Social media trends can be a thing of beauty. Since the lockdown, innumerable challenges have been posted on Instagram to encourage a sense of solidarity – be it a cooking challenge, an exercise-related challenge, or simply counting one’s work-from-home days. The idea behind them is to get people together for a cause, and the #ChallengeAccepted trend is one such thing.
I’m sure you’ve seen it on your own timeline by now, or even participated in it – women posting black-and-white images of themselves, using the hashtag #ChallengeAccepted along with #WomenSupportingWomen. At the time of writing this piece, the hashtag has over 60 lakh posts, and everyone, including celebrities, has partaken in this trend.
Some reports say that the #ChallengeAccepted trend did not originate in Turkey – but does that matter?
The origins of the hashtag are disputed. While initially it was said that women hopped on the bandwagon after US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s fiery speech on her male colleague, Ted Yoho, calling her a ‘fucking bitch’, the past couple of days brought out the supposed origins of the trend – the challenge was started by a group of activists in Turkey to shed light on the country’s femicide problem after the murder of a 27-year-old woman at the hands of her ex-boyfriend sparked national outrage.
But a recent report by the CNN suggests that the trend did not originate in Turkey – the #WomenSupportingWomen challenge was started by Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrao, and the earliest post attached to this hashtag cycle was dated July 17th and was trending in Brazil.
But the point is, does the origin of the movement matter?
This trend is a reminder that we should take these conversations offline, too.
Discovering the origin of the movement is a good example of how social media can perpetuate half-baked information without people even second-guessing it, but that is already widely understood (the fake news brigade, for instance). The more important thing to note here is that the trend was still in line with the ‘original’ intent of the hashtag – bringing women to the foreground. Granted that the movement in Brazil wasn’t as political, the trend still centred around women. Implying that the movement wasn’t ‘originally’ started by activists in Turkey and doing so with such conviction is an attempt to derail an important conversation.
But as is the case with all social media movements, this one warrants the same question – do these movements make any difference?
“Turkey is one of the top countries when it comes to femicide,” the Instagram stories of the account @auturkishculturalclub stated. “Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens.” The outrage also stems from the conservative Turkish government’s efforts to abolish certain aspects of the Istanbul Convention, which would affect women’s right to safety from violence. The challenge continued as a way for women to show solidarity and raise their voice, and to show that “one day, it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets with a black and white filter on top”.
All said and done, the current trend has given us something to reflect upon.
Indians aren’t strangers to instances of violence against women – a recent report declared that India was the most unsafe country for women, and we can vouch for that. From dowry deaths to the legality of marital rape and from acid attacks to sex-selective abortions, knowing that we’re women in a country that doesn’t value our existence isn’t new. We’ve had our moments of national outrage as well – the one most fresh in our memory is the gang-rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012. Several movements have been a part of mainstream Indian conscience since then, including the #MeToo movement that broke the internet a couple of years ago, and the less popular but equally important #BoisLockerRoom incident.
While social media movements help amplify the issues we’re facing in times when the system is failing us, they can also be echo chambers where we share our issues with people who already understand and empathize with us and, in that process, not allow anyone else into the conversation. While #WomenEmpoweringWomen would have temporarily brought a sense of solidarity among women appreciating each other’s beauty, it still would have been thriving in an echo chamber that wouldn’t affect any change outside. Similarly, knowing about the femicide problem in Turkey and participating in the trend isn’t the worst thing in the world – it’s just limited in its effectiveness.
That’s why we should take these conversations offline and talk about them with our families and friends.
Trends like these, regardless of their intent, are a reminder that our experiences go beyond geographical boundaries, and it strengthens our need to fight inequalities.
But they’re also a reminder for us to localise our rage and talk about the issues that affect us with the people who matter to us.
Take a moment, then, to sit down with your parents and talk to them about how you’ve felt unfairly treated in comparison to your male siblings. Take a moment to confront your male friend and tell him that his sexist joke was harmful. Take a moment to have that uncomfortable conversation with your partner about money, relationships, or anything else that you’ve been holding back.
Anything that you do out of the fierce desire for equality now can take the movement forward.
These movements are as relevant or irrelevant as we make them – the #MeToo movement pushed individuals to think about their own attitudes towards women, and it put organisations on the spot for not knowing how to handle their female workforce. These movements, while online, can have wonderful effects outside the realm of the internet if we give them a chance.
Post that monochrome selfie, then – just remember what it’s for.
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