Sunday, March 3, 2024

Challenge Accepted, Ladies: Why the Latest Hashtag Trend Might be Missing the Point

The latest phase of hashtag activism is currently sweeping our Instagram pages. It’s called #womensupportingwomen…. so why is it making Emma Clifton so mad?


There has been something buzzing around my head for the past few months and the #womensupportingwomen movement has taken that low buzzing and placed it right between my eyes, where it screams from my very soul.

And that buzzing is this: what is the point of social media now?

Karl Marx said that religion was the opiate for the masses and it seems that we as a collective, phone-grabbing species, have now replaced god worship with another worship. And that is ourselves.

We are currently tweeting, posting and updating our way through the apocalypse and it makes for a very jarring experience, when your social media feed flits between selfie shot, protest shot, cake shot, selfie shot, flashback shot… etc. Social media wasn’t built for the apocalypse. Social media has always been based around the best days of our life, rather than the worst. And, not to be grim, but there are no best days right now.

There is just making the best of a bad situation, with no end in sight. And if you think I’m exaggerating, then I’ll simply direct you to look away from Instagram and towards the news cycle. We are in hell.

So what is it about this particular hashtag that has got my hackles up? I mean, I’m not above posting a nice photo of myself (after several attempts, judicious editing, and a flattering filter). And I love to see photos of my friends’ faces! It’s the idea of it being… a revolution that I argue with. Women posting photos of their faces isn’t a protest, it’s the norm. #womensupportingwomen simply appears to be traditionally attractive people posting traditional attractive photos of themselves.

It’s a little bit like the idea of people putting up super cute photos of themselves with their dads for Father’s Day on Instagram, even though no dad has ever started an Instagram account or understood the concept of it. Have you ever tried explaining Instagram or Facebook to a man in their 60s?

It’s the idea of it being… a revolution that I argue with

The original concept for #womensupportingwomen came out of Turkey, and it was used to highlight the rates of femicide in that country. Apparently, black and white photos of victims of domestic violence and femicide are often run in the news and some women in Turkey wanted to show photos of themselves, alive and well, to show how widespread the problem was, that any of them could be the next victim.

Then quickly it fell into the hands of the rich and the famous who did what they normally do and ruined fucking everything. Let’s be real here – most movements that start with celebrities posting photos of themselves don’t add tremendous value to the conversation, do they? Celebrities have always existed on another planet and boy oh boy, in 2020? Best case scenario, they look irrelevant. Worst case scenario? They seem like they’re actively damaging the world (See: JK Rowling).

Hashtag activism can sometimes feel a little bit like screaming into the void, even when it’s trying to bring attention, in a more direct way, to crucial events. But it can also go so, so wrong. It was only two months ago that black squares dominated Instagram for a 24-hour period to draw attention to Black Lives Matter – an extremely worthy and ongoing movement – but people used the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, which protestors had been relying on to collect information on upcoming marches.

Suddenly, when hundreds of thousands of people started using the hashtag under their social-media-mandatory black square, it lost its informative value and the whole thing became a bit of a mess. We can look back further – remember #bringbackourgirls in 2014, after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls? It was another flash-in-the-pan, well-intentioned band wagon. Did it work? Well, almost half of those girls are still missing and it’s been six years. You tell me.

It’s not fair to lay the responsibility of solving the world’s problems at the feet of women on Instagram who are just doing a nice thing their friends volunteered them to do, I get it. And, as a feminist, writing a rant against the hashtag #womensupportingwomen feels deeply incongruous to everything I stand for. What’s next, I start voting for National? I also understand the social pressure when you have been tagged in something and don’t want to be rude to your lovely friend who nominated you. It’s a hard spot to be in!

I just feel like, as women, we have to work very hard to be taken seriously, all the time. Can you imagine a world where men posted tastefully sensual photos of themselves with the hashtag #mensupportingmen underneath them?

I leave you with the thoughtful prose of Ivanka Trump, whose own father has done more than almost another other figure in modern history to undermine the rights of women, transgender people, minorities… basically everyone who isn’t a rich white old man. She took part in the #womensupportingwomen challenge. And doesn’t that say enough?

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