What is The #WomenSupportingWomen Challenge?
Two days ago, I posted a black and white photo of myself after days of seeing similar photos of women I know and adore filling my social feed along with the phrase “challenge accepted” and the hashtag #womensupportingwomen. I had been curious about the challenge and eagerly anticipating an invite to join in. I was thrilled when a girlfriend who I had been meaning to connect with reached out to me via Instagram with the following message:
It said, “I was careful to choose who I think will meet the challenge, but above all who shares this point of view. Among women there are several criticisms; instead, we should take care of each other. We are beautiful the way we are. Post a photo in black and white alone, written “challenge accepted” and mention my name. Identify 50 women to do the same, in private. I chose you because you are beautiful, strong, and incredible-simply fabulous! Let’s love each other.”
My initial response was, “Hell yeah! I’m on board with anything that includes women supporting women,” and then, “Whoa…50 is a lot!”
What followed was a long-overdue chat with my girlfriend. It lifted my spirits, which have been real low as of late. And when we were done catching up, I picked a new photo I had taken of myself for an article I’m writing about my adventures with lingerie (keep an eye out for it), hit the black and white filter, and posted. I was feeling confident, supported and, kinda good about “being in” on something that was both fun and something I’m passionate about.
I spent the rest of the evening enjoying “loving” and commenting on black and white photos of my dearest girlfriends. What struck me as I scrolled through my feed was how moving it was to see all of these women, each so different from the other, uniting around one simple but crucial theme: #womensupportingwomen.
It felt like a beautiful moment of solidarity during the most divisive time I’ve seen during my lifetime. And for a moment I felt hopeful.
Just a moment.
#WomenSupportingWomen Comes Under Fire
Right before I went to bed, I came across two consecutive Instagram posts by a young woman. The first was her #challengeaccepted #womensupportingwomen post. The next was a post with a black square and white writing. In her comments section, she said, “Grateful for the opportunity to be educated. I am going to keep the other photo because I love the idea of #womensupportingwomen in as many ways as possible”.
The Instagram post itself was a repost from user @beelzeboobz and said that the challenge came to be because Turkey is one of the top countries when it comes to femicides. According to the post, many go unrecorded resulting in an inability to accurately track how many women are murdered each year. The Turkish government ignores these crimes and doesn’t adequately punish the murderers. It goes on to say that the government is also trying to abolish certain aspects of the Istanbul Convention which is a human rights treaty that protects women against domestic violence.
According to the @beelzeboobz post, the result is that Turkish people wake up every day to see a black and white photo of a woman who has been murdered on their Instagram feed, in their papers and on their TV screens—and the black and white photo challenge was started as a way for women to stand in solidarity with the women who had been lost.
This was all news to me. The criticism was clear: the meaning of the challenge was being tossed out and replaced by women’s vanity. At least, that was the first criticism I came across.
Criticism for #ChallengeAccepted Grows
By the time the morning rolled around my feed was filled with women making snide comments about other women posting black and white photos of themselves. Stories about the #womensupportingwomen #challengeaccepted black and white selfie phenomena have popped up multiple times on all the news outlets. Some say it started because of the horrific treatment of women in Turkey, others claim it was started in support of cancer awareness, still, others claim to have tracked it to Brazil. The one thing the majority of these articles have in common is an air of disdain for those silly, vain women who have participated.
One woman in a Facebook group for writers that I am a member of posted an article she had written about why she thought the #womensupportingwomen challenge was idiotic. In her story (which I refuse to link to) she tells readers that she had been waiting for days to be invited to the challenge, and was even hurt that it took her so long to be included–even though she had no intention participating. What a rebel! (cue long slow eye-roll).
This woman angrily waited to be invited just so she could turn her friend down and feel…what? Superior? I’m not quite sure this writer even knows why she hated the challenge so much; her article barely addressed the situation in Turkey. I think she just enjoyed being the voice of dissent and in a position to criticize her female peers.
Why I Still Love the #Womensupportingwomen Challenge
I’ve spent more hours than I should have reading stories explaining why people are against the #womensupportingwomen challenge. And while concerns about it overshadowing important issues, including the Black Lives Matters movement are valid, I believe that we are all capable of supporting and focusing on more than one, two, three (or even more) issues/causes at a time. I also believe that this challenge has already done a whole lot of good, and as a result, I’m going to give you a bulleted list to consider before you go pulling your black and white selfie photo down or criticizing even one more women.
