Commodified Insta-feminism is inherently toxic, and it’s time for radical change.
2020 was the year of internet-generated terms that would perplex our former selves: Insta-feminism, cancel culture, receipts, publishing bias, systematic racism… the list goes on. This isn’t to say these issues and their accompanying terms are fresh off the press; they had been societal issues for years and even centuries before Instagram discovered them. But, as we all know, 2020 was the year of online technology and chronic social media use – because, let’s be honest, what else did we have to do? The concept of Insta-feminism is a complex one… I have been a feminist since my early teens and I admit to getting a portion of my information from Instagram infographics, statistical posts, and “influencers” who support the movement. It’s hard not to see Insta-feminism in your feed these days. Yet, the content is often limited to a handful of cis White women with substantial followings and support from big agencies. So, is Insta-feminism and its publishing sphere producing authentic change-making content, or is it simply money-making performative activism?
Insta-feminism has been the stage for the shockingly public Insta-battle between feminist influencers Florence Given and Chidera Eggerue aka “@theslumflower”. Both women are feminists, artists, and influencers who have both written self-help style books on feminism, independence and self-love after building their platforms through Instagram. They promote their views on gender equality through attractive infographics, anecdotes of their own misogynistic experiences and feminist resources – all on aesthetically pleasing Instagram feeds. Both are also feminists in real life, but they are the epitome of Instagram feminism.
Instagram itself was where Eggerue took to to accuse Given of using feminist theories and concepts in her book Women Don’t Owe You Pretty, without properly accrediting Eggerue’s What a Time to Be Alone which released the same content first. She also called out White people more widely for gentrifying feminist theories and ideals that Black, marginalised women fought their lives to achieve. “Receipts” were posted on Eggerue’s Instagram story of annotated WhatsApp conversations with Given discussing the plagiarism accusations, and it’s all very public. Eggerue has been gaslit and discriminated against for demanding justice for the Black feminist community and their achievements, and this is unacceptable. However, these attacks came from the same society who cancelled Given and sent her death threats for even releasing the book once they got wind of the tea on Instagram. This is the reality of Insta-feminism’s toxicity, and indeed Instagram’s itself: no one wins. This isn’t one White influencer’s fault; there are dollar-coated puppet strings controlling the world of Instagram, search algorithms and the publishing market, and they’re much bigger than a 600k Instagram following.
There are two segments of the industry that have been exposed as systematically racist in this situation: the management/marketing teams and the publishers. Eggerue has been undermined and exploited while Given has been commercialised and ridiculously over-promoted. One of the biggest examples of this exploitive marketing strategy is the Google search algorithm manipulation: when searching for Eggerue’s book, Given’s comes up alongside it, with a striking five-star rating and a discounted price. This forces unconscious bias upon the customer who has searched specifically for What a Time to Be Alone and takes sales away from Eggerue by suggesting another title, with Given’s book in question being the very root of the problem. There are countless hurdles put in the way of Black authors by the sales market and publishers, and I am only listing a few – another crucial piece in the exposure of these agencies is the fact that both influencers are managed by the same team and share a publisher. That means that there was an extensive, well-paid team of people responsible for editing and proof-reading Given’s work, branding it as “new wave feminism” after reading and publishing Eggerue’s book with blatantly similar content. The publishing agency marketed the White woman’s book as a “bestseller” until it became one, and I’m ashamed to say this conniving collaboration got me too as I hadn’t heard of Eggerue’s book until the drama began to unfold. I was brainwashed into thinking Given’s was the first of its kind, like thousands of other women, and it was easy. That’s our inherent White privilege in play at the hands of the industry, and we need to demolish it.
Why should the Black woman whose ancestors fought for women’s rights need to blast herself all over Instagram to be heard, to be prematurely dropped by her management (Diving Bell Group) as a result of using her voice? All while the White woman has cheques coming in with little to no controversy? Notice how I am not using their names, as this isn’t a standalone incident; the influencers themselves are not the ones who should be cancelled nor blamed, as it’s the systematically biased publishers that should be taking the heat for strategically creating this situation. Feminism is founded on unity and solidarity, yet these young authors have been pitted against each other at the hands of patriarchal capitalism.
This is one example in a deep-rooted abyss that is so much larger than Instagram feminists and their literature. It has showcased the very worst of both the marketing and the publishing agencies by highlighting sales are valued higher than content and accreditation. Both pieces of literature have been turned into Instagram aesthetics, caused grief and hurt for the authors, and created gigantic cheques for the publishers. Florence Given has acknowledged that her ignorance is due to her privilege as a White person and has vowed to donate a significant amount of her 2021 royalties to Black-run charities to resurrect her blunder. We as a White society will never be finished in the fight against racism and our privilege, but it’s time to hold the system accountable for the exploitation of young women and the Black community – the system is driven purely by money and sales, thus making the industry inherently racist and so much bigger than two Instagram influencers.