Gen Z TikTokers’ Fight Against Internalised Misogyny

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Maybe you called Miley Cyrus a slut after watching the ‘Wrecking Ball’ music video, perhaps you thought Kristen Stewart needed to smile more at the Twilight premieres, or you might have jumped on the Taylor Swift hate train during the Kanye West drama. I know I did, and if you were also a teenager in the 2010s, you probably did too.

This isn’t just something unique to our teenage years either, we all have that one woman — celebrity or not — that we simply cannot stand, for reasons we find difficult to justify. Whether it’s Ellie Goulding, Jess Glynne, or that woman who sits next to you in the office who’s always a little too enthusiastic – this silly dislike can be linked to something deeper.

Internalised misogyny is when women absorb sexist opinions and behaviours and use them against other women or even themselves. It’s a mindset that has been ingrained in us since the dawn of civilisation and it has only grown more potent with the soapbox of modern media. Through no fault of our own, this societal norm has brainwashed us into finding reasons — no matter how ridiculous — to hate on successful women. But, a growing movement on TikTok is now seeing Gen Z content creators take accountability for this way of thinking and kissing goodbye to their unwarranted hatred.

Photographs of Taylor Swift flicker across the screen as 25-year-old Danielle Silverstone (@daniellesilverstone), a TikTok creator from Los Angeles, mouths the screeching rhyme “I fucking hate this bitch / put her in the ditch”. The music cuts and we hear the words “internalised misogyny”, a deep breath and “okay, let’s get started” followed by more pictures of the pop singer accompanied by the pulsing bass of Cardi B’s song ‘WAP’.

This is the trend that has been circulating the social media platform over recent weeks. At the time of writing, the soundbite now has nearly 5,000 videos to its name and hashtags referencing internalised misogyny have collectively reached approximately 12 million views.

Silverstone explains that she contributed to the trend because she too had been guilty of internalised misogyny in her younger years due to the media’s unflinching dedication to “villainising” women. She and many other Gen Zers have also started to recognise that one of the main symptoms of internalised misogyny is jealousy. “When a woman is successful, it’s people’s first instinct to hate on them for everything,” Silverstone says. “Women disliked Taylor Swift because she was living the life they wanted, and I know that because I was one of those women.”

Shamar Gunning, President of the University of Bristol’s Feminist Society, says this idea of pitting women against one another feeds into “the perpetuation of the Madonna-whore complex”. This is a Freudian concept that suggests men only see women as either symbols of purity, or prostitutes. Internalised misogyny means this prejudice has also been gripped by women. In the hopes we will be deemed more desirable, we subconsciously compare ourselves to others and act hostile to those who pose a threat. After all, my obsession with Robert Pattinson most definitely played a role in my relentless hate for Kristen Stewart.

Through the TikTok trend, Gen Z has come to acknowledge how this longing to be desired — particularly by men — has also given femininity negative connotations. Georgie Gillespie (@georgihoe), a 20-year-old TikTok creator from London, has made several internalised misogyny themed videos, one of which is her most viral with over 700,000 views. She articulates how there is also a dominant societal tendency to dismiss things popularised by young women and class them as “trivial or embarrassing to enjoy”. So ladies, next time a romantic prospect tells you ‘you’re not like other girls’, you might want to think about dropping them.

“The media I engaged with told me that girls who were worthy of others’ time were those that didn’t conform to these formations of femininity,” Gillespie adds. Now TikTok creators are recognising how femininity is unjustifiably linked to weakness, and how internalised misogyny teaches us to distance ourselves from our own gender. But, for Gillespie and other Gen Zers, now is the time for celebration rather than self-deprecation.

For instance, 17-year-old Lane Begalke (@laney.bo.payney) from Canada, says she hopped onto the trend because she wanted to “celebrate women for how awesome they are” and stresses the importance of lifting women up. Begalke suggests that TikTok is an ideal platform to combat issues like internalised misogyny because “people who know a lot about the subject are able to break it down for others to understand”. She continues: “It can provide lots of great information for young people as almost everyone in our generation has the app.”

A spokesperson for TikTok equates this to two of the app’s unique features: inventive tools which make it easy to add sounds, music and visual effects; and the ‘For You Page’, which effectively recommends content to its users – and is dangerously addictive. TikTok says the latter “means creators can go viral without having a single follower”. The app’s amalgamation of short-form entertainment means Gen Zers can absorb new information in quick bursts and the ability for these videos to go viral only adds to the buzz around the subject.

“This inclusive and democratic environment manifests itself in educational videos about topics that people are passionate about, and can be seen in the creators using short-form video to stand up for the causes they believe in,” TikTok says. Although TikTok has its faults — like many forms of social media — there is a definite reason to believe its creators are using their platforms to educate, and feminism is just one of the issues that frequently finds itself trending.

For 16-year-old Elizabeth Mahoney (@lizardtomlinson) from Pennsylvania, her ‘For You Page’ has made learning about feminism all the more stimulating. It has also assisted her in understanding how to combat internalised misogyny when it rears its ugly head. “I remind myself that there is no competition against women”, she says, “besides the one that society puts in our heads.” I can’t say my 16-year-old self was quite as forward thinking.

So, could Gen Z’s world of digital entertainment and online trends breathe a new life into feminist education? TikTok is confident the app can be used for the greater good: “We’re proud that in our TikTok 100 for 2020 we were able to shine a spotlight on the voices of change on our platform. Creators who use their voice and creativity to raise awareness and challenge misconceptions about issues as wide-ranging as feminism, mental health, LGBTQ+ rights, and racial inequality.” No, it isn’t just dancing challenges! From activism to academia, feminism can be found in all shapes and forms, but with Gen Zers using social media to spread messages of empowerment in witty and accessible ways, feminism is now taking the shape of a simple hashtag.

Words by Charlotte Rawlings


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