The YouTube Women: Delivering Hard-Hitting Digital Video Activism

Foto tomada de la galería de recursos gratuitos de la organización de derechos humanos Witness.

Image taken from gallery of free resources of Witness (, an organisation that works for human rights through visual media.

Melisa Trad is a young Argentinian activist participating in the International Conference on Family Planning in Indonesia. The organisers of the event launched a competition for young people who wanted to demonstrate to the world — through the medium of video — the greatest issues facing their countries in terms of family planning.

Trad obtained a camera, chose her subjects and the locations in which to film them, and set to work:

Me enfoqué en crear un guión que combinara datos certeros y confiables con una sucesión de argumentos que pudiesen interpelar al destinatario desde lo racional por un lado, y lo emotivo, por el otro. Traté de apelar a la construcción de un mensaje creativo, desde las pocas herramientas técnicas con las que contaba.

I concentrated on creating a screenplay which combined accurate and reliable data with a series of arguments that would challenge the viewer on both a logical and an emotional level. I tried to appeal to the construction of a creative message, with the few technical tools which I had at my disposal.

In a short but conclusive video titled “A Story of Violence”, she shares what she defines as “the dream of an Argentina where we all have the freedom and resources to choose our own destiny.”

Melisa explains:

Considero que la planificación familiar debería ser siempre una prioridad a nivel de nuestras políticas públicas y espero que el gobierno actual no genere más retrocesos en un tema que ya ha sufrido demasiadas postergaciones por obstáculos religiosos e ideológicos.

I believe that family planning should be a priority of policymakers, and I hope that the current government does not generate further setbacks in an area which has already suffered too many delays due to religious and ideological hurdles.

Choosing YouTube

Melisa's initiative is just one link in a chain of video-activism through which more and more women and LGBTIQ people are taking ownership of issues affecting their lives by delivering short, quick, hard-hitting messages.

Letícia Lopes, a student of the ‘Pós-Com’ postgraduate programme in communication at the Federal University of Bahia in Brazil and investigator of media platforms for the Gig@ group at the same institution, claims the potential of sites such as YouTube or Vimeo for promoting discourses of tolerance is almost limitless:

Primero por que el vídeo encarna el universo de quién habla y eso es importante para el activismo, pues muchos que les apoyan o se reúnen en una militancia y lo hacen por identificarse con ellos. Pensando así, el audiovisual es mucho mas rico en posibilidades simbólicas que otras formas de publicación. Otro motivo importante es que el vídeo es accesible en varios sentidos. Para producir no exige mucho – puede ser una cámara de celular y hoy hay varios softwares gratuitos que facilitan la edición; cualquier persona puede comprenderlo fácilmente – desde personas analfabetas hasta académicas; es fácil de divulgar – por lo menos en Brasil, donde tenemos una cultura fuerte de la oralidad, es mas fácil convencer una persona a ver un vídeo que de leer un texto.

Film embodies the universe of the speaker, which is important for activism; creating a persona that others can identify with is a great tactic to muster support. In this sense, digital media is much richer in symbolic possibilities than other forms of publication. Another important factor is that video is very accessible and can be understood by anyone from the illiterate to academics. It is not demanding to produce – it can be filmed on a smartphone camera and there are free programmes available which make editing a breeze. In Brazil at least, where we have a very communicative culture, it is easy to spread the message, and far easier to persuade someone to watch a video than to read an article.

What many self-made videos produced by women and LGBTIQ people around the world have in common is the clear intention to play with language and challenge the “boring” and “unpleasant” prejudices aimed at feminists.

Moreover, these videos generate an empathy that traditional media cannot, says Lopes:

Cuando los medios tradicionales abordan algo sobre los asuntos relacionados con las diversas militancias, las activistas ocupan el espacio de entrevistados, desempeñan un papel consultivo, no son ellas las que hablan sobre sí mismas. La internet permite que ellas sean protagonistas de sus producciones y eso cambia todo, por que es importante que esas personas tengan voz.

When the traditional media addresses the topics related to the diverse activisms, the activist is portrayed as the interviewee, playing an advisory role to someone else rather than telling their own story. The internet allows these activists to be the protagonists of their own productions and this changes everything, which is why it is so important that these people have a voice.

Five videos that will make you think

1. Busting the “femi-nazi” stereotype

The videos produced by the feminist micro-space La Tuerka are diverse and creative interpretations of existing feminist messages, many laced with humour and irony.

The particular video below tackles the idea of the “Femi-nazi”, which the speaker says exists “only in the minds of patriarchal society”:

2. Mansplain this!

From an unspecified Central American location, video-journalists Catalina Ruiz-Navarro (@catalinapordios) and Estefanía Vela Barba (‏@samnbk) explain the concept of “mansplaining” via their “Latin American feminist pop” channel e(s)tereotipas.

“Mansplaining” describes a situation well known to women: when men insist on condescendingly explaining something that women already know perfectly well, which can include chiding them that “feelings alone don't hold much weight”.

3. Women in the driving seat

This video finds multifaceted artist Alicia Murillo at her captivating best. Showcasing her corrosive humour, the video is called How NOT to run a campaign against sexism. Clue: avoid giving men the lead role.

4. Broadening the conversation

For Portuguese speakers Canal das Bee, a group of LGBTIQ girls and boys who speak freely about topics that range from female masturbation to the challenges a lesbian couple faces when deciding to live together, is highly recommended watching.

5. My hair and me

For many Afro-Brazilian women, caring for curly hair is about more than just grooming. Rayza Nicácio's video “As you've never seen me before” is an account, shot in the intimacy of her home, of her transition from straightened locks to a sea of curls.

Letícia Lopes explains:

Creo que una medida de éxito para el media-activismo está en la apropiación del audiovisual como un complemento de su producción, algo que presente, de forma más sucinta, puntos importantes de la discusión mas profunda. Eso porque pienso que son importantes para la militancia los espacios de discusiones mas densos, como los blogs, los sites de periodismo independiente o grupos de debates, por eso el vídeo podría ser utilizado como una forma de pincelar temas discutidos en esos ambientes para despertar intereses o convocar nuevos individuos a la discusión.

I think a degree of success for digital activism is in the appropriation of the audio-visual as a complement of its production, something which presents, in a more succinct fashion, some important points in the greater debate. That is because I think the denser spaces of discussions, such as blogs, independent journalism sites or group debates are important for this activism. Because of this, film could be used as a way of painting topics discussed in these circles in a way to stimulate interest or summon new voices to the discussion.

And a few more of Global Voices’ favourite finds…

  • This unmissable video by Alicia Murillo from Píkara magazine describes the ubiquitous backlash that feminist blogs suffer at the hands of the infamous Machitrolls – male chauvinist trolls.
  • Canal das Bee boasts a series of short interviews with transgender people fighting to be included in Brazilian society.
  • Jout Jout features several videos that have already surpassed 2,000,000 hits. They cover a range of topics from lighthearted musings to discussions about abusive relationships and other heavy matters.

Featured image: Photo by Jay Morrison, taken from Flickr under CC License BY-NC-ND 2.0.


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