by Carmina Masoliver

In December, I found out that the Instagram account, simply titled ‘feminist’ is run by two cis-gender white men: Tanner Sweitzer and Jacob Castaldi.

Accounts like ‘feminist’ become popular by reposting relevant content from others without creating their own. This means they have more time to simply put out more content. The focus of the account revolves around it being relatable to their target audience, and so part of the responsibility also falls with us as the audience, to make sure we follow the tagged content creators, supporting them rather than simply ‘liking’ posts, and interrogating who is behind such popular accounts when that transparency isn’t there.

This story first broke in 2018, originally reported by Sam Sedlack on Medium, then reuploaded on his own website, which has recently been gaining more attention. In 2019, ‘feminist’ was the third account listed as one of the 21 Feminist Instagram Accounts You Have to Follow ASAP’ and at the time of writing, the account has 6.5 million followers.

Up until recently, I was one of them.

One might argue, that if we are striving for an ultimately post-gender feminism, it shouldn’t matter that this account is owned by cis men, that at least the support of feminist values is enough. However, should we be satisfied with this? Isn’t the gender of the creators more crucial in this case, where profit comes into the equation? How can you claim to be an ally when you are taking advantage of and capitalising off of the very people you claim to support?

the account [is] nothing more than simply performative.

First of all, the ‘feminist’ Instagram page is mostly made of other creators’ content, and only recently it began crediting the content creators. Still, the issue remains that the original artists whose content was previously used on the page, won’t be getting their cut, as the high profile of this account is being used to drive people to CHNGE – their fashion brand, benefiting them financially as well as in terms of cultural capital. Previously happy to steal images from artists in marginalised groups, such as the disability activist Ezra Wheeler, credit where due is the minimum they can do. This is especially the case as these creators are often silenced by platforms like Instagram, and run their accounts at a grassroots level, most never able to see such a high follower count. Cecilia Nguyen, a journalist from The Revival Zine, reported that CHNGE have evaded questions regarding payment for others’ work, using paid media shares, and the content shared across the board is purely focussed on building audiences rather than dismantling the patriarchy, which ironically this ‘feminist’ Instagram account represents – making the account nothing more than simply performative.

The owners of the ‘feminist’ page, also own ‘itsfeminism’, which has 543 thousand followers, ‘march’, which has 325 thousand followers, and ‘chnge’ which has 2.1 million followers. According to Nguyen, whilst their fashion brand CHNGE ‘donates 50% of their net profits to charitable organizations and has donated over $200,000 for the Black Lives Matter movement and $250,000 to other organizations’, there has been a lack of transparency that makes the company’s motives more questionable.

Whilst there are numerous similar accounts, if the owners really seek to be the allies they claim to be, Nguyen states, ‘They need to educate about all feminist issues, support and uplift womxn of color, and actually add to the discourse about the movement’. Instead, they care more about comments for the sake of algorithms that will give them more influence than actually engaging with or moderating those from internet trolls.

[Sweitzer and Castaldi] still tried to cover their tracks rather than accept accountability

So, what have Sweitzer and Castaldi done in response to these accusations? Well, they’ve deleted posts that link the ‘feminism’ account to CHNGE, suggesting they still tried to cover their tracks rather than accept accountability. This example highlights that cis-men like Sweitzer and Castaldi would be better to call themselves allies and try to be that, rather than label themselves feminists and then get it so catastrophically wrong.

Giving credit where due, they have issued an open letter on Instagram Stories and their website, whereby they claim they have listened and since posted a slide of ‘9 Black Womxn Businesses to Support this Holiday Season’. In their statement, they have promised to have a women-based, LGBTQ+, BIPOC, team managing the feminist platform no later than January 31st, 2021. We’re yet to see if they follow through.

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