Each year on the 8th of March we celebrate women’s rights and their achievements from all around the world – and by gosh is there a lot to celebrate!
Although 2020 was an absolutely diabolical year on so many accounts, incredible women still managed to shine brilliantly; from Jacinda Ardern’s exceptional handling of the Covid-19 outbreak to Kamala Harris’s insane glass-ceiling break. By the same token, non-famous women have achieved so much; from solely raising children in the middle of a pandemic to graduating and excelling in their careers.
Despite women’s rights having come an extraordinarily long way since their origins, there’s still a lot to be done. So how can we help? What can we do to celebrate, raise awareness and educate ourselves on all the amazing women and their rights in our lives?
Why not #ChooseToChallenge?
This year’s International Women’s Day hashtag is #ChooseToChallenge. “A challenged world is an alert world. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”
To promote the cause, take a selfie with your hand raised and share to social media with the caption ‘#ChooseToChallenge to show your support of the movement and the women in your lives!
2. Enlighten Yourself!
Somewhat embarrassingly, I was forced to accept how little I knew about the suffragette movement during a recent conversation with my auntie. Being an educated woman and an advocate of women’s rights, this was a rather awkward moment! So, I promised myself (and my auntie) that I would further educate myself on the movement and its implications. With this, ask yourself if there is any aspect of women’s rights that you would like to learn about? How about its origins, the right to vote and abortion rights? Why not take it further and broaden your knowledge on international women’s rights i.e. forced marriages, genital mutilation and access to education.
3. Converse With a Woman Friend 🙂
When was the last time that you had a decent conversation with a woman who was close to you about her ambitions, aspirations and desires? I strongly believe that the power of conversation is severely underestimated. I am very fortunate that I’m surrounded by those who want the best for me and will always encourage me to pursue my passions. You may not realise the possible positive significance of your discussion, but I can assure you it would be very beneficial! By having these sorts of conversations we empower each other and create a foundation of support. You never know what door you might open for your woman friend!
4. Read an Autobiography of an Inspiring Woman.
There are tons of inspiring women out there, so why not read about their lives from their perspective? One of my favourite autobiographies has to be ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama. However, there are many different books on inspiring women to be found on audible, kindle and good old fashioned hardbacks/paperbacks!
5. Remember that ‘Women Empowerment’ does not and should not equate to ‘Male Bashing’.
Sadly, it has always come to my attention that many people believe that to rightly celebrate women we must also suppress male achievements. This is not true. Men are amazing creatures in their own right and have contributed a vast amount to our world. We must always remember that when we celebrate International Women’s Day we should never conceal or muzzle the accomplishments of men.
Why do women adhere to so many societal pressures regarding our appearance and lifestyles? Where has this ever-growing list of expectations come from? And is it time to ignore these burdensome standards, stop striving for measured perfection and learn to be content with our lives? Here are my thoughts…
How many standards do we as women hold ourselves to? I can’t speak for other women, but I genuinely feel stretched and exhausted in my attempt to meet these societal expectations…”You must always look presentable, but not as if you’ve tried too hard; don’t be too fat, don’t be too thin; apply make-up daily, but don’t over-do it; always be polite, even to those you’re not fond of; be accommodating, maternal, and nurturing. Find a partner and maintain a family, don’t be alone, don’t be a spinster.” The list goes on and on, and I have some questions; Where did it originate? Where on Earth have all of these pressures emerged from, and perhaps more importantly why do we even bother paying them any attention? Is it time for us women to ignore them, stop striving for societal perfection, and learn to be content with our lives?
Given the long nature of the above societal measurements, this blog will focus solely on the expectation of physical beauty and the origins of its burdening.
Personal Perception I recently had a very in-depth conversation with one of my closest friends – a discussion that sparked my interest in writing this blog. We both expressed our extreme sadness over our ‘lost beauty’; something we left far behind us in our early twenties. No longer do we care to prim and perfect our hair and makeup daily, neither do we choose our outfits accordingly and appropriately. We have since become accustomed to the daily lives of quick morning coffees, messy hair buns, and wearing little to no makeup. ‘Selfies’ have become a thing of the past, resulting in the ridiculously negative effect of feeling disconnected from society. Ultimately, we both concluded that we were ‘too fat, too ugly, extremely unattractive’ and that all in all we ‘had let ourselves go’.
Blimey…what an emotionally draining conversation that was! Whilst we have indeed gained some weight and wrinkles, we have also gained wisdom, something which was completely absent from the conversation. We are both women who have graduated with first-class degrees, have a variety of career choices to choose from, and have accumulated a wealth of life experience along the way. So why were we both sat on my sofa discussing our appearances as opposed to our accomplishments? Why were we so fixated on basing our self-worth on the way we present ourselves to the world?
