Feminism & YouTube

Lauren Wilbur

As a millennial with Internet access, I am constantly wading through media –especially media that has been tailor fit to my exact interests thanks to the World Wide Web stalkers known as advertisers and promoters. One of my most prominent interests is feminism. For the purpose of this paper, I define feminism as equality for all people. I consider myself to be a feminist, I have feminist friends, I follow feminist blogs and groups, and I read a lot of feminist articles. While some of my media outlets are more serious than others, there are also an abundance of feminist YouTube videos that I’ve come across. The content is generally short and sweet, easy to follow, and interesting to watch – a surefire way to get me, someone with a short attention span, to pay attention to until the end. The three YouTube videos I will be referencing today show an interesting paradox between content created for a male audience and content created for a female audience; if you’re a male, feminism is portrayed as something to mock, but if you’re a woman, feminism is portrayed as smart and serious.
The best example of a YouTube video mocking feminism is ‘Polisub: How to Turn on a Feminist.’ This video depicts a man and a woman on a date. The man is explaining to the video’s probably male-centric audience how to pick up a feminist by highlighting points like Hillary Clinton, equal pay, and establishing good eye contact. When the woman picks up on each of these less than subtle tactics, she throws her head back towards the camera and moans or shows ecstasy in some other way until, at the end of the video, the man has clearly gotten the woman to sleep with him.
While yes, some feminists do enjoy – and potentially get turned on, by Hillary Clinton, equal pay and eye contact, not all do. This video generalizes those experiences until they become mockable, further substantiating the ridiculousness that is portrayed. The woman is still viewed as a sexual object who is being lured in by the man who is saying exactly what she wants to hear. Also interesting to note is her appearance – she is blonde and well dressed, the stereotypical male object of desire. While this could simply be a way to say ‘look, feminists are pretty too!’ from a cynical point of view it could also mean that this video further perpetuates a man’s desire and assumed ability to get any pretty woman he wants into bed.
Contrasting the videos geared towards men, videos discussing feminism for women audiences are set up very differently. While the videos still have elements of fun in them, such as the crude language in ‘Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism,’ the videos are generally more fact-based and show statistics, talk about real life personal experiences, and are used to educate as opposed to mock. Generally these videos are viewed by feminists and, those who can relate or find the information valuable, share these videos to educate those around them. While this may not always work, the goal of getting the word out about equality is still a worthy cause.
In ‘Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism,’ the whole stereotype of young girls wanting to grow up and be proper, beautiful princesses is stopped in its tracks. Yes, these girls are cute. Yes, they’re wearing princess costumes. Yes, there are typical ‘girly’ colors all around. However, as they cuss like a sailor and spout out facts about feminism and equality it is clear that they are no princesses – at least not in the conventional sense of the title. These girls are spirited, intelligent, strong and they can dress however they damn well please – that doesn’t take away from their independence.
A boy is shown in this video as well, dressed in his own princess costume and stating that being called a girl shouldn’t be an insult – that being a girl does not make someone weak. Further highlighting the extreme between what is being seen and what is being said, this video portrays ‘damsels in distress’ who speak crudely and a boy in ‘girl clothes’ who preaches equality. That’s enough for anyone to stop and take notice and, given the amount of views, quite a few people did. These feminists become relatable because of the humor, but the important message of equality is still being taught through the seriousness of their message. They may be cute, but they also know their stuff.
The tone in “WHY I’M A… FEMINIST *gasp*’ is also more serious and is directed to a female audience. The woman in the video uses personal experiences, statistics, news headlines, pictures and definitions to make her point – that feminists are great, and feminism is not only crucial, but something to be celebrated. While she is still dressed nicely and wearing makeup, she also lifts her arms to show off her hairy armpits in the video. She labels feminists as women who can do what they want, stereotypes and social stigma need not matter. She comes off as intelligent and passionate, not crazy.
A man also appears in this video to further drive in the points that the woman had been making. He asks the audience, would they words matter more if I had just said them? The question really makes one think about the inequality assigned between men and women’s words. Would the facts from a man’s mouth make more of a difference? Be more credible instead of just another annoying speech from a man-hating, crazy feminist?
Every time I view the previous two videos I’m riding on this wave of empowerment and then the reflex to have it all come crashing down shows up the second the human being with a penis shows on the screen, regardless of their message. I can’t help but wonder how much of that reflex is caused by the media – countless of items broadcasting patriarchy, inequality, male dominance, etc. are bound to take root in a person’s brain eventually. Even research on YouTube has shown that a level of gender inequality for top videos exists, further finding that the videos showcasing women only do well when they express the proper amount of femininity (Wotanis & McMillan)
Perhaps my examination of the men in these videos is too cynical – pointing out the connections to worldwide sexism and privilege as opposed to recognizing them as allies. With the growing rate of male feminists, especially celebrities like Ryan Gosling and John Legend, men supporting women’s equality has become slightly less taboo. It’s no longer an insult for a man to be a feminist, but a supporting hand.
As a feminist, it can be difficult to watch the various videos that pop up on my social media feeds. I get the facts, I get the empowerment, I get the girl power. But, although some of the mocking videos do get a laugh out of me, I think it’s such a shame that people turn feminism into something to be made fun of – something someone shouldn’t want to be or something that can’t be taken seriously. I identify with the women trying to educate those around them of equality, but any time I identify in any way with a feminist being mocked – it’s hard not to feel ashamed of my beliefs, or like being a feminist is something to hide and not be proud of.
Overall, it is safe to assume that all media must be consumed with a grain of salt. Who is the intended audience? Is this information true? Am I being manipulated? Is this viral because it’s good, or viral because it’s bad? It’s complicated to be a millennial when these dilemmas are thrust upon us daily. Within the context of these media sources, however, the most obvious contrast is the intended audience – male or female. It can be concluded that, when videos regarding feminism are directed towards men, feminists are portrayed as crazy, self-indulgent and mockable women. However, when videos regarding feminism are directed towards women, feminists are portrayed as independent, strong, sassy men and women.

