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The Problem With Instagram feminism

Social media has become an unofficial forum for feminist agendas and discussion, and this is exceptionally true for Instagram. Influencers, authors and activists can use their stories, posts and reels to highlight issues and concerns with a like-minded audience. But this sentiment is not universal. Despite the majority of well-meaning activists and creators doing their bit for gender equality, there are a number of accounts that are hindering this potential.

If you follow any equality or activist-related accounts on Instagram, your Explore page has probably introduced you to accounts with ‘feminist’ somewhere in their username. These accounts often post quotes or memes that anyone who identifies as female might resonate with and it is ambiguous who they are run by. They often post relatively surface level content that won’t offend users or Instagram guidelines, which usually translates to millions of followers. However, behind the inspirational or body-positive quote you just liked are men profiting off this online ‘activism.’

The most notorious offender of this deceitful online presence is the Instagram account @feminist, from which two men are profiting off the feminism of their followers. The account is run by Jacob Castaldi and Tanner Sweitzer, the founder and director of Contagious Creative. What they don’t want you to know is that @feminist is part of a much wider network of other accounts including @chnge and @march, and this network has accumulated a following of more than ten million Instagram users. These accounts are all used to discreetly market Castaldi and Sweitzer’s clothing company CHNGE, which you probably wouldn’t know because they don’t declare this anywhere on their multitude of accounts.

While there is an ethical question mark over the use of a feminist Instagram account to discreetly market their own brand, Castaldi and Sweitzer are not entirely at fault. According to the @chnge account they donate 50% of their net profits to charity and they also donated $200,000 to the Black Lives Matter movement. While their charity should not be overlooked, it is still ethically concerning that their profit, and in turn their donations, are in part generated off the back of feminism. @feminist is only one example of the plethora of Instagram accounts that have the word ‘feminist’ or ‘feminism’ in their username, so it is unfair to generalise that all activist Instagram accounts with ambiguous ownership are always owners of a clothing brand. However, it is no coincidence that Sweitzer and Castaldi have accumulated a large following of young women with very palatable, diluted feminist content.

At first glance, these ‘feminist’ accounts appear to post seemingly surface level content that just passes the threshold of ‘feminist’ content. But if we look a little deeper at accounts such as @feminist, we can see that they barely match this criterion. The account is limited to the bare minimum of ‘feminist’ content, the majority of its posts restricted to body positive content. Now this kind of content IS important, especially in the Explore pages and feeds of young women and girls. However, this becomes problematic when we recognise that Castaldi and Sweitzer are not circulating content from a place of neutrality. Ultimately, they are preying on the vulnerability of young women who enjoy body positive content as a marketing tool for their own product, not because they care particularly deeply about the negative consequences social media can have on the way young girls regard their bodies. It is not an accident that this is the main theme of their posts. There is an endless list of concerns that feminists are talking about – FGM, white feminism, the gender pay gap and child brides to name a few, but these do not accumulate the likes that shift the clothes of the brand behind the account.

The case of @feminist should be seen as a microcosm for the marketing and algorithms at work behind the façade of Instagram. Fortunately, not all the accounts that fall under feminism or any other type of activism are quietly trying to sell you clothes. But it should not go unnoticed that the case of @feminist is representative of a much larger trend, where the concerns and conversations of feminists are being shadowbanned or glossed over or, in this case, used as a tool for marketing.


Victoria is a third year Religion, Politics and Society student at King's. She is considering a postgraduate degree in Gender Studies and a future career in journalism. She enjoys yoga and reading classic English literature.
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