Repost If You're Against... Being Asked to Repost Just to Prove You're Against

Performative activism, explained.
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(Trigger warning: this story mentions rape and sexual harassment.)

Having survived sexual harassment, Hannah (not her real name) said the recent trend on Instagram stories that urge people to "repost if [they're] against rape" without any trigger warning bothered her, instead of feeling supported.

She does not get why people have to be guilt tripped into condemning such a serious and sensitive matter. Even more so, why some who reposted would attach selfies in their post, or in the case of one friend, a photo of his car that had nothing with taking a stand against the heinous act. 

"Initially, I thought, 'okay, they're obviously trying to raise awareness in their own little way through social media'. But as I scrolled past through so many of these posts, I started feeling so triggered and I realized: do these people know what this actually entails for victims of sexual harassment?," she said. 

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Hannah's disbelief is mirrored on social media, where many are calling to end the trend, dismissing it as a sort of "performative activism" that is less about taking action for rape victims, and more about claiming a moral high ground for the benefit of one's social status. 

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When is activism "performative"?

Fighting societal problems such as rape culture is important given a patriarchal world where such heinous act is still pervasive, according to harrowing data. 

  • Rape has life-long emotional and physical effects on its victims, of which, only 6% cases of victims come forward, based on world estimates.
  • A 2016 survey by the Social Weather Stations found that three in five women in Metro Manila have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime. 
  • In the context of social media, a 2020 study found that 68% of girls and young women in the Philippines have experienced online harassment.
  • Even with lockdowns imposed by the pandemic, the Philippine National Police recorded 4,081 rape cases from October 2020 until March 16 2021. That's a daily average of 24 victims.
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So of course, speaking up against rape is important, even necessary. 

But activism takes a lot more than clicking share on social media. And so when someone does it in a "performative" manner, such as being forced to participate given an "I can see if you skipped" messaging, it then becames a form of "virtue signaling", meant to bolster one's image or make themselves look good to others. 

Many have noted seeing the very people who used to invalidate them when they came forward with their own experience with sexual abuse in the past participate in this "repost if you're against" trend. 

"Okay, I skipped because I wasn't really comfortable in participating 'cause first and foremost, ano ba 'yung point? Does the post urge me to donate something to victims of sexual harassment? By not reposting, does that mean I support otherwise? That I am now a bad person?," Hannah said, noting that while it is likely the case that people generally mean well, in the end, it did her more harm than good.

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"Nowadays, I turn to social media particularly Instagram so that I can get catch up with friends, see how they've been doing. May ine-expect akong emotions, mostly positive, but then I saw this trend and it just instantly brought that familiar feeling of helplessness," she said. 

Hannah said she experienced first-hand what it's like to have people talk over her, instead of actually listening and helping her navigate the path to seeking accountability for herself.

What, then, counts as genuine stand against rape culture?

The fight, while it can be taken to platforms like Instagram, needs a multi-faceted approach, especially on the ground.

"Every day we have the opportunity to examine our behaviors and beliefs for biases that permit rape culture to continue. From the attitudes we have about gender identities to the policies we support in our communities, we can all take action to stand against rape culture," the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, said as it outlined 16 ways one can stand against rape culture. The list, explanation ommitted for brevity, goes as follows:

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  1. Create a culture of enthusiastic consent.
  2. Speak out against the root causes.
  3. Redefine masculinity.
  4. Stop victim-blaming. 
  5. Have zero tolerance.
  6. Broaden your understanding of rape culture.
  7. Take an intersectional approach.
  8. Know the history of rape culture.
  9. Invest in women.
  10. Listen to survivors.
  11. Don’t laugh at rape.
  12. Get involved.
  13. End impunity.
  14. Be an active bystander.
  15. Educate the next generation.
  16. Start—or join—the conversation.

Particular to the Philippines, the fight concerns laws that need changing. For instance, while there are existing laws against harassment, there are not enough safeguards against verbal abuse, analysts said. In the Safe Spaces Act, there's the burden of having a "complainant" which proves hard for the case of rape jokes that often do not have specific targets.

ALSO READ: Why Do Men Keep Cracking Sexist Jokes?

"At the end of the day, the best way to counter a culture is to create a new one," Alex Castro, a lawyer and founder of Youth Against Sexual Harassment (YASH), earlier told reportr. She said education is the most powerful tool to correct sexism and violence against women, which is a long-standing problem further normalized by no less than the country's chief executive himself, having issued a number of rape remarks in the last five years. 

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"We need to educate our peers na mali. There has to be public clamor because it matters. We’ve seen how these kinds of movements have affected the actions of public officials before. We’ve seen how it has changed certain policies," Castro said.

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