Other Women & Social Media In reference to the above questions, the vast majority of modern feminist will no doubt argue that the bulk of these pressures have derived from the ‘patriarchy’; well, to be somewhat controversial, I actually believe the complete opposite. In fact, I have no doubt that the greater part of these burdens have been placed on women…by women.
Starting from a very young age, impressionable girls are recklessly programmed to believe that their self worth should be reflected in their physical appearance. Shortly put, girls are brainwashed into thinking that being “pretty” will result in their social acceptance. As a result, young girls begin to question their attractiveness and measure themselves against other women; mostly social media starts, including the dreaded ‘influencers’ (yuck). This overly obsessive measurement against others usually ends in a lifelong ambition to strive for aesthetic perfection, which often escalates to young girls under the age of 18 pursuing cosmetic enhancement, including lip fillers and botox.
As noted earlier – this isn’t the influence of the ‘patriarchy’, it’s quite obviously the influence of other women, resulting in a ‘domino effect’ amongst us all. We expect ourselves to look pleasing to the eye, and expect other women to adhere to the same. To go back to me and my friend, we openly admitted that when one of our social media friends (or others that we follow) posts a ‘selfie’, we automatically feel the need/dread to replicate this behaviour. This will then set a unfavourable chain reaction for the remainder of our day, leaving us to deal with intrusive thoughts such as, “I don’t look like that, I must be ugly; I must lose some weight/wear more makeup/get my hair done/buy new clothes.” effectively ruining our day. All because someone posted a selfie? It seems ridiculous, but this is our reality. It’s a disgustingly vicious circle, even more so for young impressionable girls.
So, What Can Be Done? There have been certain attempts to end the burden of the fixed standards for physical beauty. We all remember those Dove campaigns for ‘real beauty’, the make-up free selfie movement, and others such as #losehatenotweight; but, nothing seems to be stopping or even slowing women’s obsession with their need to strive for the perfect appearance, and portray a life to the world which is neither realistic nor sustainable.
I think this is because (and it might sound rather cliché), the shift in mentality must begin at an individual level, or nothing will change. We must empower ourselves and those closest to us to shift our mindset towards our physical appearance and make a conscious effort to not speak so negatively about ourselves, or allow those closest to us to do the same. We must stop basing our self-worth by comparing and measuring our appearance against others we know, and those we don’t. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to look presentable and being healthy; so long as it is in accordance with your own measurements and you are content with yourself.
Therefore, I’m making a personal decision to remove myself from the ‘Warped World of Women’. No longer will I measure my self-worth against my physical appearance, nor will I compare myself to other women. That’s not to say I won’t care for my appearance, of course I will, but it will be set against my own values and not those imposed by the outside world. I’m going to make a conscious effort to be more positive about myself and encourage those around me to do the same. I hope that those reading will also take such an approach, because after all we are only on this earth for a limited time, why worry about trivial things like selfies and botox!
What information is made available to you on your social media platforms? Presumably, I am safe in saying that it is all personalised and conveniently relevant to your lifestyle. ‘Recommended for you…’ ‘We think you’ll like…’ and ‘Why not try…’ are all sentences you’ll be far too familiar with when scrolling through your social media – If you’re a fan of music you’ll have most likely been subjected to the newest offer from a music streaming service, or if you’ve recently booked a holiday you’ll have no doubt caught sight of an unbelievably decent offer from a well-known travel agency; this is all because your online behaviour is exploited to form personalised algorithms.
Algorithms. What a terrifying word. However; its concept is quite simple: If we want a computer to understand how to do something, we need to give it an algorithm, and this is done by feeding the said computers information to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
Social media’s goal is to encourage the user to spend more time on its platform. The more time spent on a platform = the more money it makes from the advertisements. Well-known social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are all free, so how do they make their money? Advertisements. Advertisements which are fed into your personalised algorithms that function through collecting, storing, and repurposing your information by analysing your behaviour i.e. what posts you have liked, websites you have visited, videos you have watched. The result? The algorithm filters posts and advertisements based on your online behaviour, and what it ‘thinks’ you may like. This way you spend more time aimlessly scrolling through your feed, allowing for social media platforms to increase their revenue.
So what’s the problem in regards to human rights? This way your newsfeed is prioritised by what you want to see and you don’t have to waste time scrolling through drab you’re not interested in. Google attested to this argument to the Joint Committee on Human Rights by stating that personalised advertising to users “provides an experience where ads are more relevant, more likely to be useful and, for advertisers, more likely to be effective.”
On it’s surface, this all seems fine; but the problem and worry occurs when users data is shared without users consent, or their lack of understanding for giving consent due to complicated agreement forms (we’ve all brainlessly scrolled through the ‘terms and conditions’ page!).
