Anyone not living under a rock for the past week must be aware of the Black and White photo challenge doing the rounds on women's Instagram feeds across the world. The "challenge" includes sharing monotone photos and selfies of themselves with hashtags such as #WomenSupportingWomen, #WomenEmpowerment and #ChallengeAccepted.
The "Challenge" became a global phenomenon with women across all walks of life - celebrities to students, activists to professors, journalists to just ordinary social media users. By Wednesday, there were millions of black and white photos of women under the #WomenSupportingWomen hashtag. The problem was, a majority of them came with no context.
What did the hashtag and the trend represent?
Many women and journalists of colour have pointed out that the meaningless sharing of the black and white photos without context has led to a hijacking of the trend which they claim was started as a mark of protest against femicide in Turkey.
Several viral posts by a number of women from Turkey and other places have gone viral on social media, claiming that the photo challenge was started in Turkey after the murder of 27-year-old student named Pinar Gültekin, who was reported missing on July 16, only to be found dead in a forest five days later. The university student had been murdered by her boyfriend in what became yet another case among the growing number of femicides in Turkey.
As the black and white photo challenge went viral across the world, several Turkish women took to social media to draw attention to the alleged origin of the movement.
Femicide in Turkey
Turkey has been seeing protests by women across the country after the killing of Pinar Gültekin. The outrage reached fever pitch when the Turkish government indicated that it may be backing out of the landmark Istanbul Convention, a treaty that was ratified by the country in 2012 and was one of the first binding treaties in the world to combat and prevent cases of gender-based violence against women, as well as cases of marital rape and genital mutilation.
On the other hand, Turkey has one of the highest numbers of femicides in the world with 474 women being killed in 2019 due to gender-based violence and abuse. As per numbers recorded by the Turkish online platform 'We Will Stop Femicide', 27 cases of femicides have similar to the killing of Pinar Guletkin have been reported in this year alone.
Many on social media claimed that the Black and White photo challenge was in fact a result of the ongoing agitations by women across Turkey.
As per messages going viral on Instagram, the trend started in Turkey by way of calling attention to the myriad cases of domestic violence, gender-based abuse and femicide that women in the country wake up to, every day. The black and white photo was meant to represent the victims of gender violence whose photos were broadcast in news media. The idea of sharing own black and white photos? To point out that if you don't raise your voice against violence, one day, it could be you.
Twitter user Imaan Patel shared the following message on Twitter. The screenshots have been going viral across social media platforms.
"Turkey is one of the top countries when it comes to femicides. Most often the murderers barely get a slap on a wrist or no charges at all… Our government is trying to abolish certain aspects of [the] Istanbul Convention which is a human rights treaty that protects women against domestic violence… Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, on their newspapers, on their TV screens. The black and white photo challenge started as a way for women to raise their voice. To stand in solidarity with the women we have lost. To show that one day, it could be their picture that is plastered across news outlets.
just thought all of you posting these "black and white" challenges should see how tone deaf they actually are xx pic.twitter.com/WdQzQqMlza— ايمأن 🇵🇸 (@imaann_patel) July 28, 2020
Turkish Instagrammer Zeycan Rochelle Yildirim also shared a similar post on Instagram in which she explaine din detail what the Istanbul Convention is and why the Turkish government's move to disband the convennction can lead to further violence against women.
View this post on Instagram
As #challengeaccepted continues to trend, here is some more information on the origin of the post & how it became suddenly popular out of nowhere❕ . It began to spread first in Turkey as millions of us here grieve the deaths of several women, this week alone, who have garnered a lot of media attention as victims of Femicide. . As the Turkish government looks to back out of the Istanbul Convention, which is made to protect the high number of domestic abuse cases against women, people are angry & banded together to show solidarity against this action. . Your beautiful black & white photo is yes, meant to empower other women as your sister, but because so many men disregard & dispose us of our worth. . I urge you to google Femicide and read the horrific accounts some women have faced. Violence against women anywhere is a tragedy! Share with purpose ✨ . #Femicide #womenempoweringwomen #sisterhood #kadınaşiddetehayır #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır #Feminism
The New York Times journalist Tariro Mzezewa took to Twitter to clarify that she had spoken to Turkish women to find out if the truth and found out that several women in Turkey had been tweeting under hashtags like #kadınaşiddetehayır and #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır (Say no to violence against women) and "Istanbul sözleşmesi yaşatır" (Enforce the Istanbul convention). These hashtags were, however, drowned out by the global photo-sharing trend.
