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Women tell their stories their way on social media

Kerry Washington, star of "Confirmation," attended the premiere of the HBO film at Paramount Studios on March 31 in Los Angeles.
Kerry Washington, star of "Confirmation," attended the premiere of the HBO film at Paramount Studios on March 31 in Los Angeles. Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

It’s been an interesting week on Instagram.

On Wednesday, Amy Schumer took Glamour to task for including her in a special plus-size edition of the magazine, the same day actress Kerry Washington called out AdWeek for heavily photoshopping her cover image.

On Sunday, singer Kesha told fans she was offered a release from her Sony contract if she rescinded her rape accusation against producer Dr. Luke and apologized publicly.

All on Instagram. Is social media where we’re finally letting women tell their own stories?

“Nothing wrong with being plus size,” Schumer wrote about being included with singer Adele, model Ashley Graham and actress Melissa McCarthy on the Glamour cover. “Beautiful healthy women. Plus size is considered size 16 in America. I go between a size 6 and an 8. … Young girls seeing my body type thinking that is plus size?”

From Washington: “I was taken aback by the cover. Look, I’m no stranger to photoshopping. It happens a lot. In a way, we have become a society of picture adjusters – who doesn’t love a filter?!? And I don’t always take these adjustments to task but I have had the opportunity to address the impact of my altered image in the past and I think it’s a valuable conversation. … It felt strange to look at a picture of myself that is so different from what I look like when I look in the mirror.”

And from Kesha: “I got offered my freedom IF i were to lie. I would have to APOLOGIZE publicly and say that I never got raped. … I will not take back the TRUTH. I would rather let the truth ruin my career than lie for a monster ever again.”

Set aside for a moment whether you agree with each of their statements. Many don’t. Schumer asked her fans for their thoughts, and they weren’t all supportive. “You aren’t plus sized but your vehement reaction to being labeled as such is pretty insulting. @amyschumer,” essayist Roxane Gay wrote on Twitter.

What is remarkable about these Insta messages, I think, is that they come directly from the artists.

We’re used to hearing from women, especially celebrities, when a screenwriter has written a role for them, when a director has decided to cast them, when a studio has offered them a record deal, when an editor has assigned an interview, when a media outlet has decided they’re clickable – and credible.

Someone else decides whether they’re heard. Their stories, meanwhile, are carefully crafted and often not their own.

Social media – particularly Instagram – flip that dynamic on its head. It’s fascinating to contemplate whether its advent, had it arrived sooner, would have changed women’s place in our culture. If we were used to listening to women’s voices, and if those same women were used to being listened to, I have to wonder:

Would it have taken a male comedian’s joke to force a closer look at the rape accusations against Bill Cosby? Would so many female stars, from Marilyn Monroe to Amy Winehouse, have been tragically exploited? Would Hollywood have more female directors? Would the Oscars recognize them in larger numbers?

What stories would we have learned?

Social media sites take a lot of heat for dumbing-down our democracy and reducing our dialogue to bite-size snippets. But they are offering powerful, poignant ways for women to speak for themselves.

And people are listening.

Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers can email her at hstevens@tribpub.com.

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