16 Anti-VAW Organisations, Campaigns, and Activists using Pop Culture to fight Violence Against Women

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From books, comic books, movies, pop music, and tv shows to graffiti, online memes, tattoos, cosplaying, and street fashion – pop culture is what and who most of us read, watch, listen, and wear. Traditionally, it has been dismissed by the establishment as ubiquitous lightweight entertainment for the person on the street. Nevertheless, from fears that Rock music would promote promiscuous behaviour amongst teens in the 1950s to allegations that video games contribute to violent behaviour in children to Harry Potter fans rallying to fundraise for good causes, pop culture also has a history of being regarded as extraordinarily effective at transmitting powerful ideas and messages to the masses.

The power of pop culture has been magnified manifold since the advent and evolution of radio, film, and the internet over the course of the 20th century. In today’s lightning-fast internet-connected world, its influence is more potent than ever as streaming services like Netflix and Spotify have gone global, social media channels like Tumblr create an proliferation of interactive worldwide fandoms, and celebrities now hold court on Facebook with live videos that go viral. From using pop culture mediums such as comics and YouTube videos to raise awareness about VAW to collaborating with celebrities to amplify messages, today’s anti-VAW organisations and campaigns are dialling into pop culture to reach out to communities with added impact.

Here at The Pixel Project, we realise what a huge role pop culture can play in influencing communities, educating young people, mobilising support, and raising the resources needed to address, prevent, and even stop violence against women (VAW). In recognition of the profound influence that pop culture has on the hearts and minds of individuals and communities worldwide, we present 16 anti-VAW organisations, campaigns, celebrities, and activists using pop culture to fight VAW in a variety of ways.

Written and compiled by Samantha Joseph with additional content by Regina Yau. Introduction by Regina Yau and Samantha Joseph.

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Empowering With Pop Culture #1: Aaron Haroon Rashid and “Burka Avenger” – Pakistan

Aaron Haroon Rashid created Burka Avenger, an animated Pakistani TV series, to emphasise the importance of educating girls. It features a protagonist who is a teacher in an all-girls’ school by day, and wears a burka when fighting misogynistic villains and carries strong themes of women’s empowerment.

Empowering With Pop Culture #2: Anita Sarkeesian and “Tropes vs Women” – Online

Feminist social critic Anita Sarkeesian documents the often sexist and misogynistic view of women in popular culture through her Tropes vs Women in Video Games series which also addresses violence against women and objectification of women in video games. Ironically, launching the series resulted in a deluge of sexist harassment for Anita. [TRIGGER WARNING: This video contains graphic depictions of violence against women.]

Empowering With Pop Culture #3: Breakthrough and the “Ring the Bell/Bell Bajao” campaign – India

Breakthrough and its founder, Malika Dutt, have used pop culture in a slew of campaigns to promote gender rights and bring awareness to violence against women. Bell Bajao, or Ring the Bell, is their most famous campaign is renowned for using a series of striking public service announcements on YouTube calling on bystanders to take action. The campaign later evolved to involve the likes of Patrick Stewart and Michael Bolton calling on men to take action to stop violence and discrimination against women.

Empowering With Pop Culture #4: Celeste Barber and #celestechallengeaccepted – Australia

Using popular social media platform Instagram, Australian comedian Celeste Barber fights the notion of self-objectification that women and girls are supposed to be constantly aware of their bodies and how they are rewarded for sexualisation through ‘likes’ by putting up her own pictures side-by-side those of celebrities like Niki Minaj and Kim Kardashian.

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Empowering With Pop Culture #5: Flavia Carvalho and the “A Pele da Flor” (The Skin of the Flower) Project – Brazil

When talented tattoo artist Flavia Carvalho had a client who wanted to cover up a scar on her abdomen that was inflicted through a violent attack because she refused the advances of a man in a nightclub, Carvalho started her A Pele de Flor project to help other women who have sustained scars from VAW. In addition to helping survivors boost their self-confidence via beautiful tattoos, she shares the before and after pictures of the scars with the stories of how the women received them to raise awareness about VAW.

