When you search the word “feminism” on apps such as Tiktok and Twitter, you are met with tweets, images, and videos of mostly white women and some men, discussing how the definition of feminism is simply equality for women, consent is key, and body positivity. You are also faced with many statements titled “why I hate feminism” and topics along those lines. While consent, body positivity, and other topics along these lines are important and deserve to be discussed and gain attention, while scrolling through likes and hashtags, one cannot help but wonder if these are the only topics gaining the most attention and discourse because they are the most palatable and apparent within a predominantly white audience. When women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, or other marginalized communities attempt to share their experiences or ideas on social media apps such as Tiktok or Twitter, they are often silenced by algorithms or faced with hate, threats, or scrutiny from those often do not have these same experiences but feel the need to define them. While social media can be and in many instances, has been, a vital tool for creating connections and senses of feminist community amongst those with shared identities and experiences, it is not without its limitations.
Tiktok is marketed as an app where creators can make and watch short videos. These videos range from 15 seconds to 3 minutes and can be made with various “effects”, edits, and often include snippets of audio from songs, movies, etc. Originally starting off as Musical.ly in 2014, which was also an app where creators could make and watch videos, and often would create dances and routines to popular songs and audios. It then became what it is known as today in 2016 and has grown to become one of the most popular apps amongst youth, with a majority of their users ranging from ages 16-24 (Wallaroo, 2021). With Tiktok, users can curate their ‘For You page’ by liking, commenting, and sharing videos and following their favorite creators. These videos can range from dancing to your favorite song to current events and popular culture. As this is a social media site used and run by predominantly teenagers and young adults, youth often feel comfortable expressing themselves, discussing their identities, and meeting like minded individuals. Simultaneously, any person with internet access can also access these spaces. The safe spaces created in apps like these can often be infiltrated and put youth in danger. The information spread on these apps also could come from non-reliable sources, and could easily spread wrong or dangerous information to millions with just the push of a button. As previously mentioned, when opening the Tiktok app and casually inputting “feminism” in the search engine, you are met with the top videos containing the word in the caption or hashtag. The hashtag contains almost 8 billion views and hundreds of thousands of videos. The top liked video underneath the hashtag is a video of actress Sarah Paulson and actor Cuba Gooding Jr. It shows clips of him partially lifting up Paulson’s dress and grabbing her arm while she looks noticeably uncomfortable and pulls away. This video has 1.5 million likes and 12,000 comments expressing disdain and similar experiences. There is a high amount of videos under this hashtag sharing similar experiences that have made news headlines or gained social media traction, others contain jokes, many use their platform to talk about why they believe feminism is unneccessary, and a small percentage of videos on the app contains feminist discourse on why the type of feminism that uses vagina imagery and talks about how statements like “feminism just means equality for women” is often not intersectional or as progressive as one may believe.
Another social media app I wanted research feminism and feminist discourse on was Twitter. Twitter is often advertised as the social media site where the most ‘conversations’ are had and a lot of information is spread. Created in 2006, the app is designed to tweet your thoughts, retweet or like posts, follow others, etc. An example of ways information is spread on twitter is through ‘threads’, which are often long threads of tweets about a certain topic all in one place that users can scroll through and read, like and comment. Threads make it easier to have mass amounts of information on one subject through a simple scroll. When I researched feminist discourse on twitter, I found some results similar to Tiktok, but with very different layouts. Tiktok tends to show you the most popular, most liked videos, while twitter just shows tweets in chronological order from anyone. Because of this, there are many different ideas as you scroll through, from thoughts on JK Rowling’s exclusionary definitions of feminism to speeches from Hilary Clinton on what it means to be a feminist. In the article “‘Oh, She’s a Tumblr Feminist’: Exploring the Platform Vernacular of Girls’ Social Media Feminisms”, the author discusses the strategic choosing of some social media sites over others for teenagers and young adults to participate in feminist discourse and engagement. Keller discusses that when talking to teenagers who were known for gaining attention on social media for discussing feminism and inequality, they stated that they did not use sites like Facebook because it is a “‘conservative’” site “used by her grandma and her ‘parent’s generation’” (2017). This is significant as every network has its tools and set up that can make participating in discourse and gathering a community either easier or more difficult. Seeing Facebook as a more conservative and older site meant that these teenagers knew their target audience and that they were not on this platform, but were on platforms such as Twitter and similar apps that are notorious for having younger populations. This further develops the points mentioned of social media being an important tool to spread awareness and create communities and learning opportunities for youth to participate in feminism, but it also must be considered who is running these movements and who is being silenced in response.