10 Reasons to Support the #WomenSupportingWomen Challenge
- It successfully raised awareness. I might have NEVER known about the situation in Turkey had this challenge not started. Now I am informed along with most of the rest of the internet savvy world. It doesn’t matter if challenge originated there, femicide in Turkey is in all of the major news outlets now and that is important and impactful!
- Women reconnected. With the COVID-19 pandemic separating us from our loved ones for months on end, women are more isolated and at risk of suicide and death than ever. In fact, there has been a 20% global increase in domestic abuse which has been referred to a shadow pandemic by the UN. Women invited to participate in this challenge reached out to up to 50 other women! I don’t know about you, but I haven’t ever attempted to do that before. When women stay connected to other women, we stay safer. Connection improves our mental health and gives us the opportunity ask for help when it’s needed. I’ve already shared just one of my stories of reconnection, but I connected with so many, including my courageous warrior of a friend who just when through Chemo for breast cancer. I wasn’t able to be there for her because of the pandemic but seeing her gorgeous black and white photo was like medicine to my soul. And I know sharing it, did hers good too.
- Selfies are good for women. That’s right! For so long, the patriarchy dictated what women should look like. Movies, TV shows, and the media controlled our image and we were objectified, demoralized and criticized for our looks because of it. Even worse, many of us suffer from eating disorders and conditions like body dysmorphia as a result of being brought up in a society that judges us by our looks (just ask good ol’ trump for the rating system). The internet and social media changed things for women. Now WE get to post images that we like of ourselves. When a woman takes a selfie, she spends time examining her features and finding things she loves about herself and wants to share with the world. How is that bad for anyone? I’ll tell you how. Women who love themselves are empowered and powerful, and that scares a whole lot of folks. Shaming women for taking and posting photos of themselves that they love is an incredibly shameful thing to do. To call us vain for owning control of our own image and daring to share it as we see fit is engrained misogyny at its worst—especially when this is done by other females.
- Support was given. Support was received. If the actual point of this challenge was for women to support women, then it was successful. Black and white photos of my friends are still popping up, and for the most part, what I see is women giving and receiving words of encouragement and praise. Phrases like, “You inspire me” and “You are one of the strongest and most talented women I know” accompany images and cluster in the comment sections. What a wonderful change of pace.
- It gets points for body positivity. The mainstream media outlets seem to like to focus on famous people and influencers who posted black and white selfies. Apparently, this matters…why? I mean, we wouldn’t want the concept of women supporting women to become—dare I say “trendy” now would we? For the most part, I don’t follow famous people, so I actually haven’t seen these photos in my own feed. What I’ve seen are gorgeous shots of women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. The fact that all bodies are beautiful really shines with this challenge. That’s something we should all get behind.
- Women promote each other. Some women are instead posting photos of the women they admire and adding little writeups to promote what they think the world needs to know about them. How fucking cool is that? Other women tag the woman that nominated them and share why that person is so important to them. You don’t see that online every day.
- A little break in the divisiveness. Our country is divided in so many ways it’s hard to count them. Our country is so divided that it is terrifying at times. The #womensupportingwomen challenge gave us a moment to come together. It gave us a second of reprieve from a social media world that is overrun with hate and anger and division. If we are going to keep fighting for good, we have to be able to see the good in the world. If there’s no good left, then what is there to fight for?
- It gave me a reason to tell men to stfu. It’s bad enough that some women are shaming other women for their participation, but the second a man pops off about women posting selfies I have an excuse to unleash my inner demon dragon goddess on them. No, not the sexy kind that Stella Immanuel is concerned about. The fire breathing, mansplaining, misogynist eating version. And sometimes a feminist just has to take a bite. (Though I may have a sexy version too ?).
- It’s stoked important conversations about women. As much as I’m writing this article with a heavy, heavy heart; I’m also pleased to see a good many like-minded women bringing attention to, and starting conversations about, their concerns about attacks made on pretty much any female empowerment phenomena—especially when it’s centered on the female image.
- It’s a reminder. It’s served as a reminder that women have a long way to go in our quest to truly support one another. Today, when I mentioned how down I was about the reaction to the challenge, a very dear friend of mine said, “The b/w photo thing is just us women being women.” My first instinct was to argue with her, but she is both wise and right. Sisters, we have a long way to go before we know how to truly support each other—meaning both when we see eye-to-eye and when we don’t.