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  • Nicole Sherwin


Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Ironically in a movement designed for women to support women, some women did the exact opposite.

Over 4.1 million women shared a black and white photo on Instagram this week.

Source: The Economic Times

Last week I got asked via Instagram to post a black and white selfie. The message I got was that it was a movement supporting women. The timing was fortuitous for me. I had just listened to the Mamamia ‘No Filter’ episode with Julia Gillard on women in leadership. I was feeling pretty inspired, so I participated. I didn’t question where it came from. It was something simple and positive, during a pretty bleak time for a lot of people.

In scrolling the flood of black and white photos on my feed, I saw a cross-section of strong women. Some women chose particular moments in time that were important to them, some wore makeup, some didn’t, some chose to showcase other women who inspired them, some chose to showcase books that inspired them. Some women used #womensupportingwomen. With each post, the common thread was messages of support and female empowerment, an echo chamber of solidarity. Maybe a small thing in the scheme of things, but undoubtedly a good thing. Nonetheless, in a world where women are predictably the first to cut down other women, that’s exactly what happened next.

“Having a daughter does not make a man decent. Having a wife does not make a decent man. Treating people with dignity and respect makes a decent man.” Source: The Guardian

The New York Times cited a representative from Instagram who said the earliest post relating to this latest challenge was made by a Brazilian journalist. Current, because the hashtag has been used previously to gain awareness for other issues. The caption simply says ‘challenge accepted.’ Christine Abrams of social media management company ‘Later’ noted that female empowerment and feminist related posts had spiked following the viral video of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez speaking out against the sexist remarks made to her by Republican representative Ted Yoho. She suggested this may have contributed to this latest movement.

'We Will Stop Femicides Platform' protests in Istanbul. Source: The Guardian

Others suggested the movement was originally started to raise awareness for the increasing rate of femicide in Turkey. The murder of 27-year-old student Pinar Gultekin (allegedly by her ex-boyfriend) sparked outrage in Turkey, shining a light on the countries high femicide rate, which is growing year on year. Despite this, the government is attempting to roll back legislation designed to protect women. The black and white selfie apparently represents the black and white photo of the victim that appears in the newspaper, which could be any woman. There were a handful of women on my feed like Minka Kelly and Yvie Jones, who highlighted this in an informative and educational way. But disappointingly, too many of the responses I saw, whether triggered by the Turkish origins or otherwise, were criticising and shaming women. Ironically in a movement that, regardless of origin, was to promote women supporting women, these women did exactly the opposite.

I could share all the nasty comments, but I think I'll counter the story with images that will make you smile. Source: Instagram

Cheap shots like “seems like an excuse to post a vapid, highly-edited, vanity selfie.” So what if it is? So what if a woman finds confidence in posting her best photo, in her best light? Power to her. Women putting women down for a photo they post based on looks, just makes it okay for men to do it.

There were blind assumptions made about a person’s entire life, motivations and actions, based on one social post, with quotes like “What’s a single black and white selfie going to do? If they really want to do something they should do x, y or z.” Which of course assumes they know all about the activism efforts of that person they met 10 years ago in the bathroom at a club and haven’t spoken to since. It seems they haven’t considered that it’s entirely possible that any given person is actually capable of doing both things.

Jennifer Aniston using the moment as a reminder to vote. Source: Instagram

The downplaying social media activism as ‘slacktivism’ is such an easy cop-out, because #thoughtsandprayers and “1 like 1 prayer’ genuinely are vapid, but, says Bart Cammaerts from the London School of Economics and Political Science, "Social media channels are playing an increasingly constitutive role in organising social movements and in mobilising on a global level.” Without social media, Australian personality Celeste Barber would unlikely have raised $50 million for bush fire relief. Or more recently, I wouldn’t have known about the campaign to raise the minimum incarceration rate if Marlee Silva hadn’t brought awareness to it through Instagram. It’s difficult to precisely quantify the impact of course. Nobody is saying a single selfie is going to change the world. Four million selfies this week under #challengeaccepted aren’t going to change the world, but to echo the words of Mia Freedman, it’s just a nice movement that celebrates women! Who knows how many women had just one better day because of it? I did.

Source: Instagram

Then there were women claiming to empower other women, but actually just flexing their privilege through posts dripping with condescension. Unlike Yvie Jones and Minka Kelly, so often I saw the Turkish origin to story used to criticise the intelligence of women who hadn’t communicated this message with their “cute selfies,” suggesting they should be more educated and like them, simply better. I read posts like “I’m all for empowering women, but we’ve got to do better…” and “I’d like to encourage some reflection…” Women patting themselves on the back for having an education and ability to critically analyse a movement before they “jump on a trend.” But they weren’t critically analysing, they were just criticising. The critical analysis involves looking at all perspectives, but none of these women considered why women posted these selfies without mentioning Turkey. It’s really simple. That’s not the movement we were responding to. We participated in a movement or a ‘trend’ of sharing photos celebrating female empowerment. It’s entirely possible two separate movements got lost in one another over millions of re-posts and it’s also possible to support both of them.

Source: Instagram

Of course, it wouldn’t be a ‘movement’ without what I will call the ‘whataboutisms,' or downplaying the importance of one cause by highlight the importance of another. Like “Why are you supporting women, when children as young as 10 are being locked up?” “Why are we worried about COVID, when we need to be looking at these stats in Turkey?” Or this tweet from writer Alana Levinson to her 30k followers, “Why don’t we ease into feminism with something low stakes, like cutting off your friend who’s an abuser?” Because I’m sure if you asked a domestic abuse survivor they’ll tell you just how easy it is to walk away. No. It’s ‘Whataboutism’ with a healthy dose of women shaming, specifically shaming survivors of domestic abuse. Some things are little, some things are big, somethings affect us more than others. But humans are multidimensional and we’re also capable of supporting more than one thing at once! Comparing issues leads to minimising the importance of one of the causes, and then only serves to add more negativity to a world, that as the arguer has highlighted, there’s already quite a bit of.

Source: Instagram

Of course, I’m sure there were also men with something to say, but my feed was flooded with women’s opinions.

There’s a lot to be mad about right now. If a movement sharing selfies isn’t your thing, that’s okay, move on. But check yourself before you throw in your ‘unsolicited opinion.’ If for the four million people who shared their picture it helps them feel stronger, empowered and confident, it might be small, but it’s important.

Oh, and because we can do more than one thing at once, you can read more about 'We Will Stop Femicide Platform's' fight against femicide in Turkey here.


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