Considering the United States’ historic and continued cruelty toward its Native peoples, the lack of education most American students get on Native issues is pretty despicable. Fortunately, TikTok now provides a platform for many young indigenous activists who are helping to educate others on their cultures as well as the issues they face. Below, I have highlighted four North American Indigenous TikTokers who I personally have learned a lot from. Readers, give them the likes and follows they deserve!
1. Shina Nova (@shinanova)
Shina Nova is an Inuk creator from Montreal, popularly known for her videos of her and her mother throat singing together. Throat singing is an unfamiliar art to many of us, and Shina frequently receives mocking comments on her videos, but that doesn’t stop her from posting.
She educates her followers on other aspects of Inuit culture, such as traditional clothing and traditional foods, like raw beluga, wild berries, and caribou stew.
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.
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.
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.
Let me start by saying I respect the feminist movement. Even though I didn’t like to call myself a feminist before, mainly because I had issues with how exclusionary and uneducated some self-proclaimed “feminists” were, I realized that I couldn’t exclude myself from the label just because of the few bad cherries in the pack. There was no denying that I resonated with the ideas put forth by postmodern feminism, such as womxn empowerment and the inclusivity of all genders, rather than glorifying gender binarism. Yet, I still feel disconnected with the movement, particularly because there are some glaring, unspoken issues within the social-media driven movement which are not being addressed. Let’s talk about them.
On the social media front, many of the feminists leading the movement, particularly the youth leaders, openly display their self-confidence and assertiveness. That’s great- more power to them. Though I commend them, and would love to emulate similar levels of self-assuredness and confidence, they often lose me in the way they convey their message. They constantly discuss their work and their accomplishments, but they severely skimp on discussing their vulnerabilities and failures. Now, I don’t want to put all of the feminist leaders in a box- I have obviously not seen EVERY feminist on social media, and I’m sure many of them are amazingly self-aware and share their realities openly with their following. Yet, there are many, including those with large followings, who often make their troubles sound forced, fake, and false. And it’s created a major trend which is proving to be, dare I say, toxic.
A mentality has spread that these leaders need to “cure” us of our vulnerable moments and the issues which plague us- as a result, there has been an outpour of advice content flooding our feeds on taking care of our mental health, staying interconnected with our communities, and on finding our inner power (like, what does that even mean?). Yet hardly do I ever see them point the camera at themselves and actually discuss THEIR OWN roadblocks, failures, and doubts that come in the process of completing all their productive work. They share the idea when they think of it, and show the result when it’s finished, polished, and perfected- the gritty process is almost always excluded from the conversation. You may disagree with me on this, but I personally feel that this is a caveat of having a social media movement. Emotional intelligence, through introspection and vulnerability, is crucial to building community; many leaders are completely overlooking it, and are instead falling into the traps which social media presents. Now, I understand that some may be purposefully avoiding it, because emotions are difficult, and even triggering, to discuss, and that’s okay- I am not demanding every activist to ignore their discomfort and open up to their following, and I am not demanding that leaders do this 24/7. What I am asking, however, is for these prominent voices to start considering the fact that maybe we don’t want advice on how to be fixed- maybe we just want to see a day in their life, hear some stories about their failures, and listen to their doubts and concerns that they have when creating some fantastic projects for the movement. For people like me, who have never been surrounded by activists or community leaders, it is important to see what these projects look like from an intimate lens- often, I belittle my own intelligence because, when I try to brainstorm ideas, the process is messy and seems to be the exact opposite of the seamless process that these social media leaders have in generating and executing their ideas. When I was younger, this stark contrast made me think that I wasn’t built to serve our community through activism- I needed to have some gene in me, something different in the way my life was structured, or some sort of “smarts” that I seemed to lack. Now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve come to rise from those deep insecurities,, but it is disheartening to see that the movement has still not evolved much since then. We DESPERATELY need intimate conversations, not only to build stronger communities during quarantine, but to also better prepare eager activists on what mobilizing looks like and to make our fellow feminists feel more connected to the movement. It’s okay if, right now, we don’t feel empowered, confident, and creative- it’s not magic, it’s not an on-off switch, and that’s important to convey.
