Illustration by Hana Shafi

Illustration by Hana Shafi

In this episode, we take a look at the power of satire and how it helps encourage online solidarity. I talked to Mehreen Kasana, a Pakistani-American writer, about breaking down ethnic-based stereotypes. Megan MacKay, a Toronto-based comedian and YouTuber, joined me afterwards. Humour, it turns out, is no joking matter.

 Mehreen Kasana, Pakistani-American writer and MA student at The New School. Photo courtesy of Elle India.

Mehreen Kasana, Pakistani-American writer and MA student at The New School. Photo courtesy of Elle India.

In 2014, a group of female Muslim bloggers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan decided it was time to tackle the West's misguided notions of Muslim womanhood. Frustrated by the Western media's image of the perpetually distressed Muslim woman, Pakistani-American writer Mehreen Kasana used humour as a way to strengthen alliances in her own community. Kasana, along with two other women, created a blog called Oppressed Brown Girls Doing Things. Biting and sharp in its sarcastic tone, the blog features actual photos, videos, and news of Muslim women doing everyday things.

“Sarcasm happens to be my favourite tool when it comes to talking about these issues because it really slaps the narrative left, right, and up and down,” says Kasana.

The blog is no longer active, but it’s been vital to the wavelike effect acting against mainstream coverage of Muslim women. Through this transnational bond, these women have been able to amplify each other’s voices. It’s no surprise, then, why this kind of online activism is essential in forming virtual kinships.

“I didn’t see a revolution happen after [the blog was created] but I think the sarcasm of it, and the sardonic imagery; the very dry, ‘oh look at us, I’m picking up a spoon, how radical,’ tone of the blog, made people realize we have a sense of humour,” says Kasana.

She also points out that limiting ourselves to online activism is counter-productive. "We need to take it offline and to the streets, and to people who don't have access to these kinds of platforms."

Kasana made news in 2012 with her widely discussed Tumblr called Pakistanis Against Stereotyping as a way to incite conversation about diversity within Muslim communities. A journalist and master’s student in communication and media studies at The New School, Kasana makes it a point to include sarcasm and humour in her activism. Elle India wrote “there are many like her – young, talented, opinionated Pakistani Muslims – who are bravely changing the conversation.”

I spoke to Mehreen about some of the challenges social media brings to today's activism. 

You can read a condensed and edited version of our interview here.


 Megan Mackay, Toronto-based comedian and YouTuber. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Megan Mackay, Toronto-based comedian and YouTuber. Photo courtesy of Google Images.

My corner of the Internet is like my house and my front lawn. It’s my job to keep it clean.

“Why have we allowed this global connection that could be so magnificent and life changing and uplifting to become this petri dish of cruelty and meanness?” says Megan MacKay, a Toronto-based comedian and YouTuber.

Earlier this year, MacKay started a campaign on her YouTube channel called #UnTrollTheInternet.  The goal was simple: to share uplifting work by content creators who are pushing others to have a more positive impact on the video-sharing platform.

In January, however, another YouTuber saw MacKay’s video, Is Political Correctness Ruining Comedy? and decided to make a video reacting to it. Shortly after, a slew of nasty comments surfaced on MacKay’s channel, saying thing like, “How many hot dogs can you suck in the gap in your teeth?” and “She sucks but not in the way we like it.”

“You can choose to lean into the primordial ooze of meanness or you can choose to do your best to try and learn and be a force for good,” says MacKay in her #UnTrollTheInternet video as a response to the harassment. The video is part of a series on her channel called “See, Feminism Can Be Funny!”

MacKay admits it took her a long time before the vitriol stopped taking an emotional toll on her. “The only thing I can really do to affect change immediately is try and control my little slice of the Internet,” she says, emphasizing that she deletes comments that could especially be harmful to younger women, her largest fan base.

“My corner of the Internet is like my house and my front lawn. It’s my job to keep it clean.”

While hateful incidents like the one MacKay experienced are nothing new, YouTube still presents users with the opportunity to participate in discussions and debates that can have a lasting influence on participants long after they have logged off of their computers. The platform operates as a network of support for women who are all dedicated to the common goals of acceptance and respect. It is a virtual space where women's voices can be heard and moments of a feminist public sphere can begin to take shape.

Affectionately called YouTube’s soaring social justice comic, MacKay’s vlogs are often satirical skits based on news items that are playfully constructed as makeup “roast-orials.” Her Ray Rice Inspired Makeup Tutorial has over 2.8 million views.

I spoke to Megan about her unique form of activism, and where she sees herself in the global village of online female content-creators.

You can read a condensed and edited version of our interview here.