Feminist Education via YouTube (or, the Female Commentary Channels You Should Be Watching)
By Keshia Mcclantoc
(image from ShadesofNoir.org)
“Joanne, I wanna talk to you Joanne…” a woman says to a camera. She is sitting on a throne in front of red tapestry, candles alight all around her. She’s wearing black, a tall witchy hat, and her dark makeup is gorgeous. Over the next hour and forty minutes on camera, she does in fact, talk to Joanne – only in this case, Joanne is J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and most recently making headlines for her transphobic rants on Twitter. The woman speaking to J.K. Rowling is Natalie Wyn, better known as her YouTube moniker, ContraPoints, and the video she is making is a comprehensive essay on feminist theory, gender performance, conversion therapy vs. gender-affirming therapy, and societal reinforcement of misogyny. The video currently has just shy of 5 million views and the 40k+ comments on the video continue the conversations that Wyn began in her video.
Though arguably one of the more popular commentary channels on YouTube, ContraPoints is but one of many feminist-centered YouTube channels that have cropped up over the last few years, and if you’re not yet watching any feminist commentary channels you should be…like right now. But first, a brief history of the YouTube commentary genre.
Commentary YouTube, a genre on YouTube wherein content creators share video essays that provide ‘commentary’ on a variety of subjects, usually through the lens of popular media, but with a critical eye toward larger sociocultural issues. Commentary YouTube has more or less been around since the platform first came into being in 2006, but the genre began to gain momentum in the mid-2010s, particularly with creators like Cody Ko, Danny Gonzales, or Kurtis Conners (Bailey). I’m nothing if not an English major at heart, so watching YouTubers suddenly be interested critically deconstructing movies, tv shows, or games, discussing symbolism within specific works, and making larger arguments about what media could mean for a society as a whole was ridiculously exciting for me. But there was one issue with the early rise in Commentary YouTube – it wasn’t diverse at all.
From 2015-18, almost all popular commentary channels on YouTube were run by white, male content creators who almost always identified as cisgender and straight as well. These demographic markers alone weren’t what eventually turned me off their channels, and in fact, I still watch quite a handful of the original commentary channels today, but after a while the lack of diversity really got to me. These commentary channels tended to reiterate the same handful of arguments across the same pieces of media again and again. The arguments were solid and the media they were making commentary on was compelling, but I just needed more. As Aarony Bailey says in “The Rise of the Female Commentary YouTuber”:
“I can imagine that there were so many women and young girls out there who grew bored of this lack of diversity and started wishing for more. Wishing to see someone like them talk about the things they care about on YouTube, a platform that praises itself for inclusivity” (Bailey).
And, well, as usual, women were the answer to my desires. In the last few years, YouTube has seen a huge rise on female commentary channels, and with them has come a huge range in diversity. Commentary YouTube now has a vast array of content creators of all gender identities, sexualities, and races. And while there is still a long way to go in creating a fuller picture of diversity on Commentary YouTube (for instance, how white content creators are still much more likely to become popular over Black content creators), there is now a solid foundation for this diversity to continue it’s growth. Or, as Tiffany Ferg says in one of my favorite videos from her channel, “Commentary YouTube is more than just funny white guys…” (Ferg).
More importantly, Commentary YouTube is doing the kind of feminist educational ethic that it felt like it was lacking in before. Many of the female and/or queer content creators are discussing gender, sexuality, race, and class within their video essays with the intent not only to provide ‘commentary’ on the issues they’re discussing, but also with the express purpose to educate, inform, and provide further space for discussion within the comments section of their videos. These videos are expansive and well-researched and if I’m being honest, tend to be more coherent and well written than many of the papers I turned in throughout my undergraduate career. At the same time, these videos are accessible and fully public, available to any sort of viewer who is open and willing to learn from them. Or, as Mary Retta says, the feminist side of Commentary YouTube “create[s] cultural criticism that is not only thoughtful and eloquent, but also funny, relatable, and ultimately, accessible. As a medium, video allows topics that might otherwise seem academic or intimidating, like politics and race, to be discussed in a casual setting that invites group discussion” (Retta).
For instance, take Khadija Mbowe’s “Critical Race Theory (a beginner’s guide)”, which discusses the history of CRT, its most prominent theorists, and discusses the various applications within society. Mbowe manages to both explain the intangible complexities of CRT while also making tangible is uses within our present political moment. Or how Tiffany Ferg’s “We Must Protect Meme Kids” not only makes light of and jokes about the internet phenomena of memes but also challenges viewers to think critically about the circulation of identity on the internet. There’s also Shanespeare’s criticism of surveillance of women’s bodies in “Gender Performance and Surveillance of Womanhood,” Jordan Therasa’s discussion of internalized misogyny and misandry in “pick me boys, nice guy syndrome, & incels” , or Rown Ellis’s argument for nuance queer representation in “The Rise of Asexual Representation”– each of these videos (and so many more) are an incredible example of feminist ethos to education, one that is theoretical yet accessible, critical yet empathic, and always, always pushing for a more forward and diverse means of thinking through societal issues.
Sometimes, I think, these videos have educated me more than my years of undergrad and grad school ever have. Maybe that’s dramatic, but I can’t help thinking about how the feminist ideas that weren’t available to me until I took my first WGS class in college are now available to educate such an incredibly wide-ranging audience, and that’s pretty damn awesome. I’m not alone in finding a feminist education via YouTube. Bailey notes that that “the female commentary community held my hand and guided me through [my] journey to self-discovery. These women have educated me on issues I had never even thought about, or issues I knew about subconsciously but never had the words to fully vocalize them. On top of all of this, I was able to watch creative content made by women who looked like me” (Bailey). So, if like us, if you want to begin your feminist education via YouTube, here’s a list to begin with…
· ContraPoints - https://www.youtube.com/c/ContraPoints
· Tiffany Ferg - https://www.youtube.com/user/tiffanyferg
· Khadija Mbowe - https://www.youtube.com/c/KhadijaMbowe
· Shanspeare - https://www.youtube.com/c/Shanspeare
· Rowan Ellis - https://www.youtube.com/c/RowanEllisVideos
· Kaz Rowe - https://www.youtube.com/c/KazRowe
· Modern Gurlz - https://www.youtube.com/c/ModernGurlz
· Jordan Theresa - https://www.youtube.com/user/snapbacksnstarbucks
· PhilosophyTube - https://www.youtube.com/c/thephilosophytube
· mina lee - https://www.youtube.com/c/minale99/featured
· AdaOnDemand - https://www.youtube.com/c/AdaOnDemand
· amandabb - https://www.youtube.com/c/amandabb
· film fatales - https://www.youtube.com/c/filmfatales
· Yhard zayd - https://www.youtube.com/c/Yharazayd
· Salem Tover - https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA6EOsjlr2CpUX3IOGkg8VQ
And honestly, so many more, but this ^ is where to start.
Works Cited (others linked within post)
Bailey, Aarony. “The Rise of the Female Commentary YouTuber,” Shades of Noir, 4 July 2021. https://shadesofnoir.org.uk/the-rise-of-the-female-commentary-youtuber/
“Commentary YouTube is more than just funny white guys…,” YouTube, uploaded by TiffanyFerg, 9 January 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sB9LaXEYb8.
“J.K. Rowling | ContraPoints,” YouTube, uploaded by ContraPoints, 26 January 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7gDKbT_l2us&t=2809s.
Retta, Mary. “Black Women YouTubers Are Still Fighting to Be Heard on LeftTube,” Teen Vogue, 24 May 2021. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/black-women-youtubers-are-still-fighting-to-be-heard-on-lefttube