Women’s March 2019: Same Photos, Different Story

On Saturday 9th March, 15,000 people attended the Women’s March in Amsterdam. They braved icy bullets of rain and gusts of furious winds to take to the streets. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere was electric.

Women, men and children from all walks of life joined in the songs of solidarity. Their voices echoed off the facades of old Amsterdam houses. The inclusivity of the march was bolstered by slogans such as ‘2019 is not just about women’ and  ‘all oppression is connected’.

Messages ranged from #BlackLivesMatter to #TransLivesMatter, and from welcoming refugees to questioning the ethics of male circumcision at birth. There were signs about closing both the wage gap and the orgasm gap. People called out the need to change perspectives on gender and to tackle climate change.

It was a beautiful blur of colour, intersectionality and communal cheer.

And yet, when I Google ‘Women’s March 2019’, hits from popular websites portray the march in a very specific way. Much can be said about the language used in the most negative articles. I am particularly interested, however, in the merit of using sensationalized images in coverage of events like the Women’s March.

It becomes immediately apparent when browsing through articles that the diversity of photographs is not extensive. In many cases, the same handful of images are being used. The Dutch photo service ANP appears to be the source of these continually reused images.

The photos carry important messages for the feminist movement. They share a common focus on the female body and, possibly, on criticism of the Madonna-whore Complex. Three of the most-used pictures show women with barely concealed or totally exposed breasts. In one, a woman refers to herself as a ‘slut’. Another warns Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, not to ‘f*ck with these c*nts’.

The messages put forth by these women are important. They are about our right to agency over our bodies – to do what we want, wear what we want, and own our sexuality. They’re also about our right not to be constantly sexualised simply because we exist in female bodies.

The repeated use of a few specific images have caused them to become sensationalized as the collective face of the 2019 Women’s March.

What does this collective face portray? It could lead many to conclude that the march was attended primarily by ‘free the nipple’ type feminists. But this is only one of the many components of the feminist movement as a whole, and of this event in particular. It’s a far cry from the intersectional ideology of the march.

Diverse use of images in the media is important.

Falling into the trap of using the same mass-circulated pictures is easily done. It’s often the easiest, quickest option. But in the spirit of the 2019 Women’s March, and of intersectionality and diversity, here are some photos from the march which I think are more representative:

One of the organizers of the Netherlands Women’s March 2019.
A young man challenges the now infamous phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
A woman holds a sign showing balled fists of all colours – a visual indication of intersectional feminism.
The rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGBTQ community, was donned by many attendees.
‘I am a sick feminist’. Many people with illnesses and disabilities were in attendance too.

When covering actions for equality in the media, whether in major publications or on personal blogs, it’s important to use the diversity and choice available to us. Sensationalised images are tempting to re-use because of their recognisable quality and virality. However, every face in the crowd on 9 March mattered, and so did every photograph taken.

We have to ask ourselves: what is the story we want to tell?

Photos by Scarlett Bohemian photography

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In Conversation with Christine Sayo

Christine Sayo is a sexual and reproductive health and rights advocate from Kenya. In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, she talks about feeling judged by others for simply talking openly about issues related to sex.

“The community looks at you as a deviant, as someone who is going against the norm.”

The good news, though, is that Christine is seeing a shift in attitudes thanks to globalization and increased access to information from different channels.

“Having information coming in from different sources has helped to destigmatize some of these issues around sexual and reproductive health in young people.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org in support of women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our interviews with KingaWinfredScarlett, Natasha, Tasneem and Beverly, too!

Addressing Cyber Violence and Harassment

Orange Day – a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls”, is celebrated on 25th of the month, according to UN Women. July 2017’s Orange Day Action Theme was cyber violence against women.

To mark the day, UN Women hosted a panel moderated by Emily Mahaney, Senior Editor at Glamour Magazine. Panelists were Feminista Jones, a writer, activist, survivor of cyber violence, and creator of the hashtag #YouOKSis; Emily May, Co-founder and Executive Director of Hollaback!; and Jamia Wilson, Press Executive Director and Publisher at CUNY Feminist.

Research published this year showed that in the US:

  • 70% of US adults surveyed who identify as women say that “online harassment is a ‘major problem’”, compared to 54% of those surveyed who identify as men.
  • 41% of American adults said that they have experienced some form of online harassment, which the survey defined as “offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time”.
  • Even though both sexes reported experiencing cyber violence, women reported a worse experience: 34% of them experienced their latest incident as “extremely” or “very” upsetting, versus 16% of men reporting the same.

