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What to do when your picture is stolen and turned into an offensive meme

By September 26, 2013 3 Comments

We all know that posting pictures on social media opens them up to reactions we can’t control. But we generally don’t expect what happened to Kelly Martin Broderick: one of her pictures was stolen and turned into a fat-shaming, anti-feminist meme.

Kelly Martin Broderick — anti-feminist, fat-shaming meme.

Kelly Martin Broderick’s image turned anti-feminist, anti-fat meme.

The picture is of Broderick, holding a sign that says, “This is what a feminist looks like.” She took the picture as part of a campaign for her university’s feminist group.

After she posted it to several social media sites, someone stole it and added text saying, “That’s pretty much what I expected.”

Broderick is a heavier woman — she describes herself as fat. And the meme created with her stolen picture plays right into old stereotypes that have been used to undermine and dismiss feminists for decades: feminists are unattractive, sanctimonious, man-hating, and lacking a sense of humor.

The meme adds insult to injury by implying that being fat is itself unattractive.

Perpetuating these stereotypes about feminism is harmful not only because it creates excuses for dismissing feminists and feminist ideas, but doing so can also make women — and men — hesitant about identifying as feminists.

And as the Washington Post eloquently says, “If women won’t organize and advocate on their own behalf, the work of anti-feminists is done.”

Ms. Magazine cover with celebrities wearing "This is what a feminist looks like" shirts.

Ms. Magazine got it right back in 2003.

Writer John Scalzi didn’t let that happen to him, though. When one of his pictures was subjected to anti-feminist modification, he used the attack as an opportunity to more powerfully identify as feminist.

A picture of Scalzi wearing a Regency gown was stolen, and “This is what a feminist looks like” text was applied to it sarcastically — as if “feminist” is an insult (and as if wearing a dress while male is shameful).

In response, he wrote a scathing and funny blog post that concluded by disarming the haters, saying, “This is what a feminist looks like. Yes. Yes it is.”

Calling someone a feminist is not, and should not, be an insult — but a compliment! If you’re curious about why, check out Jessica Valenti’s book, Full Frontal Feminism, or websites such as Feministing or Feminist Frequency.

Like Scalzi, Broderick took action when her picture was stolen: she started a Tumblr, called We Are What Feminists Look Like.

It features smiling couples, men with large beards, grandmothers, people at work, people at home, people exercising, people with their pets… all kinds of people. Exactly what feminists look like.

Sasha Albert holds a Master’s degree in Gender and Sexuality from the University of Amsterdam, and participates in reproductive health and justice activism in the Boston area.