References

FCKH8. (2014, October 21). Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism by FCKH8.com. Retrieved December 2, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqHYzYn3WZw

Funny or Die. (2014, April 17). Polisub: How to Turn on a Feminist. Retrieved December 3, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjuLfcH6yGA

Lacigreen. (2014, April 23). WHY I’M A…FEMINIST *gasp*. Retrieved December 3, 2014, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwJRFClybmk

Wotanis, L., & McMillan, L. (2014). Performing Gender on YouTube. Feminist Media Studies, 14(6), 912-928. doi:10.1080/14680777.2014.882373

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3 thoughts on “Feminism & YouTube

  1. Lauren,
    I like your definition of feminism right up front. That really sets the tone for the paper. I really enjoy how your first artifact hits strong. You have a viewpoint, and are not afraid to talk about it. Awesome! I also appreciated the boy dressed in women’s clothes preaching “equality”. Very astute observation and right on point. Your closing paragraph is very concise and closes your essay very well. Thank you for the though provoking read!
    -Blake

  2. Hey Lauren,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your paper. I wrote about feminism as well, but from the opposite view point as a male feminist. There were some parallels that I saw between our papers that I was happy to see. I also wrote about how men use feminism as a tool to impress women. I never knew that this was a thing until I was researching my paper and I asked my sister and she said it was rampant in Portland. I also talk about how a I feel that a man’s role in feminism is as an ally, and not someone who identifies as oppressed. I also appreciated your candor, wit and your on point Hillary Clinton name drop.

  3. Lauren, your essay was very interesting and sourced some unique videos. I did notice that your first video, made by Polisub, is a channel for parody sketches, more satirical works. Although its media seen by others, it still may not give the clearest example of your identity. Typically satire stems from current events or stereotypes in the media, so it might have been interesting to research what these stereotypes might be.
    Also, I would have been interested in seeing your thoughts on other popular feminists on YouTube like Christina Sommers of “The Factual Feminist” and Anita Sarkeesian’s “Feminist Frequency” Series. What messages could these channels send to the public about feminists on YouTube?

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