How to Cultivate Positive Online Spaces where Women can Support Women

***TRIGGER WARNING: BODY IMAGE, ONLINE ABUSE***

Being a woman on the internet is well known for its dangers. As a space where those who identify as women have freedom of expression, more often than not, they become targets of those who might oppose such freedoms.

When images of a woman are released and they do not chalk up to the societal standard of beauty – slim, white, young, cis, able bodied – they are slammed with a variety of hate comments, diet advice (starvation advice), brutal slurs.

A woman displaying stretch marks or rolls, for example, is a woman who breaks away from the unspoken agreement we have to pretend that we are ‘flawless’. If it’s shown in the media, advertising, and films, we must do our hardest to live up to that expectation.

Women who are flawed are failing.

Hate isn’t limited to bodies either. Confident women are overstepping themselves, assertive women are bossy, talkative women are outspoken. Once this imaginary border of where it is acceptable for a woman to exist is breached, they’re opening themselves up for attack.

With this threat of insult and pain, the temptation to conform can be all-consuming.

Thankfully, in some corners of the internet, gender exclusive safe spaces for people who identify as women are slowly emerging. 

The need for these spaces is reflected in their popularity. In 2019, Bronte King established Gals Who Graduate, a Facebook group for recent grads. It was created because of a lack of support and advice for women graduates; its current membership total stands at 22,000.

Exeter alumni Ambar Driscoll founded the Bamby Collective in 2019, an Instagram account boasting 20,400 followers, a closed Facebook group and blog all designed with the purpose of uplifting and supporting young women. Articles include tips on struggling with identity, diet culture, gratitude.

Out of concern for the younger generation of impressionable girls, there has been a big push to encourage transparency and reality online.

There is nowhere this is more needed than Instagram. Famed for its photoshop, highlight reels, aesthetics and airbrushed lives, accounts that fight this are the most vital – and the ones receiving the most censorship.

These accounts – like those of plus sized models Ashley Graham and Nyome Nicholas-Williams, the singer Lizzo – are becoming safe spaces for women in their own right, where what you see in real life is reflected on social media.

The Instagram account Feminist promotes normal bodies, periods, struggles women face politically and in the workplace. It has 5.8 million followers.

There is a power in visual media – take the artistic and literary success of Women Don’t Owe You Pretty author Florence Given. Her artwork shows women with double chins and skin rolls, gappy teeth, different sized breasts, tattoos, body hair. It shows women in positions of agency, taking control of their bodies, their appetites, and their sexual autonomy. Her hugely successful novel encourages women to recognise their place within patriarchal power structures, to say ‘no’ more, and to be themselves.

This might seem to be stating the obvious, but it needs to be written, read, and heard, especially by new generations who engage with Instagram – never having lived without phones and virtual connectivity – those who expect the app to be an accurate reflection of real life.

No one is immune to the negativity of comparison, the self-destructive nature of social media. If we won’t live without it, we need to find a way to live with it, authentically.

There is an absolute necessity for these spaces to exist. We need conversations about the female experience more than ever. Social equality is much harder to achieve than legal equality – but progress starts with talking, acknowledging shared experience and shared issues.

Millie Jackson

Featured Image Source: Pexels

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