Having built a 40k-strong Instagram collective and changed three laws via social campaigns, Scarlett Curtis is no stranger to driving change online. The author, activist and mental health campaigner shares her experience in making activism accessible to all, along with her best advice for those wanting to get their voice heard during lockdown and beyond.
It’s our fourth week of staying home in the UK, and so naturally when I pick up the phone to call Scarlett Curtis for our interview, we can talk about little else.
The feminist author and mental health activist has had something of a proactive approach to this enforced time at home, beginning the period of isolation by sending books out to anyone in need. Starting with an open call on her Instagram page for followers to request one of her surplus paperbacks, the initiative has in turn highlighted the power of social networks to bring people closer and help those in need during these tricky times.
“As well as keeping ourselves safe, one of the things we really have to think about is keeping our minds active and finding ways to not just circulate on these negative thoughts forever,” she explains, when asked about the initiative. “I think we’re all going to have to gather together on social media and try to keep each other sane.”
As one of the co-founder of online activist collective The Pink Protest, Curtis is no stranger to using digital channels to spark change. Her 40,000-follower strong Instagram group was created as a space where people, mostly young girls, could come together and embrace issues around feminism, equality and mental health in a way that is accessible and inclusive, turning their “energy or anxiety into something good.” Branded with the tagline ‘the revolution will be pink and posted on Instagram,’ the collective tackles issues such as period poverty and FGM, pressurising the passing of new laws through Parliament through powerful hashtag campaigns.
“There are a lot of criticisms you can make about social media,’ she recognises, “but I always think if the Suffragettes were to have had Instagram, or if the Civil Rights Movement were to have had Twitter, they would have been the most useful tools in the world. The Pink Protest mostly works on IG, yet we’ve managed to change three UK laws basically just via social media. We have this tool at our fingertips by which to spread ideas and bring people together to truly make a difference. It’s something to be taken really seriously.”
Curtis began her personal journey into activism from a young age, growing up with parents who had worked in charity her whole life. A move to New York cued her involvement in grassroots feminist organisations, alongside managing social media and content for international NGOs. No stranger to the idea of igniting one’s inner activist online, Curtis’ experience from starting her own blog aged 15 made her a natural in adapting previously exclusive ideas to the open audience that comes hand in hand with sharing on the Internet.
“Having that mix between big corporate NGOs and grassroots activism was an amazing introduction into all the different ways that individuals can try and make a difference on this planet,” she explains. “Nothing gets me more excited or motivated than this idea of making change, and that individuals can come together and be much more than the sum of their parts.”
What came next was a desire to open up the previously exclusive circles of feminism and activism to a wider audience through writing her first book, ‘Feminists Don’t Wear Pink And Other Lies.’ “I realised that what most women were thinking was ‘I’d really like to be a feminist, but I don’t think I’ve read enough books about it’” she jokes, only half ironically. “When you look at the history of feminism there was a period in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s where the only people really talking about these ideas were academics. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s just not the perfect recipe to grow a movement.”
“If you want to do that, you have to make things accessible to as many people as possible in order for these ideas to really spread. I see one of my purposes as opening up this movement and making everyone realise that they can be a feminist too. The idea with ‘Feminists Don’t Wear Pink’ was to bring together 52 young women talking about what feminism means to them. It’s also just to trying to give young women an introduction to this idea; saying that this a very diverse movement, and one that welcomes you in.”
So amid the current climate, could online activism be the right recipe for making a difference while staying home? And how can we begin to get our voices heard and make a difference, both during this lockdown and beyond? “A lot of people can tend to feel really helpless when it comes to inequality, and issues around social justice,” she appreciates; something that particularly resonates in the current climate as we struggle to navigate how to play out part in this new reality. “It’s very easy to feel like there’s nothing you can do, and nothing you do will make a difference.”
Her best advice? “Don’t feel like you have to start something yourself. There are so many incredible groups out there, and if you care about something, google it; there will be a group in your country or online that is fighting on that issue. Any success I’ve ever had in this field has been through collaboration, working with and supporting other people who are making a change.”
“And start small,” she advises, again recognising the pressure on young people starting their activist journeys. “I think sometimes people think that they have to end a global issue all on their own from their bedroom. Not all of us going to be like Greta Thunberg; we won’t all shift the axis that the world is on, but you can make a difference, or help someone else who is making a difference. That’s a really important way to think about these issues.”
And lastly, it’s about remembering your own values, and adapting them to what you want to do. “Everybody has a talent, everyone has something they are good at, everyone has a skill,” smiles Curtis. “It’s just about finding out how you can utilise that in order to make change.”
Read founder of The Circle NGO Annie Lennox’s take on global feminism.