Who was behind the Female Blackout?

On September 30, a chain message circulated among Facebook profiles of women worldwide calling on them to change their profile pictures into black squares and refrain from using social media -- all in the name of protesting against domestic abuse.

Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko NewsMavens, Poland
Who was behind the Female Blackout? - NewsMavens
Woman facebook, PixaBay

As soon as the campaign appeared, it raised eyebrows rather than voices of support. In a world where women take up only 22% of seats in parliaments and about as many positions in the newsrooms, do we really need them to be any more silent? A century after suffragettes won the right to vote, when any women’s rights movement still triggers backlash, can we afford to withdraw from the public sphere, even for a day?

Let’s put aside the suggestions that the Female Blackout is a hoax for a second, and examine its message. By showing what the world might be like without women, the alleged campaign was meant to raise awareness about women’s abuse. Perhaps the organizers were inspired by the general strike of Icelandic women in 1975 or the Black Protest in Poland in 2016, which also used absence as a strategy. But what made the difference in Iceland and Poland was that those women left work to take to the streets and demonstrate for gender equality. Can you be any less invisible than that?

Since no NGO nor a women’s rights initiative claimed to be behind the Female Blackout, we can only speculate about its origins. Is it typical "clicktivism" and “slacktivism” aimed at comforting the guilt of social media users rather than causing social change?

Or perhaps it is an ironic critique of feminism as identity politics, in which case we should ask: who wants women silenced?

The majority of commentators however believe The Female Blackout to be a fake social-justice campaign. The vagueness of it points to this theory. A meager call to action, an imprecise goal, the lack of strategy -- could anyone think this will inspire something more than a flicker?

This case illustrates how the digital public sphere has evolved over the past decade.

A few years ago, many more of us might have joined the chain. Today, we are much more cautious of online hoax and aware of the pitfalls of slacktivism. In the post-#MeToo and Time’sUp world, we know that a social media movement takes much more than a viral message to succeed. There need to be faces and voices behind it. Traditional media should get involved.

No wonder that hardly any of us have seen black squares on Facebook on October 1. The failure of The Female Blackout shows that we have matured as social media users.

Details from the story:

  • The message that circulated on Facebook profiles of women worldwide on September 30 read: “Tomorrow, female blackout from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. It’s a movement to show what the world might be like without women. Your profile photo should just be a black square so that men wonder where the women are. Pass it only to women … It's for a project against women abuse. It is no joke. Share it.”
  • It’s not the first time that this message appeared on social media. The campaign was initially scheduled for July 28th, 2017 as a FB event.
  • It left many women indignant. “Asking people to silence themselves in the face of oppression is the opposite of activism. Never. Never. Never. Give up your platform to speak or your ability to be seen,” author and activist Amanda Quraishi wrote in a public post on Facebook.
  • “Jezebel” magazine connected the campaign with the sexual assault claims made against Brett Kavanaugh, writing, "The same effort has been made at least once before, but this blackout happens to dovetail with a conversation about the link between blackout drinking and violence toward women, prompted by allegations against Brett Kavanaugh."
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