As more and more women in the entertainment industry are speaking out about sexism in Hollywood, social media is joining the fight against gender inequality. On Monday night, Instagram hosted an event in Los Angeles to celebrate women who use the social media platform to tell their own stories. The event, an initiative called #MyStory, was an exhibition of Instagram photos that speak to the diversity of the female experience.
The initiative comes at a moment when women’s issues are at the forefront in the entertainment industry. Hunger Games mega-star Jennifer Lawrence wrote an open letter for noted feminist Lena Dunham’s newsletter earlier this month, joining stars like Carey Mulligan, Rooney Mara, and Jessica Chastain in calling out Hollywood’s sexism. But where Hollywood often fails to tell women’s stories in an authentic way, social media is stepping up to allow women to tell those stories themselves.
“Instagram is all about visual storytelling, and women are not only incredible storytellers, but they have really important stories and perspectives to share,” Marne Levine, Instagram COO and co-host of the event, tells EW. “These images really transcend age, culture, country — no matter what — and people really understand and are able to be motivated and inspired by the different stories that women tell.”
“Women are actually the majority of users of almost every social platform, which I think is really interesting,” Jessica Bennett, Time magazine journalist and curator of the event, tells EW. “It says something about the ways that they are telling stories and collaborating across platforms to do so.”
When choosing the Instagram photos for the event, Bennett says she wanted to find women who were “either using their art for a cause, to further a cause, or, just through the way that they’re documenting their lives, they’re actually shattering clichés that we have about men and women and sort of breaking down gender stereotypes in the process.”
Instagram presents itself as an ideal platform for stereotype-smashing, she says, because anybody can use it to tell their own story. “For many years, there was only a select, elite few that had access to tell the stories and to create the images, and that’s been completely democratized now,” Bennett says.
Such a democratization has yet to spread to other media; statistics show that, particularly in film, the storytelling and image-creating falls to a small, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly male group, and the numbers never seem to change. Not surprisingly, neither do the portrayals of the female experience.
“Hollywood has a responsibility to picture women in a way that is accurate and nuanced and multifaceted,” Bennett insists. “Too often, you see one-dimensional characters.”
The #MyStory initiative actively fights against some of the clichés that the film industry has been peddling for so long: The exhibition included images of women working conventionally “unfeminine” jobs and celebrating the female form above a size zero.
“We ingest images all day long, whether it’s media or advertising or the Internet, and you don’t necessarily think about it, but they have such power to send a message,” says Bennett, who is also co-curator of the Lean In Collection with Getty Images, which fights for more empowering depictions of women in stock photography. “I think, slowly but surely, we’re starting to realize that you can actually change the way people think through imagery.”
Fourteen-year-old Rowan Blanchard, outspoken feminist and star of Girl Meets World, co-hosted the event with Levine. “She really has used her Instagram platform to talk about a more equal world, and to be the voice of the next generation and inspire other young girls to tell their stories and to join together and to really use their voices,” Levine says.
“I think it’s important for girls to recognize feminist issues because it directly affects them,” Blanchard says. “There’s women on social media who are like, ‘I don’t need feminism,’ but they also have to think of the 62 million girls who aren’t in school right now — that they need feminism.”
For more star-powered support, Instagram is partnering with O Magazine, which will soon feature women’s #MyStory images and stories on a regular basis, Levine says. Oprah herself even got in on the Instagram action, sharing a video on O‘s account to announce the partnership.
“You could actually repeat this [event] every week,” Bennett says of the wide selection of inspiring female photography on Instagram. But that’s the idea.
“What we thought is that, if we were able to curate a collection of these and put a spotlight through a program like #MyStory, that that would bring more attention to the stories of women and motivate and encourage other women to tell their own stories too,” Levine says. “And what we really hope is that this is the first of many, many, many more stories to come.”