By: Cecilia Nguyen
This story was initially reported by Sam Sedlack (@samsedlackcreative) on Medium for Slay The Patriarchy in 2018. At the time of writing this article, Sedlack’s article was used as a source. However, that original article has since been taken down. It has been put back up as of Dec. 9, 2020 on Sedlack’s website. All links that referred to the article on Medium will now refer to this one.
In a movement that strives to uplift, empower, and encourage women to challenge and fight against systemic inequalities in place, it’s disgusting and disheartening to see two white men profit off of their “activism” under the pretenses of being feminists, while not actually doing meaningful activist work and taking up space from women who do. Not to say that men can’t be feminists, but here’s how not to do it.
The Instagram account @feminist has reached over 5 million followers and is run by two businessmen, Jacob Castaldi and Tanner Sweitzer, Founder and Director of Social Media, respectively, of Contagious Creative, a social-driven agency “responsible for creating and managing a network of over 10,000,000 followers of Instagram communities.” Some other large activist accounts run by Sweitzer and Castaldi include @chnge, @march and @itsfeminism, which can often be seen being promoted in posts across their accounts, expanding their influence within the political sphere on Instagram. They treat these accounts (and their activism) as a business, focused on gaining a mass following and using their publicity to discreetly market their sustainable clothing company CHNGE, where Castaldi is the Founder and Sweitzer is the Chief Marketing Officer.
CHNGE donates 50% of their net profits to charitable organizations and has donated over $200,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement and $250,000 to other organizations. I am not trying to minimize their contribution in any way; Castaldi and Sweitzer are doing more than most fashion brands. But the way they publicize CHNGE on all of their “social activism” accounts, including @feminist, without any discretion that they are run by the same group of people, makes me question the morals and ethics behind it all.
@Feminist is at the forefront of social media activism accounts, but it truly does the bare minimum. Its feed consists of curated content from activists, artists, politicians, celebrities, and everyone in between in the form of graphics, photos, videos, memes, and Twitter threads. The page uses works of marginalized folk for their Instagram content, reposts them verbatim and then makes a profit (both influential and monetary) from its huge following and engagement. In one instance, CHNGE reached out to photographer Lauren (@_portraitmami) and Sancho (@sancho.smalls) after seeing their work in hopes of collaborating on a campaign highlighting LGBTQ couples within the Black community. When asked about compensation and making the collaboration a paid opportunity for the two, CHNGE did not respond.
It has also been said that CHNGE has used “paid media shares” to promote their account, attesting that even Instagram is profiting off these accounts. The original creators and activists don’t receive any compensation. The account is constantly branding themselves by putting their handle on their posts and stories, despite not owning most of them. With the amount of content they repost, it’s questionable if giving credit is enough. Behind the scenes, are they asking permission to repost content?
If you look closely, a majority of their posts are surface-level (skin-deep, if you will). They post empowering quotes and body-positive photos here and there and call it a day. Their “feminism” is shallow, trivial and hardly intersectional. Don’t get me wrong, I also find some body-positive images incredibly moving, but when it makes up half of the account’s grid, it gives the message that feminism is solely focused on how women should perceive their bodies. There are deeper issues that the account can also spread awareness about– child brides, femicide, and maternal mortality rates among women of color just to name a few.
Sweitzer and Castaldi don’t care about feminism. They care about expanding their brand. Even something as small as their redundant, minimal, or non-existent captions are a clear indicator. With the handle @feminist, the account needs to use their platform to spread awareness about… you guessed it: feminism, and in its entirety. They need to educate about all feminist issues, support and uplift womxn of color, and actually add to the discourse about the movement to truly be called an activist account (if they even care to).
Instead, the account is used as a marketing tool. The lack of moderation within their comments despite the abundance of hate and trolls the account often receives shows they welcome all and any types of traffic and engagement, as long as it gets people to their account. For those looking for a safe and empowering place, you will only be met with backlash and negativity within the first few comments. The more likes, comments, shares, and follows @feminist gets, the higher the chances a user will also end up following their other accounts unknowingly. And it will most likely be @chnge because of its frequent promotion and mentions; from there, the consumer will probably make a purchase from the company, and the cycle starts again.
I do believe that @feminist provides relatively educational and pallatable information and is a good start for those who don’t know where to start with their activism, but it shouldn’t stop there, and it definitely shouldn’t be your only source. Instead, try to follow actual activists or accounts that amplify marginalized voices. Some of my favorites are @rachel.cargle, @domrobxrts, @chimamanda_adichie, @blairimani, @jordanrisa, and @chellaman.
Whether you unfollow @feminist and any of their other affiliated accounts or not, that’s entirely your discretion, but at the very least, you deserve to know the truth. And it’s not just @feminism; there are thousands of accounts like @feminist on Instagram that post the same content with similar formats, and it would be impossible to target all of them. With social media activism at an all time high, it’s important for us to check our sources, do additional research in addition to what we see on Instagram or Twitter, and hold entities accountable for their performative activism. With @feminist, it’s the lack of transparency, performative activism, and capitalization of the feminist movement for me.
More additional information: https://medium.com/@SlayyPatriarchy/feminist-story-c1cec5ea1c30. [This page is no longer available. Please head to https://samsedlackcreative.com/2018/12/06/2167/]
Since this article went viral on Monday, December 7, @feminist has deleted over 1,300 posts from their feed. Below are screenshots of posts from November 9 and December 2 advertising @CHNGE, but they have since been deleted.
Many more accounts have been linked to Contagious Creative including @activismfuckyeah and @feminist.lisa. For more information, please visit Talking Circle London’s Instagram post: https://www.instagram.com/p/CIh8R0HnZqY/ .
This article was updated at 6:53 p.m. PST on Dec. 8 to include screenshots, a link connecting Contagious Creative to CHNGE, and additional information/resources. The exchange between CHNGE and Lauren and Sancho was also added.
This article was updated at 6:55 p.m. PST on Dec. 9 to include attribution to Sam Sedlack. Previous links referring to the Medium article were also updated.