Without Consent? Surely Not… Dr Reuben Binns, a data scientist from the University of Oxford, emphasised on how data may be shared without consent in his research study, which focused on nearly 1 million Android apps. Dr. Binns concluded that 9/10 apps sent data back to Google; 4/10 apps sent data back to Facebook, and in this case “many of them sent data automatically without the individual having the opportunity to say no to it.”
So, those adverts you see for a brand new Mercedes or simply just some new leggings from a popular fashion website could be there due to personal data that you have not consented to share. In other words; your information, the data that your algorithm collects, stores, and repurposes is routinely shared without your permission, which undoubtedly infringes on your rights guaranteed under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights: The Right to Privacy.
But I Agreed to the T’s & C’s to share my personal data… But what about your rights when you have consented to sharing your data? Have you done this unwittingly by skimming through the T&C’s, or have you reluctantly agreed to the non-negotiable T&C’s of sharing your information with other parties because you feel like you have no other choice and you do not want to lose access to social media platforms, which may be a large part of your life? Or, you quickly glanced at the T’s & C’s before concluding that they were too difficult to understand, and it’s simply much easier to press that ‘agree’ button, as opposed to filtering through all that ‘mumbo jumbo’.
If so, I’m with you. It is undoubtedly difficult to make informed decisions about your life with such complex terminology within T’s &C’s. To emphasise this, in June 2018, the BBC revealed that companies such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Spotify, Tinder, Twitter, WhatsApp, and YouTube had privacy policies that were written at a university reading level and “would take an average person almost nine hours to read.”
With this in mind, surely it would be downright impossible for the average social media user to understand what they’re consenting to? If we consider that the T’s & C’s for sharing data are written at university level, where does that leave the 13 year olds (and younger) who regularly sign up for these popular platforms daily? It would be unreasonable to assume that teenagers, and also some adults, would be in a decent position to understand the university-level terminology, therefore raising the concern as to whether meaningful consent has been given.
Further, if we take the requirement of ‘capacity’ from contract law (where all parties must be 18 or over and of sound mind to enter into the contract), and apply it to our social media T’s & C’s (given that I believe T’C & C’s could well be considered a binding contract), can we with absolute certainty say that substantial consent for sharing personal data has been given?
For example, would it be fair to say that 13-year old Katie has consented to sharing all of her online data with a mass amount of private companies for their right to manipulate her news feed content? Obviously not. Behave. We could even take it a little further and argue that these advertisements are completely infringing on Katie’s rights under Article 8 of the ECHR in which the courts have interpreted the concept of ‘private life’ very broadly; covering things like the right to determine sexual orientation, lifestyle, and the way you look and dress. With this in mind, could those plugged advertisements from popular fashion websites be influencing an impressionable 13 year old, that has adhered to the T’s & C’s set out by Facebook to not feel left out; or could Facebook merely defend itself by saying she had given ‘meaningful consent’? The latter is clearly used as a blanket to hide underneath to avoid any liability.
But wait, there’s more… Up until now, this article has focused on advertisements within social media and how they infringe on our right to privacy under human rights laws. Nonetheless, I believe it’s extremely important for me to briefly note that algorithms can infringe on our human rights in a variety of other ways, most notably through being incredibly discriminatory.
Let’s take employment advertisement as an example. In September 2019, Muhammad Ali, Piotr Sapiezynski and their team undertook a research project entitled, ‘Discrimination through optimisation: How Facebook’s ad delivery can lead to skewed outcomes.’ The aim was to create fake job advertisements to monitor how Facebook’s algorithm delivered the adverts…and the results were nothing less than shocking.
The team discovered that by subtly tweaking some of the job advertisements, there would be drastic changes in the ‘ad delivery’, most notably along gender and racial lines. Jobs advertised for teachers and secretaries were shown to a higher proportion of women (around 76%), and their false job advertisements within the lumber industry were shown to 90% men, 70% of which were of white ethnicity. Can this be seen as discrimination?
I strongly believe so. However; some would argue that social media algorithms are personally designed for the individual, based on the individuals likes and interests, and therefore they can not be biased; nonetheless, it is my opinion that this is just another way of deflecting responsibility. It would be reasonable to say that such companies who participate in ‘ad delivery’ should have the capacity to decide to advertise equally to all, monitor how these adverts are delivered, and assess how this is done instead of relying on algorithms to do so, resulting in potential infringement on human rights.
To Conclude… Algorithms are great on a superficial level – you get to see what you want, when you want. However, when we scratch the surface just a tiny bit and begin to question the impact of these algorithms, and how they originate, we can see that the software is completely out of whack and does not coincide well with the guarantee of our Human Rights.
Protection from discrimination and our right to privacy are just two core principles of Human Rights that I have briefly touched upon in this article. I have no doubt that there are other human rights which are being violated, or are at the risk of being violated, due to social media algorithms.
Thank you for reading, and please feel free to post your comments in the section below. I would be happy to receive a variety of opinions on this matter!