The Turkish hashtags about domestic violence and femicide were dropped as the challenge went viral. The images were for women to bond “but MORE importantly that we know that we can be the next trending image and hashtag.” - @zeycan_rochelle— Tariro Mzezewa (@tariro) July 28, 2020
Indian Instagrammer Dr Pragya Aggarwal also shared a similar post in wake of several Indian celebrities including Sonam Kapoor, Alia Bhat as well as a plethora of other Indian women sharing their greyscale headshots.
View this post on Instagram
Black and white selfies. It isn’t just a game of hot or not. Or an exercise in vanity. It is not just a mindless challenge that women are undertaking to post their sexiest snaps. These are some of the criticisms that this #challenge has faced. It is a very serious gesture of defiance in support of the Turkish Women (Turkey has one of the highest femicide rate), in support of Pinar Gultekin who was killed in the most violent manner, in support of every woman who has felt threatened and unsafe. This is show of solidarity to say that we stand together, we are unafraid, we are fed up of the lack of accountability for the perpetrators. This was started by Turkish women to say that they are appalled by the Turkish govt decision to withdraw from the Isanbul convention much like Poland. This is to say that no woman stands alone, we deserve to take up space, we are all #womensupportingwomen This is not just performative, this is hopefully not just tokenistic, this is for PINAR GULTEKIN, a woman of colour. Say her name!! . . . Thanks to @naomiyoga #challengeaccepted . . . #pinargultekin #turkishwomen #westandtogether #domesticviolenceawareness #genderbias #genderinequality #shatterpatriarchy #blackandwhitephoto #selfie #womenempowerment #pınargültekin #empoweringwomen #genderequity #genderequalityforall #nooneisfreeuntileveryoneisfree #feminismisforeverybody #womenofcolor #turkishwomen #womenofcolour
Not all agree to this version of the trend's origins. Some such as an article in The New York Times suggested that the trend was similar to one that went viral in 2016 in to show support for women with cancer. The report also suggested that as per Instagram, the first #WomenSupportWomen post in the past month came a week ago from the Instagram account of a Brazilian journalist Ana Paula Padrão who posted an image of herself and tagged another woman to take up the challenge.
Yet another theory noted that the trend was in fact the result of the viral video of United States Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez who recently lambasted Ted Yoho for his deeply sexist remarks against her. As per the NYT report, there has been an uptick on social media posts revolving around the themes of feminism and female solidarity since the AOC's video.
Context > Origin
Many, however, agreed that no matter what the exact origin, it was important to understand the context of the trend - solidarity against gender-based violence and abuse of women.
Though the trend and the hashtag of "women supporting women" may have been old, it's various reiterations over the years such as during the Black Lives Movement as well as in Turkey were all important in terms of growing representation of diverse women and the issues and violence they face.
People love these types of “challenges” because they don’t require any actual advocacy. You can self promote in the name of a cause, but the cause in these #ChallengeAccepted posts is so vague they basically don't support anything at all https://t.co/MfUVFh1bjd— Taylor Lorenz (@TaylorLorenz) July 27, 2020
Sharing beautiful photos of oneself and tagging other women by way of uplifting them may be empowering. But sharing the photos without knowing or iterating the cause may work toward diluting the campaign which is ultimately aimed at raising voice against gender violence. While celebrating women empowerment, it is important to remember that those fighting for their rights - the ones who really need global support and solidarity to stand up against sexist and oppressive governments and regimes - may find reprieve to know that their voices are not being drowned out by a trend that was co-opted by celebrities to promote themselves.