As the most rapidly growing online platform, TikTok has often been described as ‘dangerous’ by governments and lawmakers, who worry that the Chinese-built site poses significant security threats.
The app has been repeatedly scrutinised for its algorithm, and governing bodies in the US, Europe and Canada have gone as far as trying to restrict access to the app. With more than one billion users, many countries fear the Chinese government’s access to a huge resource of data collection.
Despite all the criticism, TikTok is providing a vital tool for democracy. It has provided a space where communities and voices usually overlooked by mainstream media can share their stories. The app has become a hub for intersectional feminism, as users share their experiences of misogyny and discrimination, standing up to the systems and cultures that marginalise them.
A 30-second TikTok audio clip from singer-songwriter Paris Paloma featuring her new song Labour, recently became a channel for creators to share videos of intersectional issues related to misogyny. Originally used to shed light on the struggles and contributions of women throughout history, the sound gained popularity and caught the attention of creators who noticed the absence of their voices.
Teirangi Klever, a young Māori woman, uploaded a video using the sound, wanting to bring in voices and histories of her community, and how they have been historically mistreated by colonisation.
“I thought it seemed a little odd that although women of colour have performed the most labour throughout history, they weren’t being represented in this sound half as much as they should’ve been,” she said.
“So I, being indigenous Māori, thought I’d make a video of my own that highlights the labour wahine Māori (Māori women) have had to perform throughout history – specifically due to colonisation.”
Māori people are almost completely absent from mainstream media and feminist movements, but through videos like Teirangi’s, the history and experiences of wahine Māori (Māori women) are included and spotlighted, challenging the systems of oppression that attempt to silence and exploit them.
This TikTok trend has become a symbol of liberation, enabling users to share previously unheard stories of gender-based issues and challenging mainstream feminist discourse and official media sources. Facilitating discussions of discrimination and misogyny can be an instrument of social change, as it not only enables people to share their individual experiences, but it also diminishes exclusionary and intolerant voices.
TikTok content creator, @Artemisia_mizi, knew there needed to be a trans woman’s experience included in the trend when she first saw it online. Drawing from her personal encounters with discrimination while dating, she highlighted the support and validation she receives, while also encountering hate and invasions of transgender spaces.
“When I spoke my truth, many cis-women showed their love and support and even validated my experiences, while others were very hateful towards mine,” she said. “Many people feel they have some sort of right to invade our spaces and sometimes our lives to prove that they hate us.”
The transgender community is the most targeted group in the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, and 88% of transgender people don’t report hate crimes they experience. This has created a sense of fear within the trans community of hate and persecution.
However, TikTok provides a platform for trans individuals to share their stories, empowering the community and challenging prejudice. By shifting the focus away from trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), TikTok has created inclusive and diverse spaces for communication.
Each user sharing their individual experience contributes to the broader discussions of misogyny and discrimination that affect numerous people in various ways. These discussions and voices, which may not find space elsewhere, empower individuals to dismantle systems of inequality and promote inclusivity.
@Iconicbyronic is an autistic creator who joined the trend to highlight intersectional issues faced by autistic women. She was surprised by the attention her video received, realising that “living in the crossfire between misogyny and ableism isn’t an uncommon trend.
“The autistic community is already a very marginalised community, and we all experience ableism,” she argued. “The problem I wanted to highlight is how women and people of colour slip through the cracks due to autism research being based on white men.”
In the UK, the boy-to-girl ratio of autism prevalence is roughly 4:1. However, many estimates often miscalculate numbers for girls due to flaws in the diagnosis systems, which predominantly focus on typical male traits. Women’s traits are often seen as mainstream and less likely to be detected. By highlighting the common experience of undiagnosed autism among women and girls, the flaws in the diagnosis system are revealed, prompting a demand for change.
Issues like these need individual stories to enact change, as statistics alone don’t show the struggles of undiagnosed women, or women who have difficulties being diagnosed.
Sharing their experiences online includes their perspectives and is crucial for overturning the current system and creating one that is more understanding and inclusive to a range of different presentations of autism.
Overall, it can be concluded that TikTok is boosting democracy by giving voice to previously unheard and unseen perspectives. It empowers marginalised individuals and fuels the movement of intersectional feminism, as a growing number of people question and challenge the patriarchal, normative, and ethnocentric systems of oppression.
These online movements could become the first steps of a revolution. The UN Women website argues that “standing in solidarity with one another, questioning power structures, and speaking out against the root causes of inequalities are critical actions for building a future that leaves no one behind.”
Speaking out about gender-based issues on a global platform is creating a movement demanding change, seeking to dismantle discrimination and injustice while empowering marginalised and underrepresented voices.
Featured image is ‘TikTok II’ by Focal Foto via Flickr CC