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Challenge Accepted: the real story behind those black-and-white selfies on Instagram

Read this before you jump on that ‘Challenge Accepted’ bandwagon.

If you’ve scrolled through social media over the past 48 hours, you’ll no doubt have noticed that your Instagram feed is flooded with black-and-white selfies. Perhaps you’ve been nominated to take part in the new “challenge” (which has vaguely been explained away as ‘women supporting women’) yourself. And perhaps you’ve already done so, sharing your own B&W image alongside a stark and simple ‘Challenge Accepted’ caption.

Or maybe, like many others, you’ve sat back and watched the “challenge” unfold, all the while wondering… well, wondering how these selfies are supporting women. After all, an explanation is rarely given, at least publicly. Even the nominations are done privately, via a direct message which reads: “Post a photo in black and white alone, write ‘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. Let’s [heart emoji] each other.”

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Of course, we here at Stylist are all for women celebrating other women. Always. In this case, though, it seems the true origins of the ‘Challenge Accepted’ trend are in question.

Writing about the trend in her own feed, anti-racism educator and author Dr. Pragya Agarwal says that it began as a “very serious gesture of defiance in support of the Turkish women.”

Noting that “Turkey has one of the highest femicide rates,” Agarwal goes on to explain that the challenge began “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 a show of solidarity to say that we stand together, we are unafraid, we are fed up of the lack of accountability for the perpetrators,” she adds. “This was started by Turkish women to say that they are appalled by the Turkish government’s 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!”

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As reported by Forbes, New York Times writer Tariro Mzezewa also tweeted that she spoke to some Turkish women who said that the trend “started there as a response to them being frustrated over always seeing black-and-white photos of women who have been killed.”

Mzezewa added in additional tweets: “The Turkish hashtags about domestic violence and femicide were dropped as the challenge went viral… The original accompanying hashtags were #kadınaşiddetehayır #istanbulsözleşmesiyaşatır which I’m told translate to say no to violence against women and enforce the Istanbul Treaty/ Doctrine (where rights to protect women are signed.)”

And others on Instagram, too, have abstained from posting their own selfies when nominated. Instead, they have shared full-colour photos of Gultekin, the 27-year-old university student whose body was found in the Aegean district of Muğla on Tuesday 21 July.

“It dawns on me that in the posting of all these beautiful pics, the picture we should all really be posting (in full colour, in my opinion) is #pinargultekin who was brutally murdered in Turkey earlier this month,” noted CEO Dija Ayodele, in a thoughtful caption accompanying her own post.

While the origins of the challenge remain in question, what’s not up for debate is the fact that Turkey has a serious problem with femicide: a total of 474 women were killed in Turkey in 2019, a rise of 200% since 2013. Troubling data, too, shows us that at least one woman is murdered in the country every single day. A mobile application called KADES, developed by the government to make the reporting of domestic violence easier, has recorded over 30,601 incidents in the past two years.

The Istanbul Convention (a European treaty aimed at protecting women against violence) has been in the news recently due to Poland’s decision to leave the treaty. And, in recent weeks, Turkish politicians have talked about withdrawing Turkey’s signature from the accord.

Indeed, as per T-Vine’s report, AKP Deputy Chair Numan Kurtulmuş described the Istanbul Convention as “really wrong” in a 2 July television interview, claiming it had “played into the hands of LGBT and marginal elements” in Turkish society, and that it was undermining “family values”. 

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Women’s activists in Turkey are doing their absolute best to fight this, and make others around the world aware of what’s happening in their country. The Instagram challenge could have been an excellent means of doing this, but, sadly, this latest black-and-white trend will effectively prevent #womenempowerment and #womensupportingwomen from being used for anything other than selfies for months.

Does this mean that we should stop the challenge? No, but Florence Pugh has suggested that we make a point of adjusting our hashtags.

Alongside her own selfie, the Little Women actor wrote: “I’ve been told that the true meaning of this hashtag and this B&W photo is to shed light onto the Istanbul Convention, women are being subjected to violence and this convention is to end forgiveness for the attacker/murderers.”

“With that in mind,” Pugh added, “adjust your hashtags if you didn’t already do so. 

“[And] post your B&W in support of this movement, these women need the world to hear.”

You can learn more about the Istanbul Convention here. Women’s activist body We Will Stop Femicides Platform (Kadın Cinayetlerini Durduracağız Platformu), meanwhile, provides up-to-date data on femicide in Turkey. 

For more information about coercive control, domestic abuse, and the help available for those affected, visit womensaid.org.uk or call 0808 2000 247 for more information about coercive control, domestic abuse, and the help available for those affected.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence also offers a free, fast emergency injunction service to survivors of domestic violence regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Text NCDV to 60777, call 0800 9702070, or visit ncdv.org.uk.

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