TikTok: GenZ's Latest Addiction
By Lisa Leung
I don’t need the Screen Time feature on my phone to know that I spend far too much time on TikTok. That being said, I know for a fact that I spend, on average, at least 4 hours a day on the app. I’m well versed in all the trends, dances, and audios, and I, despite not being famous on the app (I have a small, but close-knit following of 53 people), have posted 89 videos to my public profile. Most of them just pile on to existing trends, but even the ones that aren’t based on other people’s work are relatively tame: me jumping on a trampoline, documenting outings, making jokes about current events - typical, ordinary content. I’ve stayed clear of anything too risque or serious, mostly because my friends follow me. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I hadn’t strongly considered learning a dance where people "threw it back" (think modern twerking). There’s a lot that I’ve strongly considered doing, but decided against it to save face.
I guess that’s understandable. We’re all still teenagers on the Internet, and we should be mindful of what we post. It's probably for the best. It’s good that I exercise restraint.
That being said, plenty of people don’t. Although the platform is populated mainly by teenagers - and a surprisingly large population of middle schoolers - there's an alarming amount of content that people would call inappropriate. When I first downloaded the app over the summer, TikToks were less serious, more based on comedy and memes. But as more and more people joined the app, more serious TikToks became mainstream. The people that went viral were people who made TikToks of original dances, acting out "Point of Views", or posting aesthetic videos of their outfits, makeup, and looks. If I had downloaded the app now, I’m not sure I would have found it entertaining. I could easily have found it shallow and moved on.
But people are right when they say that the more time you spend with something, the more you tolerate it. I do not find the app not entertaining - instead, I’ve grown used to TikToks where people are genuinely proud of their art, makeup, outfits, or dances, and I’m here for them. Guys and girls alike are entitled to make whatever content they want. At this point, everyone is just having fun anyways, and no one is really above anything,
Unfortunately, a lot of TikTok users don’t seem to think so. Even though TikTok is meant to be a platform where everyone can have fun, it’s hardly that simple. People are constantly scrutinized for their content, and no one is safe from hate or harassment. And even then, that hate and harassment is grounded in deeper societal biases and attitudes. Specifically, although TikTik has an extremely young demographic, it manages to be a shining example of the differences society's treatment of boys and girls. Like most of forms of discrimination today, the differences are subtle, but certainly present.
You’d think comedy would be an area where anyone can be welcomed. Anyone can crack a joke, right? If it’s funny, it’s funny. Except that’s hardly the case. On TikTok, being a girl means your posts are far more likely to be subject to criticism, especially when it comes to comedy. If a guy makes a post that people find unfunny, people tend to comment sarcastic quips and witty remarks like “wow, you got the whole squad laughing” or “ceo of jokes.” People point out how the TikTok isn’t funny, and that’s the end of it. However, when a girl makes a TikTok that isn’t funny, it becomes a reflection of her entire gender. Whole comment sections are filled with comments like “the f in women stands for funny” or just straight up unfiltered language without decorative packaging - “women aren’t funny.” With absolutely no subtlety, these people shamelessly announce stereotypes outright. Before seeing these comments, I knew people didn’t like specific female comedians like Amy Schumer, but I wasn’t aware it was part of a general perception that women can't make good jokes. But even when a girl is praised for making a TikTok that people (mainly boys) find funny, it still somehow manages to reflect on how her gender is less funny. In this case, people will comment “this is the only girl that IS funny” or “guys, we found a funny one.” You really can’t win. Or crack a joke, I guess. That too.
But hey, there’s more! A lot of TikToks these days are just based on being attractive. Both guys and girls will make aesthetic TikToks featuring their bodies and faces, which is all fine. But girls are consistently more judged for it. When guys post TikToks that feature their looks, most people praise them for it. Girls will hype them up. A smaller group may note the “cringeyness” of the TikTok, and will comment things like “How do you go to school after this?” But people move on, and for the most part, the response is generally positive. But when a girl posts the same type of content, people are more critical of the girl’s confidence and ego. In spite of the fact that both guys and girls have TikTok accounts where the only content is 'vain' or 'shallow', girls are the only ones who get called out on it. I’ve never seen any guy receive the comment “he seems a little too in love with himself” but I see it all the time on girls. People just view girls being confident as arrogance or narcissism, when there genuinely is no difference between the content produced by the two genders.
Finally, when it comes to being flirty on TikTok, once again, there’s a clear double standard. When guys post thirst traps, the response is generally similar to TikToks that people perceive as vain. Like the vain TikToks, people will generally praise them, with a small population of critics who simply pose questions about how appropriate the content is for the platform. When a girl posts something flirty or more promiscuous, people take to personally attacking them. Comments will echo attitudes that say girls should be modest, that girls should be “good.” A prime example, and the reason for why I felt inclined to write this article in the first place, was a 15-year old tiktoker named Sissy Sheridan. At Playlist Live, a convention where social media influencers of all kinds go to mingle and collaborate, the girl made a series of TikToks flirting with her friends to the same audio. As a result, she got a huge amount of hate. People commented things like “she wants the whole crew” or “you shouldn’t be proud of this.” Essentially, for making TikToks that were clearly not serious and just for fun with her friends, she was being slut-shamed. At the same time, another creator, Max Dressler made the same TikToks. He was supposedly parodying Sissy’s content. Except it was hardly a parody - it was the same format, audio, etc. And the comments were vastly different. Instead, people commented, “ceo of the whole crew” or “he a player.” Even now, people hate on Sissy. Even though TikTok can often be more progressive than other platforms, people still have deep-rooted ideas on how girls should act vs. how boys should act. When a girl is comfortable with her sexuality, even suggests being flirty with people, she will receive hate. When a guy does the same, he’s either praised or just ignored.
Even people who try justifying their responses - saying that both examples weren’t appropriate - cannot deny that the extent and intensity of hate the girls got was more than the equivalent hate received by guys. There shouldn’t be this type of criticism towards guys or girls. Unless someone is being actively hurt (which no one is), there is nothing wrong with either guys or girls being flirty or confident. While you might not be comfortable with how someone expresses themselves online, that’s not a reason to enforce your standards on other people, especially if you only enforce them towards girls.
I’m going to be honest. Even as I write this article, I can see it coming across as vapid or irrelevant. It’s such a specific topic that it is only relevant to one small demographic. But that doesn’t make any of this worthy of dismissal.
No matter the platform, cultural attitudes towards guys and girls are deep-rooted, even in our youngest generations.
If we allow these attitudes to continue receiving support, that sets up yet another generation to perpetuate them. Moving forward, more thought must go into our comments, likes, and replies. This might not seem 'that deep', but in my opinion, everything is exactly 'that deep'.