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Empowering With Pop Culture #6: Gender-flipped Book Cover Posing – United States of America

Fantasy author Jim C Hines noticed a trend of ridiculously posed women on the cover of popular urban fantasy novels, and decided to draw attention to sexist cover art by parodying them in a series of photographs. Since then, he’s raised money for several charities through these efforts, and roped in several other authors, including John Scalzi, Charles Stross, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

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Empowering With Pop Culture #7: Mariska Hargitay and the “NO MORE” Campaign – United States of America

Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation launched the NO MORE campaign in hopes of normalising conversation surrounding domestic violence and sexual assault, allowing victims to feel more empowered about coming forward with their stories. NO MORE is backed by familiar faces from television and music, including Courteney Cox, Samantha Ronson, and Mary J Blige.

Empowering With Pop Culture #8:   Meghan Rienks and the “That’s Not Cool” campaign – Online

Youtube star Meghan Rienks, Futures Without Violence and the Ad Council team up for the That’s Not Cool campaign, to help teens identify abusive behaviour in relationships. Accessible through platforms like Youtube and Kik, the campaign is aimed at promoting healthy relationships among teenagers.

Empowering With Pop Culture #9: Megan Rosalarian and Gender-flipping Objectifying Comic Book Art – United States of America

Megan Rosalarian, pseudonym of writer and artist Megan Rose Gedris, tackles the hypersexualised representation of female superheroes in comic books, for example Black Canary and Star Sapphire, by re-drawing them as male superheroes in revealing outfits and titillating poses.

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Empowering With Pop Culture #10: Ram Devineni and “Priya’s Shakti” – India

Ram Devineni is one of the creators of Priya’s Shakti, a comic book whose protagonist is a young rape survivor fighting gender crimes in India with the help of the goddess Parvati. Inspired by the horrific gender-based violence making the news in India, Priya’s Shakti exposes issues of gender-based violence that are often left untackled because of patriarchal attitudes.

Empowering With Pop Culture #11: Saint Hoax and the “Happy Never After” Campaign – Online

Middle Eastern artist Saint Hoax uses Disney Princess characters to illustrate domestic violence in the series of Happy Never After posters. The princesses, visibly bruised, are featured with the tagline ‘When Did He Stop Treating You Like A Princess?’, a move that Saint Hoax says underlines the fact that domestic violence can happen to anyone. [TRIGGER WARNING: This video contains graphic depictions of violence against women.]

Empowering With Pop Culture #12: The “Don’t Cover it Up” Campaign – United Kingdom

YouTube beauty expert Lauren Luke and anti-violence against women charity Refuge produce a video as part of the ‘Don’t Cover It Up’ campaign. In the video, Luke appears to be beaten and bruised, an intentionally shocking presentation to make people face the realities of abuse victims and hopefully urge them to seek help rather than ‘cover up’.

Empowering With Pop Culture #13: The “It’s On Us” Campaign – United States of America

A US national campaign, It’s On Us aims to help keep men and women safe from sexual assault, especially on campus. The campaign works with celebrities such as Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Minka Kelly and Josh Hutcherson to create videos that advocate for consent, safety and intervention in non-consensual situations.

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Empowering With Pop Culture #14: The Pixel Project and the “Read For Pixels” campaign – Online

The Pixel Project is an anti-VAW non-profit which specialises in online campaigns that combine social media, new technologies, and pop culture/the arts to raise awareness, funds, and volunteer power for the movement to end VAW. Over the years, their campaigns and programmes have reached out to diverse pop culture communities and influencers including music fans, foodies, and geekdoms. Their most popular campaign is their Read For Pixels campaign featuring award-winning bestselling authors talking about VAW to their fans via live Google Hangouts and raising funds online for the cause.

Empowering With Pop Culture #15: The #WhatIReallyReallyWant Campaign – Worldwide

Project Everyone, founded by director Richard Curtis and Global Goals, took the 1996 girl power anthem ‘Wannabe’ (with the blessing of The Spice Girls), and updated it for their #WhatIReallyReallyWant campaign featuring women and girls from around the world telling the United Nations and the world what they really want: to stop violence against girls, ending child marriage and equal pay for equal work.

Empowering With Pop Culture #16: YWCA Canada and the #NOTokay Campaign – Canada

YWCA Canada’s #NOTokay campaign uses TV series, video games and music videos and representations of assault in them to illustrate that it isn’t okay. Each 15 second video highlights the casual way violence against women is used in shows like Family Guy, and how we shouldn’t be okay with it. [TRIGGER WARNING: This video contains graphic depictions of violence against women.]

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