What is described as “buzzfeed feminism” on Tiktok and other social media sites explains one of the many forms white feminism takes. Buzzfeed is a media company founded in 2006 that is well known for its online quizzes, articles, pop culture updates, videos and overall social media presence. They are notorious for creating “funny”, “relatable” content that was advertised to an older audience but caught the attention of many members of Generation Z (defined as the generation of people born between 1997-2012). They would create quizzes titled “How Much of a Feminist Are You?” and “the check-box style quiz is composed of statements such as ‘I dont use the phrase ‘hey guys’ when referring to women’…. ‘I have taken a women’s and/or gender studies class’” (Tisopulos, 2021) and so forth. Saying that these are the things that make up a feminist are very surface level and does little to nothing to acknowledge those who many not have the privilege to pursue a college education in which they could take a women’s studies class, or any other privileges that the white, cis-gendered, middle class woman this quiz is advertised for has. Along with these quizzes and articles, videos would be created that were meant to be seen as activism and spreading awareness, but did little except further appeal to the white feminist ideal. Some of these videos included “‘Women Try Manspreading For A Week’ or ‘We Painted with Our Period Blood’” (Tisopulos, 2021). These videos have fostered millions of views, mostly from young impressional viewers. Being exposed to this kind of content throughout multiple platforms has warped perceptions of feminism and have led youth to believe that feminism is defined by what is said in these quizzes and videos. Many resources on feminism, scholarly articles and books, are already not accessible to many. Not many have the luxury of attending a University and taking courses on Women’s/ Gender studies to unlearn these perceptions. Something that is available to a grand majority is the internet and social media. Yes, sexism and misogyny do exist, all women are impacted in some ways. There is also not one end all be all definition of feminism, it is ever changing and defined differently by different groups of people. Non-white women, Black women, Indigenous women, women with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, women of lower social class, etc all have different experiences in comparison to a middle-class, straight, cis-gender white woman. The middle class white woman has historically been seen as the leader of feminist movements, beginning at the first Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 that is often defined as the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage movement. But women cannot speak for the experiences of all women, as they simply do not have the same experiences as the women of all of these identities. When this method of white or “buzzfeed” feminism is widespread and advertised to younger populations, it continues to leave all members of the groups previously mentioned out and underrepresented in mainstream media. If we are to move forward and progress, our feminism must be inclusive and intersectional. We must uplift and amplify the voices of those who have too often been silenced and give them the same platform that is handed to middle-class white women. Allowing these groups to speak, actively listening and working towards unlearning and dismantling the structures that benefit off of their oppression is an ongoing process but one that needs to take place to truly be defined as feminism. And in today’s age, one of the best places to have your voice heard is social media.
As previously mentioned, while beneficial for a plethora of reasons, there are also still many downsides to using social media as a tool for feminist discourse and creating a community. As mentioned previously, it is extremely easy for anyone with simple internet access to hide behind a social media account and say things without fear of repercussions. Social media is just another tool where misogyny can be practiced and spread easily. In “Building a digital Girl Army: The Cultivation of Feminist Safe Spaces Online” by Rosemary Clark- Parsons, the concept of safe spaces and online harassment is discussed. Clark-Parsons states “in recent years, online misogyny has risen in response to the heightened visibility of feminist figures and cultures in the popular media landscape, initiating ‘a new era of gender wars’” (2017). Clark-Parsons also states “victims of harassment are often reluctant to speak out against online misogyny for fear of appearing humorless, weak, and censorious or opening themselves up to more attacks. For users of color, queer and trans users, and disabled users, online misogyny is compounded when it intersects with racism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism.” As these quotes are explaining, as feminist figures in the media have increased in numbers and popularity, online misogyny has also increased with it. This shows that when feminism gains attention on social media, when like minded women come to share their experiences and knowledge with each other, others feel the need to insert themselves and harass women, make insensitive comments and then shame these women when they stand up for themselves. The quote also explains that when users of varying intersections try to enter these spaces, they are not only met with misogyny but also other forms of harassment directed at the other identities they may have. This also puts these users at heightened fear/ awareness of what they post and what groups they involve themselves in, forcing them to silence themselves for their own safety. While elevating voices of others with marginalized identities, it is important to continue to use one’s privilege to protect and fight for them. Many people are put into considerably dangerous situations for living their truth and standing up for what they believe in, and when creating the communities that are created online, it is important to show up not only through likes and comments but through support and protection.
In conclusion, while apps such as Tiktok, Twitter, and other social media websites can be vital tools for engaging in feminist discourse, creating safe spaces, and meeting/ learning from like- minded individuals, it is important to consider the limitations and those who are truly participating in and benefitting from these spaces. Feminism is more than just equality for men and women, and should be available to more than just white, middle-class, heterosexual, cis-gendered women. True feminism is intersectional, should include all, and uplift marginalized voices. To further allow for progress and change, we must move away from traditional white feminist views and discuss the experiences of all women.
Clark-Parsons, R. (2017, October 6). “Building a Digital Girl Army: The Cultivation of Feminist Safe Spaces Online”. Sage Journals. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://journals-sagepub-com.libezproxy2.syr.edu/doi/full/10.1177/146144…
Doyle, B. (2021, September 28). Tiktok statistics – everything you need to know. Wallaroo Media. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/
Keller, J. (2019, August 14). “oh, she’s a Tumblr feminist”: Exploring the platform vernacular of Girls’ Social Media Feminisms. SAGE Journals. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2056305119867442
Tisopulos, M. (2021, April 19). You go, girlboss: A critique of buzzfeed and White Feminism. The Wolfpacket. Retrieved December 13, 2021, from https://thewolfpacket.org/6664/opinions/you-go-girlboss-a-critique-of-bu…