I will make one more quick point before I say my final words. For someone like me, who lived in a strangely driven, yet apathetic, youth environment where feminist rhetoric was not prominent, there is a lot I don’t know- and I have always been eager to learn through books, articles, magazines, and conversations. But we have to recognize that not everyone has the time to self-educate. Not everyone is keen on doing it either, whether because they are lazy or because reading is not their cup of tea. Whatever the reason, we have to be inclusive and we have to get the message across. Because when we don’t, we then see what turned me away from the movement in the first place- ignorant people blasting their deeply misconstrued ideas of feminism on videos and posts which end up going viral and taint the image of the movement. There is a dangerous assumption that every follower of feminism “gets” the message, and as we should have learned by now, this takes a toll on the legitimacy and power of the movement- this situation can change, but only if we stop spreading advice and start spreading FACTS.
Many women have been in the movement for so long that they have been numbed to many of these issues- as a relative newcomer, I held that “outside” perspective on why feminism has gained traction, but not overwhelming support. The ideas of this movement have the potential to be long-lasting and an emblem of the progressive movement. We just have to recognize the importance of achieving the goals of being all-embracing, educated, empowered, and most importantly, emotionally intelligent- it just takes a little bit of authenticity.
For so long there has been a societal pressure on women to aspire to have a more youthful appearance, claiming beauty to be one-dimensional and superficial. This message is enforced by so many platforms such as magazines and skin care lines with anti-aging products, both profiting off of having women trying to retain a younger, youthful appearance. It’s become a taboo for women to even hint at the fact that they are aging, and if it shows then it needs to be covered up as society will otherwise deem you unattractive. This has inspired a fear of getting older and thus has created a harmful mindset in women that looking youthful gives us worth and meaning and aging essentially diminishes our significance.
When seeing how often women are congratulated on retaining a youthful look, one starts to question where this mindset came from and why is it that for women, looking young is more celebrated than age itself? Why are these pressures only enforced upon women? And why do men get a pass to look and celebrate their age when the same right is not given to women? Who essentially perpetuates this narrative of looking youthful being the ultimate end goal?
One huge influence that is responsible for this narrative are fashion magazines. The way Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and so many others all display and enforce a certain youthful appearance with the celebrities, especially the older ones that grace their covers. With the use of photoshop and filters there has been this harmful repetitive narrative being constantly recycled that looking young equates to being beautiful. This awareness starts to seep in for girls at a very young age and follows them throughout the rest of their lives with the media constantly displaying this kind of imagery. The message this sends is that despite all they have achieved and the journeys they have all taken, they still have to maintain this appearance of looking young as that is something that ultimately determines their external significance and their age needs to be hidden from society.
Social Media is another huge preparator that prioritizes the youthful look through filters, and as mentioned before, photoshop that has helped establish this mindset to the youth that looking young should be the ultimate goal. Girls from their highschool years feel pressured to use certain anti-aging products (when they clearly don’t need it) to aspire to look more youthful then they already are as they are following what has been communicated to them which is that they will achieve true beauty by looking young forever. This harmful mindset is taken further with plastic surgery such as botox, and certain beauty rituals, that help girls conform to this feminine beauty ideal which has become so heavily ingrained in our society.
Men, though have their own pressures enforced upon them by society, do not need to care as much about their appearances as women do, as they are more recognized for their success than anything else and thus them looking their age does not hinder them in the long run. Whereas women from a very young age need to maintain an appearance that is almost impossible to manage. We have been programmed to believe that looking our own age is ugly and unacceptable to society. Thus we continue to reach the goal of looking ever youthful despite the harmful mindset and consequences that might come with it.
Age should be celebrated and not something that we should be fearful of. Women should be able to embrace the years they have spent on Earth and not have it be something they hide due to external pressures. Our bodies are constantly changing and accepting the years that our bodies have gone through should not be frowned upon but welcomed. Looking healthy does not need to be exclusive from embracing age yet for the most part it is. There isn’t anything wrong with taking care of yourself but the mindset and goal of trying to look healthy and trying to look young often blurs together and looking healthy becomes lost in the fray and the common factor in all of this is the fear of growing older.