Women Supporting Women Forever – #ChallengeAccepted

A look at the reportage by the New York Times can take you through the timeline of the origin of the #ChallengeAccepted or #WomenSupportingWomen challenge – whichever you thought it was. Naturally, the trend caught on in India a day-and-a-half late. Women posted selfies on Instagram and Twitter with emotional messages on what the challenge and the women in their lives meant to them.

It was clear that many Indian women were not aware of the origins of the challenge.

As it picked up speed, there were many regular women who spoke of colourism through black and white photos, and women who stated their solidarity with the Bahujan movement. Slowly, trans, bi-gender and gender non-conforming individuals started sharing their photographs after getting challenged by cis-women friends and the trend took on an entirely different form. Perhaps for the first time in recent years, as I scrolled, I saw an organic rise in conversation around queer feminism from regular Indians.

Even so, with non-stop selfies pouring out with #ChallengeAccepted, the message seemed to have gotten missed in the virality.

There have been a few women sharing posts in good conscience, to highlight why people are posting BnW photos. They are trying to create awareness for femicides in Turkey. There are mainly two accounts (@auturkishcultureclub and @minaonthemoon) whose posts on the matter of femicides in Turkey were shared widely – mostly through Instagram.

In the cross-posting, as people tried to find the origin story, it was even thought that the challenge was sparked by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s reply to Representative Ted Yoho’s sexist remarks in Congress about her last week. It was also believed to have been kickstarted in Brazil, after Instagram seemed to indicate it was so.

However, I would like to take a moment and ask that even after discovering the real message of this particular challenge  – do you feel more aware, or do you feel somehow scammed into feeling shame for not knowing something?

Welcome to social media activism 101. You have just been shamed for not being aware of a political issue. Classic rookie mistake. Thankfully, you can delete your black and white images if you feel so compelled. Either way, nobody can really question your intent.

Social media challenges are actually a great way to increase activity among cohorts. They can be viewed as a single prominent conversation starter among groups of people, which unites them temporarily while increasing a sense of community.

Challenges are often very simple to execute and gain virality because of their simplicity. They have to achieve a critical mass for the winning prize to unfold. In the case of activism, unlike in marketing, the message is the prize. Like the Ice Bucket Challenge, which was to raise awareness about a rare disease that slowly makes all the muscles of the human body deteriorate progressively.

Doing the challenge – dumping a bucket of icy water all over yourself – leads to a sort of muscular numbness that could perhaps make some feel empathy, instead of just sympathy, for someone with ALS.

Although, the real numbness which we combat today is mental stagnation because of the constant media messages that we are hit with day after day. This concept is explained very well in the brilliant book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

It is applicable to social media as well. Our consumption of content has been restricted to social media and people spend large parts of their days scrolling through posts. Since the success of the #MeToo movement, many feminists online have started hashtag campaigns to raise awareness and create solidarity. Most feminist hashtags are plain and straightforward. There are no hidden agendas and no sudden surprises. Which is why some commentators even comically suggested if this was started by men.

But with #ChallengeAccepted, and the message apparently getting lost in an online game of Chinese Whispers, the shame is now categorically for women to bear as they must bite their tongue for participating in a challenge with a bloody origin. I read the explanation and very gruesomely imagined the black and white photos as dead women on Turkish TV. I tend to take things too literally, owing to my utter lack of humour about these things.

I love that there are progressive women around the world trying to create new movements and make themselves pioneers of women’s rights in the 21st century.

But I hope we realise that it is not a good practice to keep speaking up about the impact of shame in furthering misogyny, while using it as the means to educate one another with ‘gotcha’ moments.

I would like to accept the challenge of teaching each other directly through openness by saying – women are being murdered in Turkey, as they are in India too. Women all over the globe are brutally killed in violence daily, which our governments do not seem to have any answer for. Even though women make up half of the workforce and citizenship, our administration continues to be unresponsive to the need for justice for women.

And to support the voices of all these women, there are things that we can all do beyond making social media posts. We can sign petitions and write to representatives and demand justice through any means available to us in our region. Women must learn to organise and work with the lawyers and activists among them, who can help us on this journey.

We can also post selfies and create meaningful conversation of why we support and love each other – every single day.

And to that I would like to say – #ChallengeAccepted.