When Your Women’s Movement Hashtag Gets Co-Opted By The Enemy

Ahead of an international women’s strike on March 8, Argentine feminists tell Motherboard about the trouble with using social media.

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Feb 27 2017, 7:30pm

Argentina's Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) feminist collective—recently lauded as a source of inspiration to the women leading the US's feminism for the 99 percent—is gearing up for an international women's strike on March 8 with a familiar call to Twitter action. Like all modern day mass movements, it relies on the widespread circulation of a carefully chosen hashtag and the media buzz surrounding it to mobilize the public. That is, even if the process is against the collective's better judgement.

"Ah, social media. It's a necessary evil," Florencia Minici, a founding member of Ni Una Menos, told me.

In conversation with Motherboard, the journalists and academics who form the collective voiced their concerns over how easily a feminist hashtag can be co-opted by the "enemy"—basically, anyone with some degree of popularity or clout who doesn't stand for Ni Una Menos' gender-equal vision.

Ni Una Menos, the face of Argentina's women's movement today, emerged in 2015 on the heels of a string of gruesome gender-based murders in Argentina. Activists posted pictures of themselves on social media holding signs bearing the phrase "Ni Una Menos," referring to "Not One Less [Woman Alive]" in a country where one woman is killed every 30 hours on average. Soon thereafter, Argentines in droves got on board... including a few unlikely characters, such as longstanding TV personality Marcelo Tinelli.

"He's a huge chauvinist, but the most popular person in Argentina," Agustina Frontera, another member of the collective, said. "And we feminists asked ourselves, 'What is he doing? He's serving us the devil on a platter. If the devil is holding up your sign, something's gone wrong.'"

Tweet translation: "No more femicides!!!!"

To put this into context, it'd be somewhat akin to Donald Trump tweeting his support for the Women's March with the following: "Women are great. Tremendous people. #GrabConsentualPussy!"

Other celebs known for their outspoken misogyny or questionable behavior soon jumped on the bandwagon as well. So the women at Ni Una Menos got together to come up with a strategy. They decided on the following response:

Tweet translation: "Is Tinelli a misogynist? Yes. Is his show the most watched program on TV? Yes. Is it a good thing that he posted a picture with the #NiUnaMenos sign? Of course."

"Social media is important because it's our stepping stone to reach mainstream media. TV programs feed off of Twitter," Frontera explained.

Argentines love Twitter. The country displayed one of the highest consumer growth rates in the world in 2015 and today boasts 11.8 million users. Every news story and development spawns a social media life of its own, complete with memes, commentary, stories on those memes and commentary, etc. After President Mauricio Macri assumed office in December 2015, he introduced his new cabinet to the world via emoji. And amid a wave of #PrayFor[Country] solidarity campaigns responding to terror attacks, Argentines launched their own #PrayForArgentina hashtag in what ended up being an incredibly confusing worldwide trending topic. It was a joke.

Basically, you can't sideline the social media giant if you're trying to get the word out on your movement. But it's a fine line between reaching the masses and staying true to your movement's core message.

"The fear is that if our message is co-opted by the media and entertainment industry, it neutralizes the power of change by emptying our words of meaning. We can't sugar-coat feminism. It's a radical movement," Frontera said.

While the women were thrilled to see the US join the movement's international scope by embracing feminism for the 99 percent, they were also concerned that using pop stars such as Madonna or Scarlett Johansson as spokespeople for the cause would indeed "sugar coat" their mission. At the end of the day, they're sticking to the Tinelli prescription: whatever helps, helps.

Argentina is one of 30 countries participating in an international women's strike on March 8—International Women's Day—to protest against economic inequality.