Throughout history, women have been pushed to the sidelines in both concrete and more abstract ways. Women earned the right to vote in America in the early 20th century, but the fight for equal rights — and the subsequent protests it has fueled — didn’t end with that victory.
While strikes from work and sit-ins are tried-and-tested methods, there are other ways women have fought for equality. Jules and Ophelia from MTV’s new series, Sweet/Vicious, for example, take justice into their own hands to hold perpetrators of sexual assault accountable for their actions. By taking a stand in an iconic and out-of-the-box way, the best friends — and the women below — point a bright spotlight on inequality on behalf of all women. Here’s how others have done it.
Throughout the punk-rock band’s short history, it has made waves by protesting inequality through music and actions. The group is probably best known for standing up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, proudly claiming to be feminists in a country where the word itself is shamed. They do this by staging illegal performances, which have led to multiple arrests. Despite that, their activism persists to this day, and has even extended beyond Russian politics. A new song about vaginas is considered a response to Trump, but also so much more. As one band member told The Guardian, “I believe the idea of powerful female sexuality is much bigger than any populist megalomaniac man … Vagina is bigger than Trump.”
Mahfouz turned 26 on the day thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. She posted a video of the events depicting the protest, often talking directly to the camera. In doing so, she humanized the protestors’ efforts, put a face to an otherwise nameless sea of bodies, and encouraged others to join in. While she was later arrested, the charges were eventually dropped. She will go down in history as the woman who inspired a revolution.
The women who march in SlutWalks around the world do so often barely clothed, in a provocative bid to end rape and rape culture. In calling attention to their nudity, they reclaim their bodies and demonstrate that a woman’s clothing — or lack thereof — does not justify rape. The walks started in Toronto as a response to a police officer telling women they shouldn’t dress like “sluts” if they didn’t want to get raped. “We had just had enough,” said Heather Jarvis, co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto, in the Huffington Post. “It isn’t about just one idea or one police officer who practices victim blaming, it’s about changing the system and doing something constructive with anger and frustration.”
On June 25, 2015, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis stood for a 13-hour filibuster against a controversial piece of legislation. The bill, known as SB5, sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks and close 37 out of Texas’ 42 clinics. Banned from eating, drinking, or even leaning on something for support, Davis — as protestors and her Senate colleagues watched — read testimonies from women who would be affected by the bill’s restrictions. Despite these heroic efforts, the bill eventually passed. Still, as Davis said in The Guardian, the filibuster had a lasting impact, encouraging a “a new understanding and acceptance of the fact that we cannot cede our values simply because we may not win every time.”
Before women were allowed to vote, they campaigned fiercely for that right. Most notably, in Rochester, New York, the legendary Susan B. Anthony and some of her followers attempted to register to vote. While initially denied, she eventually was allowed to register, and on Nov. 5, 1872, cast her ballot for Ulysses S. Grant. But her vote was rejected, and she was subsequently arrested and put on trial. Although Anthony died before women gained the right to vote, her legacy lives on: Today, admirers and fans visit her grave to put “I Voted” stickers on her headstone as a tribute to her efforts.
The main characters of MTV’s new series Sweet/Vicious, Jules and Ophelia, are the fictional heirs to these women. By taking up arms against those who commit sexual assault — and by protecting their victims — this duo is taking a stand against violence and inequality. Catch all new episodes Tuesdays at 10/9c on MTV to see what happens.
Nandita Raghuram is a Senior Writer at Studio@Gawker. She tweets here.