartheid first hand. The state of Israel forced these people to live under militarized occupation that included curfews, military checkpoints, cutting off water and electricity, blocking students from attending school, detaining young men and boys with no opportunity for a trial and held on no charges. I witnessed collective punishment and land theft and a police state like no other, all in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting a Jewish only state, while Christians and Muslims were treated as second-class citizens.

    Having lived through this as an American to witness crimes being committed against humanity and to come back home to the United States to find our media distorting the narrative of this very conflict by providing only one side of the story –was beyond disturbing. And soon after I had moved back to the states, 9/11 happened, and within days speculations were made, fingers were pointed, and next thing you know our media became a mouthpiece for our government and was beating the drums of war to invade Iraq and then Afghanistan.

    At the time, I was already suffering from severe PTSD from living under Israeli occupation for several years but found an opportunity and passion for journalism as a means to help inform the world of how these wars really affect people.

    These are just a few of many conflicts and issues where the American media failed its citizens of providing honest journalism.

    I was so enraged by the human casualties due to our wars and foreign policy that I knew I wanted to pursue journalism to not only help provide an honest perspective that promoted understanding but to also help change Americans’ perspectives about who Muslims and Arabs really are – people who are just like you and me.

    When I was just 13 years old, it became my life goal to help change the face of news media in the United States and provide independent journalism that focused on social justice and human rights – a kind of journalism that is rare to find in the United States today. That passion I found within me is not unique — it’s a natural characteristic of most journalists to want to provide a voice to the voiceless. True journalists aren’t in it for fortune and fame. We are journalists because we feel like we are making a difference by informing and hopefully trying to make the world a better place by sharing stories, the one percent doesn’t want to hear.

    And we have been doing just that at MintPress. To bring us where we are today as a young woman trying to accomplish the unimaginable in our media at such a young age- I am proud to say, that we did accomplish just that. Our newsroom successfully provided coverage that has helped shape our foreign policy but with a great cost.

    I recently became the victim of an online smear campaign led by bloggers and women journalists at Buzzfeed in the name of “feminism” after our newsroom broke an international story on Syria that has been pointed to as derailing the U.S. strike on Syria.  These journalists that came to attack me were part of the media crowd, once again, who were beating the drums of war along with our administration to strike Syria this past September. And when we provided the public with a different perspective than what was being fed to us about reasons to strike, I became an easy target to a very bad character assassination because of my age and my gender.

    Despite this great accomplishment by our newsroom — the writers at Buzzfeed who supported the strike, went so far as to write a smear article about me – specifically  focusing on my gender, my age, my hijab, my religion, my relatives’ religions,  who I was related to and their travels — all after the AP bullied our shared reporter to retract her involvement in the same Syria story she helped produce, which brought my name into the spotlight and I was fair game for the war hawks which went so far as to say our newsroom was defending the Syrian Government, which was far from the truth.

    Buzzfeed and the bloggers’ approach of painting a picture that a young American-Muslim woman cannot start, finance and be an accomplished editor by conspiring that there must be a “man” behind her, in fact, behind the whole news website, was simply a reflection of the way women are treated and bullied in the media. In a time when the most influential people are under 30 including Chelsea Manning, Malala Yousafzai, Edward Snowden, Mark Zuckerberg to name a few are  changing the world – is it so hard to believe that a young women can pursue her dreams of starting a media company? It is a major problem that us women are still facing today – sexism is alive and well, and I experienced it first hand. This experience and these misconceptions that have been produced by these bloggers actually reminded me of why I got into journalism in the first place, and how I will always stand by the truth. Standing up against the wind can be the hardest thing any person can do. But these kinds of attacks only make us wiser and stronger.

    As you know, as women, people define us by one single thing, which is our gender; but I am defined by multiple things. I am defined by my success, my passion for journalism and human rights, and I know as a woman, that it is sometimes very hard to let go of the labels others place on us. And that is why I’ve invited you all today to discuss the labels that have been placed on you, your upbringings, your heritage, and how it has defined you, and what if any advice would you give to yourself in the past.

    One of my many passions is my success with MintPress – but just like many of you, I’m still growing and learning, and I wish more women would come together and find a way to better the lean- in cause for all.

    There is a saying that goes, when you will stand by the truth, be ready to stand it alone.

    Mnar BW Mnar Muhawesh is the founder and editor in chief of MintPress News. Read her bio here. 

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    • Dale S. Thompson, Ph.D.

      I admire what you have done Ms. Muhawesh. I am afraid you will continue to be demonized, but don’t stop doing what you do. All great people who changed the world have stories like yours. Good for you.