When Challenge Is Accepted Rather Inadvertently

Beautifully curated black and white photos of women were trending on Instagram the other day. What started in Turkey as women’s support campaign to show unity, respect and solidarity to 27-year old Pinar Gültekin, one of the latest victims of the country’s high-rate femicide, quickly evolved into celebrities captioning sexy black and white snaps* of themselves with the hashtag #challengeaccepted and “Good vibes only“.

It’s a long way from Istanbul Convention violations to Candace Bushnell explaining in her #challengeaccepted -post why the Sex And the City and Lipstick Jungle were necessary and pivotal for women to advance in their careers, but here we are: a classic example of message getting lost in the influencing-frenzy. Many of those who had accepted the challenge without any idea what the challenge was about, later added an edit (god bless the IG edit-function to save us from embarrassment) that refers to the origin of the campaign. Better late than never.

Women championing each other is absolutely commendable and there can never be too much of it. I do have to admit that it was not clear to me what the empowerment-rally was about, though, whichever way I tried to look at it. #womenempoweringwomen – fantastic, but empowering on what?
Looking at the IG-posts, it’s embarrassingly obvious that most participants had spent far more time polishing up a flattering photograph of themselves than actually finding out what they were supposed to be supporting this time around.

Political forces in countries like Poland and Turkey are currently rallying to exit the aforementioned Istanbul Convention. It is a human rights convention to combat violence against women and domestic violence, which opened for signatures in 2011 in Istanbul. It is so far signed by 45 states and the European Union and ratified by 34 states. Leaving such a convention is, of course, an extremely worrying development in the best of times, but particularly devastating during a global pandemic that has locked millions of women at home with their abusive partners.

Campaigns both online and off are needed to raise awareness, and the focus should remain clear: the victims, the injustices and the rotten politics that want to strip women of their sexual, physical and psychological integrity and inviolability. The entire #challengeaccepted -saga on Instagram was thus a rather unfortunate case of Chinese whispers – most posts have nothing to do with violence against women. The black and white picture of Pinar Gültekin should have been the one trending online.

Granted, most women clearly had no idea what the purpose of the exercise was, but even if #challengeaccepted had been a support-campaign for women who empower each other, it certainly did leave both the audience and participants in the dark about the what and the why and the how (sisterhood is lovely and being inspired by the women around us is a heartwarming sentiment, don’t get me wrong.)

I fear that posting an update on social media is starting to give people – not just women – the false sense of being active in the society in the manner of “Well, I’ve posted this picture/opinion/affirmation online, so I’ve done my bit to support a worthy cause and can now return to posting cat videos for the rest of the summer with clean conscience“. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are all (I’m not excluding myself) becoming extremely trigger happy to jump any which bandwagon du jour. The endless noise online has become just a massive, photoshopped echo-chamber. At the same time most organisations, dare I say all, that work at the grassroots to help victims of domestic abuse, work for absolute pittance, if not entirely on voluntary basis.

Again, feminism is not about aspirations, it is about action. The pandemic makes it that more difficult to be active and helpful, but most associations and organisations accept even the most modest monetary donations to help cover the skyrocketing expenses (additional safe houses, accommodation, helplines, information campaigns) during this devastating year. It’s definitely worth checking with your national/local support centres what kind of help would be most useful for them.

Supporting, strategising and organising is important on all forums – and social media is definitely high up there as far as maximising the delivery of messages is concerned. But there’s a delicate balance to be treaded: it’s not about you and me and how fetching we look in B&W. It’s about the cause.
The campaign to fight violence against women – not to speak of the victims’ stories – deserve much more than ending up a global photo-op.

*The original challenge was about demonstrating that the lack of accountability from the perpetrators meant that any woman could be the next victim. The campaign chose to use black and white pictures to mimic the photos of victims published in the newspapers.

Photo credit: The original #challengeaccepted picture of Pinar Gültekin, source Instagram. Gültekin was killed by her ex-boyfriend in Mugla, Turkey.
In 2019, 474 women were murdered in Turkey. Most of those women were killed at the hands of partners or relatives. It is expected that the figures for 2020, with coronavirus lockdowns and additional social and financial pressures, will be even higher.

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