OPINION: Free the female body. Period
'The medium is the message' is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan, meaning that the platform used to disseminate a message forms part of the message. This seems to be the case for the feminist campaigns that have featured on social media in recent weeks. The campaigns provide social commentary on both patriarchy in society and a critique of how that patriarchy has crossed over to social media, especially in their policy with regards to photographs.
In the past month there appears to have been a rise in female voices who are questioning the status quo using various social media platforms. Instagram, Twitter and tumbler have been the chosen mediums for disseminating various pro-feminist statements using new and sometimes controversial methods.
Instagram was left with egg on its face after it decided to remove a picture of a fully clothed woman, lying on a bed, with a bloodstain on her pyjamas, indicating that she was menstruating. Instagram removed the picture, saying it violated its community guidelines.
The picture was posted by Rupi Kaur, a Canadian poet as part of a series of self-portraits. The images were intended to show that there is routine, extreme sexualisation of female bodies which is seen as 'less shocking or wrong than a messy period'. In her response to Instagram's removal of the pictures, she said that the photo had achieved exactly what she wanted to highlight. She also posted on her blog and urged other women to call out Instagram on its sexist picture policy that allowed sexualisation but balked at depictions of female bodily functions.
Many Instagram users re-posted the photo and called out Instagram, leading it to revoke the ban and allowing users to re-post the images.
Another young woman, Elonë, in Germany places messages on clean, unused, feminine hygiene products, pads and posts these on light poles across her city. She says she's on a mission to raise awareness about the dangers and unfairness of victim-blaming in rape cases. She then posts the pictures of pads with messages on her Tumblr account to spread the message globally.
One of the messages reads, "Imagine if men were as disgusted with rape as they are with periods."
Although most of the messages in response to her campaign have been positive, there have been some critics who argue that women should stop looking at all men like they are rapists. Ever since the first post went viral, various students across the globe have started their own campaigns and posting them to social media.
A couple of weeks ago yet another campaign led by women went viral, this time on Twitter. The #FreeTheNipple campaign is not a new campaign but it came up again last week when women in Iceland took to the platform to fight against what they call double standards. The latest wave of began when 17-year-old Adda Þóreyjardóttir Smáradóttir, a student and chair of the feminist society at the Commercial College of Iceland, announced an upcoming 'Free the Nipple' day at her school. A male friend responded by posting his topless picture and said that if he went to school topless there would be a negative reaction. She then posting her own topless picture which led to a Twitter troll sending her messages trying to body-shame her. This led to various women across the world posting topless photos in protest against social media websites banning images of female nipples, even when they are not posted in a sexualised way, for example, of a woman breastfeeding.
The original #Freethenipple campaign went viral last year and was a protest against women's chests being viewed as sexual objects only, while men's chest are not viewed in the same way. The original campaign was started by actress Lina Esco, who directed and starred in a film called Freethenipple. By the time the movie was published the movement had gained support from artists such as Rihanna, Kendall Jenner, and Miley Cyrus, who said they wanted to contribute to changing the laws that make it a criminal offence for a woman to expose her breasts in public. Esco said that even in New York where it has been legal since 1992 to be topless, police still arrest women who are topless in public.
In a world where social media has been used to recruit young girls for terrorist groups such as Isis, as well as cyberbullying and stalking women, it's good to finally see it being used for good. Its wide reach across cultures and countries and strong appeal with young people makes it a great platform to fight patriarchy and social inequality. I hope to see more campaigns like this.
Asanda Ngoasheng is an executive producer at Cape Talk.