TikTok Part 2: Power Dynamics

TikTok Part 2: Power Dynamics

Anna Hayward, Writer

TikTok has, indeed, taken over our lives (see first article here). But what is the implication of this? What are we supporting when/if we watch and participate in TikTok culture? And most importantly, what kind of an impact will this single app have on our generation, especially teenage girls?

I can’t pretend that I know the answers to these questions. However, I do know of an issue that many people who use the app aren’t talking about: the almost imperceptible gender divide in content, recognition, and power.

If you’ve spent any amount of time on this app, you’ve probably heard of Charli D’Amelio. She is 15, comes from LA, and went TikTok viral in less than a few weeks. As of now, she has over 7 million followers on the app. I remember this happening and seeing almost every video relate to her in some way; guys would fawn over her and maybe ask her out, and girls would either duet her or seem jealous. The interesting thing about TikTok and its viewers is that it doesn’t spread the fame out — a single girl usually has “the hype” for a couple of weeks at the most, and then it is transferred to someone else. This happened very recently with Charli and a girl named Alex French. Alex is 16, and her instant fame is perhaps the best example of the toxic power dynamic on the app. After one video of hers went viral, people immediately stopped talking about Charli and started giving attention to Alex. Many videos even addressed the girls directly, saying things like, “You’re over, Charli!” or “Alex is prettier, she actually deserves the hype.”

The problem with this extreme switch is that it is unnecessarily dismissive and insensitive to whoever is “getting replaced” and gives an unchecked and unhealthy ego boost to the “new” girl at the expense of the “old” one. It sends the message that girls can only succeed on their own and have to bring down their fellow girls in the process. However, this idea of pitting girls against each other (often unconsciously and ingrained in society) is far from new. Most often, it is unaware boys who feed into this toxic cycle without even realizing it. It can be hard to anticipate the impact of what may just seem like fun, lighthearted jokes, especially if you’ve never had the experience of living as a girl.

Ultimately, the issue is that many users of the app help to spread a message of expendability for teenage girls. Not only is there a high and exclusionary beauty standard on the app, but the fans of TikTok send the message that girls who grow popular very quickly can be cast away and replaced at any time. Comments about someone’s physical appearance also teach girls to associate theirs’ and other girls’ bodies with their worth as a person. This mindset perpetuates the implication that girls are disposable. This is not only extremely hurtful to the girl being directly targeted, but also teaches girls that they have to compete with their female peers to be worthy of attention/importance from boys. 

According to Global Web Index, 41% of TikTok’s users are between the ages of 16-24. This becomes a problem when young, impressionable people who are still trying to figure themselves out are exposed to this blatant yet unconscious mistreatment of girls. Other girls especially can soak up this mindset without thinking about it, and this can inform their thoughts on self-confidence, dating, interacting with other girls, and more. On their own, the direct implications of TikTok can seem small and insignificant; however small things add up and, after all, inform how the big questions will be answered.

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