Millennium Post

Feminism on Hashtag

Sanitary pads on trees with messages on feminism. Beer bottles that explain what feminism is. T-shirts that scream, ‘I’m a damsel, I’m in distress, I can handle this’ and more. Feminism has just taken a leap. Social media is abuzz with one or the other feminist campaigns every day that gather tremendous amount of support and sometimes even go beyond borders, all in a matter of minutes.

Feminism is of course not a novelty. It has been there since women realised that they aren’t animals or a piece of property and they can, in fact, think for themselves. Nor has the world become more intolerant towards women. If anything, women are comparatively better off than they were a decade back. So, what has given rise to all the feminist activism we see on the social media these days?
For one, there is this universal feeling of solidarity that has given rise to the global activism that is feminism.

The sanitary napkin campaign started off in Germany. An artist has chosen an unusual way to promote feminism, writing messages on sanitary towels and placing them all over a German city. She employed Instagram and Twitter to promote her message with the hashtag #padsagainstsexism which was inspired by a tweet that said ‘imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods’. With word scribbled over sanitary pads the initiative went viral with students from Jamia Millia Islamia University taking cue and recreating the campaign in New Delhi with messages like ‘period blood is not impure, your thoughts are’, ‘menstruation is natural, rape is not’, ‘streets of Delhi belong to women too’. The campaign gathered steam with the proctor of the university releasing a showcause notice to the students in question.

It’s about the feeling of solidarity, of understanding that an issue like sexism is not confined to one corner of the world. That the view that women are not equal or that menstruating is dirty is a universal idea that needs to be dealt with, fought with and changed.

Indian women cheered with the World when Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger, Emma Watson gave her speech at the United Nations after being selected to be the Goodwill Ambassador of UN Women. Her words echoed with what a lot of women, maybe all women feel at some point or the other.  “I started questioning gender-based assumptions a long time ago. When I was eight, I was confused for being called bossy because I wanted to direct the plays that we would put on for our parents, but the boys were not. When at 14, I started to be sexualised by certain elements of the media.

When at 15, my girlfriends started dropping out of sports teams because they didn’t want to appear muscly. When at 18, my male friends were unable to express their feelings. I decided that I was a feminist, and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word. Women are choosing not to identify as feminists. Apparently, I’m among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, and anti-men.

Unattractive, even. Why has the word become such an uncomfortable one?” And suddenly Feminism was a glamorous word, used by a pretty star we have idolised on the big screen. Watson launched the #HeforShe campaign where she was supported by other actors and celebrities who came out in support of the cause. There were women drooling when the Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch posed wearing a t-shirt that said, “This is what a feminist looks like”. Feminist was suddenly sexy and those campaigning suddenly felt that they maybe don’t have to explain every time that feminism is not about hating men.

The ‘not so feminist’ reacted swiftly as well.  There were threats from trolls about leaking Watson’s nude pictures over the Internet, and in her own Hermione way, she laughed them off. Of course, hacking and leaking pictures of celebrity who don’t cater to your whims is the new ‘cool’ way of getting back at them. Speaking of cool, the new cool term is ‘Menist’. Men against feminism. People who are suddenly afraid that women might get an equal standing in society (gasp!) or worse they might be treated like humans! Jokes about women being bad drivers, that they can’t do Maths or that they are meant only for housework were and are still doing the round on the internet. There are blogs like Return of the Kings who champion men rights, which clearly women are infringing upon. The blog makes interesting points like ‘A woman’s value significantly depends on her fertility and beauty. A man’s value significantly depends on his resources, intellect, and character.’ Not to be too hard on men, there are many among women who think that feminism is a dirty word and that women’s rights are better left as they are (or were in the 1950s).

Nevertheless, feminists have taken social media to a different level. #Whoneedsfeminism campaign started off in Duke University in North Carolina USA, and spread in many university around the world including Karachi University in Pakistan. The idea is to hold a placard telling why you need feminism. Not so surprisingly, many of the placard holders were men, who talked about an equal society, not just for women but for homosexuals, transgender and yes, even men. The #YesAllWomen hashtag was seen trending where people were sharing stories of misogyny and violence against women( example: Because men don’t text each other that they got home safe. #YesAllWomen). The idea was to bring a common platform to share these stories and to stand up in solidarity. At the onset of 2015, Indian women started a #WhyLoiter? campaign fights against the idea of victim blaming and restriction on women. Women posted pictures on social media of loitering’ around in their city alone, reclaiming the space. This initiative is a step forward from the book, Why Loiter by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan and Shilpa Ranade who presented an original take on the meaning and implications of women’s safety in 21st century India.

The most recent step in this regard was when artist and poet Rupi Kaur posted pictures of herself on Instagram during her menstruation. These were normal everyday image of a woman’s life while she is on periods, but Instagram took it down. Rupi’s website and her photo series went viral on the social media where she wrote, “Thank you Instagram for providing me with the exact response my work was created to critique.” There have been various cases where women have been stopped from posting pictures of breastfeeding their children on social media. So one can see, it is still a long way to go.

But having said that, it is the small victories that count. For a worldwide campaign such as this, every retweet and every share on Facebook means progress. One cannot expect the world to change but the future sure looks less gloomier than the past, and hashtags have made that possible.

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