Challenge accepted? Why posting black-and-white selfies on Instagram is misguided women empowerment

Illustration. (Getty Images)
Illustration. (Getty Images)
  • You might have noticed the black-and-white confetti of women's selfies and portraits sprinkled all over your non-chronological Instagram feed recently in the spirit of "women empowerment".
  • It's even reported that over 3 million Instagram posts from around the world have been posted under the #ChallengeAccepted #WomenSupportingWomen hashtags over the past couple of days - some without the hashtag.
  • This is yet another one of those viral pass-the-digital-baton type social media challenges with mysterious origins, but which gain traction nonetheless.
  • But with this particular challenge, a very important message about gender-based violence was lost in translation.

From the #VogueChallenge to #BlackOutTuesday and now #ChallengeAccepted, the meanings of social media movements have been watered down in the face of bandwagonism. So much so that one has to ask what justice are we doing these causes if we continue to merely get on board without doing any background reading that would better inform our participation?

So you've been seeing several black-and-white images of women on IG recently coupled with well-meaning captions of upliftment and #WomenSupportingWomen. If you haven't been nominated already, you've probably been scrolling down your feed either patiently waiting your turn or asking yourself "what's this about anyway?" as you hit the post button on your own IG-ready VSCO creation. At least you're nominated, right?

Yes, the challenge is global, but it also happens to coincide with our Women's Month calendar. A month which rides on the wheels of performative gestures that translate into no tangible change or progress for women. 

So you might be one of the people whose eyes are now at the back of their head from rolling them at the sight of what seems to be this week's edition of grandstanding, gimmicky commercialisation, and fluffy meaningless rhetoric around Women's Day. 

READ MORE: This women network launched a campaign to challenge "marketing gimmick" of Women’s Month 

Because after months of seeing celebrities perform fatuous acts of solidarity amid the coronavirus pandemic in the form of singing Imagine or applauding frontline workers from their mansion balconies, this is exactly where my eyes were until new information was presented to me.

Without much disdain for the ordinary folk contributing to the numbers on this hashtag - it's normal for people to want to be a part of something after all - my annoyance over how Women's Day is reduced to a month-long flimsy marketing campaign, no different to Valentine's Day or Christmas, has been triggered right on time. 

I have nothing against St Valentine nor St Nicholas, but I do have a problem with the erasure of certain historical events such as the women's march of 1956 that allow us the privilege to even get an invitation to a seat at the women empowerment brunch. 

But beyond seats at tables, SA has leadership that fails to stand up against gender-based violence time and time again - an issue they could dedicate Women's Month to. Turkish women face the same plight, and had the social media culture of 'optics over meaningful awareness' not diluted their cause so abruptly with the #WomenSupportingWomen trend which was admittedly hijacked by celebrities first, we would've caught wind of the viral challenge's actual goal before its dilution. 

Reese Witherspoon (who we all love and adore) captioned her black-and-white post above "May we all continue to shine a light on one another. This is what sisterhood is all about" when the trend is, in fact, not about sisters shining a light on one another as if we were all at a sorority house welcome dinner.

A few screenshots of an IG story explainer posted by the @auturkishculturalclub have been circulating since social media became curious about the inception of the hashtag. I have posted my own screenshot below, where the account explains that the reason the photos are black-and-white is due to the fact that much like South Africa, "Turkish people wake up up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, in their newspapers, and on their TV screens." 

IG black-and-white challenge

In August 2019, 49 women were killed in Turkey in the month of August alone. In 2018, Turkey reported 440 femicide cases, which saw a tribute of 440 pairs of heels hung on the walls of a building in central Istanbul to raise awareness of domestic violence by artist Vahit Tuna. 

"The term femicide is something people are not aware of but we see that they are discussing it but until now they haven't challenged themselves about it. I think this creates awareness and is something that influences people and makes them think," said Vahit.  

Reuters further reported nine months ago that Turkey's murder rate on women had doubled.

READ MORE: This is how Turkey commemorated women who’ve died from gender-based violence using heels 

Empowerment brunches, "badass" photo shoots, calling women CEOs "ShEOs" for a month, the mbhokodoism of black women who actually need genuine allies, and posting beautifully edited black-and-white images are all well and good for the camaraderie and semblance of empowerment, but without work put in, they mean absolutely nothing.

It's especially disheartening when a trend that was actually created for a cause as close to home as GBV in South Africa to have had its integrity questioned due to misguided social media empowerment. 

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