YouTube and I have a love-hate relationship. I love it for being one of the best places to procrastinate for hours and hours and hours and still feel like you’re learning something useful (shoutout to the dozens of cooking and make-up videos I’ve watched), and for encouraging new and fresh content on the internet—for giving marginalized voices a place where they can speak and find a community. I hate it because it’s kind of shit in the way YouTube treats some of its content creators (see: incorrect flagging of videos for copyrighted material and an unwillingness to take back said flags) and that it’s basically a huge breeding pit for some of the worst scum on the internet, in and out of the comments. For better or worse, I tend to stay to my own little corner of videos, but thanks to a video from vlogger Paul Roth, I found about YouTube’s #DearMe initiative and I couldn’t be happier. Of course, as with anything on the internet, not everything surrounding the tag was positive.
For those unaware, back on the eighth of this month, people on and offline celebrated International Women’s Day, a day where women, especially women in the labor industry, are celebrated for the strides that have been made and those that are still being fought for as we speak. As a part of this, YouTube introduced the #DearMe tag (see: video theme) in which popular lady YouTubers record a video speaking to their younger selves. As with the spirit of International Women’s Day, these videos were posed to all women, with the intention of allowing younger girls of this generation feel closer to some of the very people they may watch religiously, or maybe to find kinship or a kind word from someone they don’t even know.
The teenage years are some of the most tumultuous years in anyone’s lives, and teenage girls have it harder than most. What with puberty, the media still perpetuating an unrealistic image of women and most things teenage girls liking getting shit on by so many different groups (people who make fun of bath bombs and John Green novels, I’m looking at you), sometimes all anyone wants is to feel like they fit in somewhere for a little bit. By utilizing a platform like YouTube in this way, many girls around the world will get to have a chance to feel that connection, to feel like they’re not alone. If I’m being completely honest, even as a twenty-something, these messages still inspire me to keep reaching for my dreams, even if I have my off days, which we all do.
A project like this almost perfectly encapsulates the sense of community women should foster between each other. We should seek to uplift, to support, and to grow from the experiences and mistakes of ourselves and others. It’s undeniable that there are still so, so many issues within feminism that need to be addressed—like becoming more intersectional on all fronts—however, movements like this that are open to every woman in equal measure (save for technological limitations) is a nice introduction to a larger community and a larger world view which is vital for getting that intersectionality going.
However, much like Paul Roth addressed in his video, these types of social initiatives are always met with some backlash. Honestly, by this point I’d like to believe we all know why verbal harassment is wrong and what damage it can cause to the people who are subjected to it, so I won’t be addressing that. Instead, I want to address something that is more perplexing to me: dudes that think #DearMe is for them.
One of the videos I watched for this—one on the first page of results, no less—featured a guy who, with no second thoughts, said that #DearMe was for vloggers of all genders. No. No, it wasn’t. In fact, almost none of the news sites that I checked to read up on this made the claim that it was for anyone but women and young girls. Yet even without that reassurance, from the way it was marketed to the date it was set up on, it couldn’t have been more clear that #DearMe was a tag for women to talk to other women and girls.
I highly doubt that intrusion on the tag was meant in a malicious way; however, it does continue the trend that every small concession a minority manages to chisel for themselves, the majority will always be there with a big neon sign flashing “what about us?” This is essentially what the men who are participating in #DearMe are doing—they are taking an event meant to validate and empower younger girls and turning it into something that those girls may not be able to relate to, effectively destroying the purpose all so that men have their moment to talk.
No one is saying that men don’t have important, valid, empowering things to say to the younger generation. No one is saying that men should not make videos addressing their younger selves, younger men, or younger people in general. What I am saying is that by using the #DearMe tag specifically, they are entering a safe space intended for women and further proving that women just can’t have something for themselves online. On YouTube, what little safe spaces exist are so vital, and to take that away—to not be able to wait for one day—is so incredibly selfish. Already YouTube is not a safe place for young girls. Lady vloggers are attacked for their looks, their opinions, and any other multitude of things much more harshly than their male counterparts, and more than a couple times I’ve heard the sarcastic “oh, I’ve bet we’ve offended all five of our female viewers” joke—adding to the feeling that even as consumers women are not appreciated on the YouTube platform. With sexual abusers like Alex Day still attracting a large female audience and other predators just as easily being able to convince fangirls to do any number of things on and offline, even conventions like VidCon can’t be safe places until better steps are taken to protect girls.
So what I’m saying is: can’t we have this? Can’t we have one thing that’s for girls, by girls? This one safe space, this one tag where girls can see other women talk about their successes and mistakes without being intruded upon by men? Y’all still have 364 other days in the year. I think you’ll survive.