Another week, another social media activism trend.
This week, you may have noticed that your Instagram feeds seems to feature a number of women, in beautiful black and white photos of themselves with the hashtag #challengeaccepted.
I first noticed these popping up in my feed, I had no idea what they were about. And then the tags started to trickle in to post a picture of myself in black and white to show how I support other women. I have no idea how a black and white selfie accomplishes that, to be honest. I’m old enough to remember chain mail; when a letter arrived in the post and you had to send it on to ten friends or receive ten years of bad luck. And so dutifully, you’d send the letter along, safe in the knowledge you had protected yourself from the curse of the chain mail. And here I am in 2020, wilfully breaking the chain.
After a number of tags, I decided to post on my Instagram stories that I am grateful for the tags, but I wasn’t going to post something. I just did not see the point of this challenge. Me posting a selfie does nothing to show whether I support women or not. It doesn’t let me talk about the women I’m tagging and how they’re remarkable for their achievements. It doesn’t donate money to a female led charity. It doesn’t get more women on boards or in science or in politics. And while I don’t know this for sure, I’d be willing to bet that it doesn’t highlight women who are working for women from underrepresented minorities. I was immediately filled with the feeling that I was being a great big bitch for not taking part.
After the death of George Floyd, Instagram was awash with black squares as people from around the globe tried to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. For a week, many went silent on their social media channels, replacing recipes with amplifying the voices of black people from around the world. The black square drew a significant amount criticism, predominantly that it drew attention away from real discussions about racism and that it was performative. I too posted a black square despite the fact that I knew it was completely irrelevant unless I acted on that, especially offline. Many have noticed that since that short-lived flooding of black squares, much momentum has been lost.
The origins of the #challengeaccpeted are a little murkier and maybe less noble than the black square, although it is awash with star power with models and actors somehow showing they support for women through their beautiful photos. This challenge is just the latest in a long line of online campaigns designed to ‘raise awareness’, whilst asking very little of those who are posting about it. Whether it be about cancer awareness, racism or sexism, online campaigns seem to have a knack of whipping everyone into a frenzy to participate without necessarily showing people how to follow through with their probably good intentions. It’s a wasted opportunity to channel some of that energy and momentum that social media is actually good at generating, into something much more concrete.
As I dug my heels in, it struck me that not performing has a downside too. I realised that my unwillingness to participate in this latest challenge might be misinterpreted that I don’t support other women. It’s like breaking the chain mail, you bestow upon yourself the bad luck of being mislabelled as someone who doesn’t care about feminism, or racism or cancer. It doesn’t matter if that is not even remotely true, the performance matters more than the actual actions.
Whether it be a black square or a black and white selfie, that small action is just that. It is a tiny snapshot of someone’s beliefs and it indicates absolutely nothing about the actions that they take to combat inequalities or other issues that plague our society. We shouldn’t have to post in line with the latest challenge to signal to the world that we’re against racism or sexism. And we shouldn’t use that as the only indicator that we are.
You don’t have to post on Instagram to prove that you’re a good person; you just have to be a decent human in real life and perpetuating the 2020 version of chain mail won’t prove that you are. If you want to post your black and white selfie, go for it, even if it’s just because you feel good about that picture of yourself. Don’t forget though, to look beyond this latest Instagram challenge. If you’re going to post, at least highlight the achievements that highlight what those women you tag have actually done. Or perhaps donate to a female-centric charity, lobby for better inclusion in your workplace and actually uplift other women offline. Who we are and what we do can never be summed up in a photo in a square.
Since this article was published, it has emerged that posting black and white selfies may have also originated as a way to draw attention to violence against women in Turkey. Others have attributed it to Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrão, rising in response to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s response to abuse from a colleague.
Either way, it remains disappointing that what is an important issue has been swallowed up by a social media movement that pays no mind to the gravity of situations around the world where women’s lives are threatened. It remains a timely reminder to follow up to vigour of online movements with offline action.
You can check out Small Projects Istanbul if you’re looking for a charity that supports women in Turkey .