Last month we launched #MyBodyIsMine: a campaign to give girls, women, trans and intersex people from all around the world and all walks of life a platform to collectively demand our right to pleasure, freedom and autonomy. #MyBodyIsMine is an unapologetically feminist campaign – which makes sense, coming from a feminist fund. But if you ever hang out in feminist circles you’ll quickly learn that feminists tend to be as concerned with the process as with the end product. Which raises the question: what did the journey here look like? How did we try not just to create a campaign with a strong feminist message, but to actually build that campaign step by step according to our feminist values and beliefs?
That question – of campaiging while feminist – has been on our minds since last September, when we received the news that our campaign pitch had won the second annual Engage the Future competition. This meant we would receive financial and production support from international media company EndemolShine to turn our idea into a reality. It’s not every day that feminist funds get to work with the media big shots, so needless to say we wanted to make the most of the potential of this collaboration - go big or go home.
This involved a growing pain or two, to say the least. Unprecedented challenges and ethical dilemmas arose. Trying something new meant we had to be willing to learn on the go and prepared to make mistakes. And we want to share that process with you.
At the core of the #MyBodyisMine campaign are the personal stories people are sharing with us, their networks, and each other. Research, as well as our own experience,has shown that personal stories told by individuals is one of the most effective tools we have for changing hearts and minds. But as a fund for feminist activist groups, this ‘common knowledge’ can also clash with how we’ve conciously chosen to approach communications, which is by emphasing the collective nature of activism. While highlighting one person’s story may be more effective, positive social change is always brought about by many people working together – and that it is important to tell that story.
So we brainstormed ways in which we could still somehow represent or capture that spirit of collectivity. We played with the idea of doing street portraits of women, but didn’t want to use non-speaking women as props just to create more diverse visuals (and ‘street casting’ for women who would also want to speak was productionally out of our range). In the end we decided to make capture the meeting of the two activists who we would film on the same day – this also captured an aspect of Mama Cash’s work, which involves creating opportunities for activists to meet. Plus our plan all along was also to make a compilation video that would bring all of these activists together.
At the end of the day, making portraits of individuals was a compromise we were willing to make – because we truly believe that these individuals, and their stories, would together catalyse a larger conversation and maybe even a collective movement.
The process of supporting the activists we worked with to decide on a personal story also became confusing at times. We found ourselves sometimes straying off of our originally intended path – of highlighting pleasure, joy and solidarity – and instead fishing for the dramatic stories. In the pre-interviews our Communication Associate Sophia found herself feeling like she was implicitly asking activists to dig up their trauma; to recount their most painful and sensational experiences for the benefit of the campaign.
Luckily, we caught this pretty quickly, and were able to remind ourselves of our intention: look for the joy and pleasure, not only the struggle. What makes people’s bodies happy? Where do they get energy from? What do they want to pass on to a next generation? By asking these questions, we hoped to go beyond demonstrating urgency alone, and also inspire each other to imagine what liberation would look – and feel – like.
With #MyBodyisMine we wanted to create a truly international platform for the stories of women and non-binary people from around the world. That meant that t video portraits we would make to launch the campaign needed to represent a diverse set of experiences, to clearly set an inclusive tone. We needed certain issues, identities and backgrounds covered if we wanted people from all walks of life to feel invited to share their story.
Given the huge range of experiences relevant to #MyBodyIsMine, to cover them all was idealistic – business as usual at a feminist fund! – and unsurprisingly proved tricky to execute. Following the six degrees of separation principle we invested a ton of energy into activating our networks, but for every 10 emails we sent trying to get someone’s contact information or inviting someone to join the campaign, 8 would go unanswered, one would came back with some variation of a “no” and if we were lucky, one with a request for more information (usually asking what fee we were offering).
A feminist friction that emerged in this process is that we found ourselves speaking of the stories and people we wanted to include in a very reductive way: “We need someone from X part of the world.” “We already have someone with Y experience.” Trying to make sure we weren't leaving anything out; treating people and issues like boxes to be checked. We did our best to stay aware of this – if 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions’, as they say, these were some potentially problematic potholes.
You may be wondering: but doesn’t Mama Cash know a ton of activists who would’ve been perfect for this campaign? And while it’s true that there are many bad-ass activists in our networks, we also needed to find people who were not only vocal about feminism, but also were active on Instagram, and had a wide reach (as in: at least 10k followers). Turns out, the more outspoken and political someone is, the less likely they are to have hundreds of thousands of followers. But we searched, and brainstormed, and got creative, and in the end found eight amazing people who were willing to work with us and lend their platforms to the campaign. Check out their video portraits and hear their stories at www.mybodyismine.com
But just as essential as creating a killer campaign as the faces of the campaign are the people making it: the crew. Through personal contacts, we were lucky enough to secure a mega-talented director and extremely experienced director of photography (head cameraperson) pro bono. The catch? Well… they were men! And at Mama Cash we try to give as many professional opportunities within our projects to women, trans people and intersex people as possible. At the same time, due to the limited budget of the campaign, this was an offer we couldn’t refuse. And in a way, these were men who wanted to use their privilege – their secured position in the industry that allowed them to do pro bono work – for a good cause. They were both very aware of their privilege and positions - for example by asking to for permission before moving one activist’s hair, and being receptive to feedback about shots that perpetuated the male gaze.
We also committed to finding women for all the other (paid) roles, from focus puller to photographer - and it worked, which proves onces again that the line "there just aren't enough qualified women in X field" is just an excuse to not search a bit further than the usual suspects.
But continuing on the money front, not being able to offer the activists who participated financial compensation was something we didn’t feel great about. We became yet another party asking people – especially those from marginalized groups – to give us their time and energy for free. Of course we covered all their costs and tried to arrange other opportunities for them while they were in town, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we couldn’t completely fulfill a basic feminist principle: pay people for their work. Within the field of social justice and nonprofit work, it's too often assumed that if you care about it you should be willing to do it free. This isn't fair, as everyone needs to make a living, including activists, and it perpetuates economic inequality when some people can take free gigs and others can't.
We feel very lucky and privileged that the eight activists we made video portraits with were not only willing but often excited to contribute their time to help us make this campaign happen. A huge shout-out again to ALOK, Ambrien Moeniralam, Daantje Bons, Georgina Orellano, Grace Neutral, Happy Mwende Kinyili, Nidhi Goyal and Panmela Castro! We are incredibly grateful to have had the chance to work with each of you.
The campaign has been running for a month now. We’ve received a ton of positive feedback from people who are moved and inspired by the campaign, hundreds of new subscribers to our newsletter and more new donations than any other campaign we’ve run in the past. And this is so amazing not just because we want to tick a box and call it a successful campaign, but because at the core of Mama Cash’s work is supporting feminist movements around the world. And every time someone orders one of the golden temporary #MyBodyIsMine tattoo to make their own statement, they also give us more resources to support activist groups around the world.