Friday, December 3

Instagram, empowerment and asses, can the feminist struggle be like this?

In March 2021 Bad Gyal published in an Instagram post a text responding to some statements by Arcángel. He had questioned through his Instagram account the respect that a woman deserves based on whether or not she shows parts of her body (“You want to be respected as a woman, but you spend teaching the cu **. Women who they behave, distinguish themselves and are classified as ladies “). Bad Gyal in his answer put on the table this differentiation typical of machismo and the patriarchal system by which women can only move between two positions, good and bad, depending on their relationship with others (“I’m sick of this double standard . That you separate the women who are worth to give them likes, subscribe to OnlyFans and fuck, those who are worth to have children, stay at home cooking, love … “). The good one is the mother, the dedicated one, the one that Arcángel describes as “lady”. The bad one is the slut, the provocative one, the one who decides to show her body. Both are defined not by themselves as subjects, but by their relationship with men; consumer item that satisfies sexual desires or consumer item that satisfies care desires.

Beyond this conceptualization of women and the value that is given to us based on one representation or another, there is the debate on the nude of women and their sexuality. Madonna, in her speech upon receiving the 2016 Billboard Women in Music award, alluded to women’s sexuality, emphasizing the criticism made of her for exposing it publicly and pointing out the difference when these attitudes came from men. Thus, she defined herself as a “bad feminist”, defending that, by positioning herself as a sexual object, women can empower themselves.

The RAE’s first definition of empowerment is “to make a disadvantaged individual or social group powerful or strong.” Empowerment in feminist terms means recognizing the power that women have as individuals and as a social group and, consequently, seeking a change in the structures that maintain gender inequalities. Empowerment understood in this way is situated between the individual and the collective, between the self and the us, however, citing Amorós, feminism “either becomes universal or it rots.” That is why it is essential to ask what role the nudity and sexuality of women are playing today for equality between men and women. And that is why it is important, if we show our butt, to know how we do it, why we do it and for what – or for whom – we do it.

Is the exposure of the body, in a sexualized posture that reproduces the images represented through the cultural and media industries that reify the body of women and use it as an advertising claim, a mechanism that allows to end, precisely, that reification and sexualization? Or, on the contrary, is he falling into the trap of perpetuating the same canons of beauty and the same consumption of female bodies from a supposed female emancipation? Does it empower you to show your body when you want, how you want, with the objective you want and the audiences you want, being your own photographer and deciding what poses to use? Is it a form of performativity? Can women appropriate the representations imposed by the patriarchy to take away the power that it exercises through them? Do women thus eliminate or diminish their power? Does this individual empowerment play in favor of the collective interests of women, or does it work against them?

To focus on a specific context, let’s talk about Instagram. Instagram is one of the most used social networks worldwide in which audiovisual content is published and shared. It has approximately one billion monthly users, of which the majority are between the ages of 18 and 34. Social networks, including Instagram, not only function as an expositor of one’s life, but are a fundamental part in shaping the self that is especially relevant for younger generations. We no longer self-construct in an “internalized” way, from the inside, but rather, as we want to be read to us, as well as the ways in which we believe our image will be perceived through the content we share, these are factors that are gaining more and more prominence. The “but co ‘, screw the mirror, I have plenty of the image I have of myself,” which Violadores del Verso used to say, has lost all validity. We no longer just judge ourselves in the mirror, but a fundamental part of our “self” is made up of how we want others to judge us and how we think they will. Screens, the content that we generate and consume on them, increasingly shape our subjectivity. This process also has a strong strategic component: we want certain social results, manage the impressions that people who consume our content have and gain social approval.

Therefore, while we configure ourselves as subjects through social networks, we must decide what type of subject we are creating. Because it is not the same to be a political subject, who develops and demands changes in the material, ideological and symbolic spheres, than a subject circumscribed as an object of consumption that maintains and reproduces inequalities and structures of domination. In this first sense, Madonna’s statements would be positioned. What some authors have identified as everyday activism would also be found (everyday activism), a strategy through which the exposure made on the networks has a role of political vindication. Some personalities of the collective would be situated in this sense queer, the movement curvy or the #FreeTheNipple movement. Wow, that has little to do in terms of feminist struggle that Madonna uploads a photograph in a sexualized pose to Samantha Hudson doing it. Or if?

As Bad Gyal pointed out very accurately in his Instagram post “… many of us grew up listening to reggaeton and watching those videos where women danced and wearing sexy clothes”. In these videos and in cultural industries in general, women’s bodies have two formats: a consumer good and a medium to promote consumption. They are both a lucrative element and a means of control. Lucrative if the body in question has the attributes and characteristics of hegemonic femininity, in which case they can be taught in video clips as objects but not as subjects, and a means of control if you have a corporality that does not fit the ideal of beauty and femininity hegemonic, in which case they are made invisible and relegated to the margins. Now, how is the content that is published on Instagram?

Most of the female content that is exposed on Instagram reproduces the representations that have traditionally dominated in the cultural industry. The good girl vs. the sexy girl. The first is the pleasant, submissive, sweet and happy woman. The second is the desired, sexy woman, shown in poses that are attractive. They are not exclusive roles, but sometimes common elements can be found, having a result of both expressions. Fragmented images are also very common, in which there is a separation of the face from the body, appearing parts of the body separated from the body as a whole.

Ana de Miguel’s “liberal feminism” or “progressive neoliberalism” (progressive neoliberalism) by Nancy Fraser put on the table this process of de-virtualization of the feminist movement by neoliberalism and capitalism. From this approach, feminism becomes an individual movement and limited to economic elements. These images that we have been talking about are seen as a valid mechanism of empowerment and, why not, also lucrative. What is more empowering than showing your body how you want, to whoever you want and making money from it?

The majority representations in social networks do not, however, have this transgressive character that makes room for non-normative bodies. Quite the contrary, the ideals of feminine beauty that circumscribe what it means to “be a woman”, hegemonic femininity and gender roles continue to be present and reproduced on social networks. The exposure of the body itself, sexualized, fragmented and that reproduces the characteristics of patriarchal femininity, is not done in a majority way from performativity, from the desire to transform social reality. Instagram is not full of bodies that break with stereotypes, making female hair visible, stretch marks or poses in which flaccidity plays a leading role, but, on the contrary, the largest Instagram accounts in number of followers are dominated by famous people that comply with these traits of traditional femininity and beauty and that maintain through their poses the characteristics that have been defined.

Empowering oneself from this assumption of the sexual object that Madonna claims is a power that is limited to a specific group; the group of women who comply with the normative bodies and the attitudes imposed by the heteropatriarchal system. This empowerment continues to leave on the margins, invisible and in a position of subordination in terms of power in the social imaginary, those women who do not identify with these ideals of beauty and feminine ways of acting. The hegemonic gender mandate, although it can be empowering from this liberal feminism for certain social groups that have sufficient social capital, does not open a gap to non-normative bodies, but continues to relegate them to an inferior femininity and to submissive positions. Madonna and Bad Gyal can be empowered through these mechanisms, despite having to continue refuting comments like Arcángel’s, but women who are fat, hairy, with functional diversity, bald, “too” thin, non-white, trans … they are not benefited by these actions, but continue to be relegated to “otherness”, on the margins, with less valid labels in terms of femininity or beauty.

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