I have friends who consider themselves ambassadors for gender equality. There are those who exert remarkable effort to genuinely promote the cause. Then there are those who simply practice virtue signalling. What is this virtue signalling? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:
The action or practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.
There is such a mismatch in the ideals one supposedly espouses versus their actions, while using social media as a platform where they can wield influence. Looking at one’s Facebook feed for starters. Perhaps you would find in it a pastiche of causes and ideologies supported by friends, relatives or the general public sharing profiles. There’s LGBTQ causes, women empowerment, peace movements, mindful living, progressive parenting – the list goes on. Supporting varied causes is good. It demonstrates a diverse empathy for the multitude of collective issues that affect humanity. It further expands social awareness, heightens discussion of issues, and promotes a call to action. What I am greatly turned off by is when it becomes a combined expression of slacktivism, hypocrisy and virtual feel-good socialism to exhibit a superficial moral ascendancy over others.
Take for instance the perfunctory OOTD (Outfit Of The Day) posts. Some would make a short-sighted (laughable even) attempt to make it ‘relevant’ by adding the hashtag representative of the group or cause of their fancy e.g. #GirlBoyBaklaTomboy #Androgyny #ClothesforAll #WoMan #FreetheNipple (hashtag ad nauseum). It then becomes confusing what to make of the post. Is it simply sharing their fashion sense to webdom? Is it a call for the DGAF stance that conventional fashion shouldn’t be defined/limited by the gender binary? Is it a message that clothes don’t make the man/woman?
Or take the proliferation of shameless selfies while misappropriating popular hashtags of the day to exploit for likes. An example is when Filipinos use #ImWithHer to promote their support for Leni Robredo, Lila de Lima, Judy Taguiwalo, without understanding its original function as election support for then US Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. What’s more unfortunate is that some selfies abuse these hashtags to promote more about themselves than the issues at hand. It then becomes a contrived expression of support, superficial at its core, if not a tad tasteless.
Here’s my thing though: Gender Equality is not solely about gender. The word equality takes greater precedence and focus. Equality is not about sameness. It’s about being equitable. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. While this may be a graphic, it strikes a powerful message.
We can take something from a popular Harvey Spectre (Suits) line: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” At face value, the quote cannot be taken literally. Context is important. It means a positive kind of change – elevating the conversation to a more intelligent narrative or discourse. There are a number of ways to show support for a cause: joining marches, signing campaigns, participating in media campaigns and getting involved in issue-laden discussions. A more powerful, inclusive message comes across when one speaks about why they love rather than simply bash on what they hate. More importantly, support for an issue can be done in the day-to-day activities that require real conversations. In empowering women, we can introduce our young girls early to various women role models. We can encourage our daughters, nieces and girlfriends to speak bravely about their ideals. We can compliment their budding intelligence and expression attributes rather than focusing physical attributes and outward appearances. We can uplift the right of women to safe spaces, by teaching our sons to respect personal and even physical spaces. Ask them to man-spread less in public transport to accommodate space for senior citizens, children and the sick. One can start by changing one’s internal narrative. By believing yourself empowered, you increase the probability to empower others as well. It’s in the day-to-day, granular activities that are the building blocks to fortifying a cause.
This reminds me of a line from an Oasis’ Don’t look back in Anger, which may as well be a fitting soundtrack for the daily battles we choose to fight.
So I start a revolution from my bed
‘Cos you said the brains I had went to my head.
Step outside, summertime’s in bloom
Stand up beside the fireplace
Take that look from off your face
You ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out
The strength of one’s convictions is tested in the daily, conscious actions one makes to rise to the challenge. I am consciously placing this as a daily motivation myself. The real ice bucket challenge is when you virtually douse yourself with the conviction that change starts with you, everyday.