By Claire Graman
TikTok and the Teenage Girl
Though TikTok is popular for all, expected to pass 1.2 billion users next year, young people have made the platform what it is, and specifically young women. According to The Atlantic, an estimated 40% of TikTok users are between 16-24, with a significant portion even younger than that, and there are far more female than male users. Teenage girls have made TikTok their own. It looks like there’s no limit to the creativity that occurs between TikTok and the teenage girl.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a short video sharing platform. Think YouTube but for even smaller attention spans. You can infinitely scroll through suggested videos or follow specific users to see their latest content. Though there are limitations, the diversity of topics is huge. To give you an idea, here some channels I enjoy seeing: a henna tattoo artist, a farm with fluffy red cows, and a dog named Bunny. Bunny talks by pressing buttons with prerecorded words. There are delightful personalities like Tobin Mitnick, who introduces himself as “a Jew who loves trees.”
TikTok actually reminds me of the nickelodeons of early cinema (which was also extremely popular with women). Random, short motion-pictures play infinitely. If you don’t like one, another will play soon. But instead of wandering in off the street and paying a nickel, you laze about your house. The app is free (except for some personal information).
Adding Your Voice to TikTok
Unlike nickelodeons, however, you can interact with these motion pictures, tailoring your feed and uploading your own videos. It’s the perfect post-modern medium. TikTok allows you to add your unique spin, asserting your individuality despite using repeated, recycled art. For example, in TikTok, you will hear the same songs over and over as they become shorthand for specific topics or scenarios. One is a remix sampling of the 1960s Shangri-Las song “Remember (Walking in the Sand)” but pitched higher. When the words “Oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no” begin, the song is synced to some comical mishap happening in the video, like a prank gone awry or a cute animal doing something silly.
It’s strange but fitting that The Shangri-Las, a teen girl band from the 1960s that epitomized youth culture of the time, is omnipresent on TikTok. This is one way to observe the connection between TikTok and the teenage girl.
Gender Politics: A failure to moderate
What then are the gender politics of TikTok? Like most social media platforms there are misogynist trolls, who can make hateful content as well as comments. TikTok very often fails to moderate them. Furthermore, the app’s algorithms overshadow people of color and appropriation occurs. Fourteen-year-old Jalaiah Harmon created the viral dance craze “the Renegade,” but a white teen, Charli D’Amelio, with her then 26 million followers, got the credit for it. Common Sense Media has a helpful parental guide on keeping teens safe on TikTok.
Girls Shaping Media
Ultimately, however, the platform gives girls the power to create and shape their media and to communicate with other girls. This can be powerful. In this fascinating article, Monica Castillo argues TikTok fosters performative feminism and raises consciousness about gender issues. For example, some teen girls dance with texts or voicemails from emotionally abusive ex-boyfriends. This demonstrates to other girls what this type of abuse looks like, while also triumphantly rejecting this controlling behavior.
Media scholar, Melanie Kennedy, argues that TikTok celebrates girlhood (though she notes, and criticizes, that this is a particular type of girlhood—namely white, slim, and affluent). Yet a place as large as TikTok has its diversity, and in fact it can be a safe haven for people of certain identities to come together, like the LGBTQ+ community. And the one thing that ideally connects all women, #feminism, has generated a whopping 782 million views.
Like any aspect of the internet, there are good and bad aspects to TikTok, but most of it is accessible: free, convenient, and popular. Film history teaches us that when technology becomes more accessible, art gets more creative. Lighter, cheaper cameras allowed French New Wave directors to film on the streets, aesthetically and ideologically breaking away from studio films. VHS technology aided the birth of Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry.
I believe YouTube, TikTok, and other user-created video platforms has and will continue to shape the future of cinema. And I’m thrilled to see that TikTok and the teenage girl will lead the way into this future.
For more on empowering girls, read The Power of Teen Girls.