At its core, the internet is another public space where women can experience forms of violence or harassment, similar to catcalling on the street or inappropriate touching on a subway. To improve the online experience for all, Jamia Wilson suggested that online etiquette should be taught early on, both at schools and at home, and that adults should instruct children how to behave respectfully online, just as they teach children how to behave in public spaces

Emily Mahaney asked the panelists perhaps the most burning question we all have about cyberviolence and harassment: who perpetrates these acts of cyber violence, and what is their motivation? 

Feminsta Jones answered that the perpetrators are usually men who feel injured by women in some way, such as rejection from a woman in their lives or having been cheated on by their partners, and harassing women online is a way for them to channel their resentment. In terms of motivation, all panelists mentioned two things: power and dominance. May mentioned that it’s hard to pinpoint a perpetrator’s identity exactly, but that their real identity is not as important as the identity they assume online, which is usually that of a white, cisgender, and heterosexual man.

It might be logical to think that most perpetrators of cyber violence and harassment will do so anonymously or using a fake identity, but Jones mentioned that she has been attacked by people using their real pictures and names.

Although the violence and harassment are ‘virtual’, the consequences are very real. Being a victim of harassment and cyber violence can cause serious psychological issues such as anxiety, depression, and even PTSD and suicidal thoughts. Jones, for example, shared that she suffers from agoraphobia after experiencing cyber violence and harassment.

Cyber violence and harassment can indeed affect the victim’s life offline, especially when threats include rape or physical violence. Victims may feel the need to change their phone numbers and address, as well as becoming wary of being online again. Because consequences can impact a person’s offline life, Wilson talked about the importance of therapy for victims in their recovery process.

On how to help victims, May suggested that if we see someone suffering cyber violence or harassment, we should acknowledge the victim, whether through a comment or private message, even if that person is a stranger to us. To end the panel, Mahaney asked the panelists to identify one positive thing we can all do change this environment of cyber violence and harassment and to support each other. Wilson encourages us to speak up and share our stories if we have been a victim ourselves. May encourages us to remember that there are people out there that have your back and don’t forget to have the backs of others. Jones’ advice was simple but powerful: ask people if they’re ok.

If you have experienced some form of cyber violence and/or harassment – or know someone who has – visit iheartmob.org for help and support.

Female Role Models

The female role model has become a powerful actor in the digital age we live in. By the female role model, I mean the bloggers, actresses, Instagrammers and artists who are young women and have other young women and girls as followers. Through social media, it is now incredibly easy stay up to date with people who interest you and see their every move and thought.

A discussion has begun based on this phenomenon: does great responsibility come with great power? In Sweden alone, there have been multiple occasions where young women have been questioned and told they are not behaving like good role models for young girls. It might be because they pose in pictures with a cigarette in their hand, or say inappropriate words in podcasts. Some have even faced criticism for taking baths, because it’s bad for the environment.

This way of thinking can also be found in criticism about TV-series that are close to reality, like the Norwegian series SKAM and Lena Dunham’s Girls. The well-liked feminist character Noora in SKAM has been blamed for falling in love with an alleged ‘bad boy’, because as a feminist, of course, she shouldn’t fall for someone like that.

These demands on ‘role models’ puts young women in a position where they can no longer be regular human beings who make mistakes and misjudgements, and who don’t always have everything figured out. A female role model is expected to be perfect in every way, and if perfection is not upheld it’s argued that it negatively affects young girls. Young women are also expected to be and act like role models, even if they did not choose this position themselves or ever claim to be ‘perfect’. When young women become famous they are automatically viewed as role models and subsequently have certain standards to uphold.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this – is it better for young girls to have perfect role models to look up to, or role models that show them reality? When trying to create an equal society, I personally believe that it is more important that young women can live their lives without being judged than it is for girls to grow up with the idea that women have to be perfect in order to be accepted by society. For example, I think that the idea of females being flawless is more harmful for young girls then seeing a picture of Alicia Vikander smoking a cigarette.

It’s clear that this is an issue of equality when we consider that these kinds of demands are not thrust upon men in the same way. I think it’s always important to keep in mind whether the same criticism would be given to a man in the same situation. We need to let women choose for themselves whether they want to be role models, and if so what type of role models they want to become.