What the ‘chav check’ trend reveals to us about the failings of mainstream feminism.
Since its leap into common usage in 2018, TikTok quickly became synonymous with younger adults and teenagers dancing, lip-syncing, and having harmless fun. Fast forward a couple of years and – in typical young-people-online fashion – TikTok has become a place for young people to make anything from comedy videos to short educational clips about feminism and politics. This is unsurprising. After all, isn’t Gen Z arguably the first generation made up of people who are making conscious efforts to become socially aware from an incredibly young age? The first generation who are hell-bent on holding themselves and their elders accountable for their ‘problematic’ behaviors, especially online?
However, just a scroll through my ‘For You’ page tells me a quite different story. Among the short, informative clips about politics, and harmless videos of pets and the like, are videos of people dressed up in tracksuits, school uniforms with loose ties, thickly drawn eyebrows, and orange-toned fake tan. The voice-overs to these videos are usually crudely imitated Liverpool accents and exclaim in a wincingly lisp-heavy manner that they’re performing a chav check. This tag alone has 161.7M views and thousands of videos and (other than classism, but we’ll get to that later) there is one disturbing commonality: these videos are disproportionately depicting women.
If you look through the comments of these videos, especially if you’re not from the United Kingdom and therefore not familiar with the ‘chav’ stereotype, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is a harmless case of British people poking fun at themselves. However, the vast majority of people making these videos are performing makeshift, clunky slang while holding cigarettes, bottles of cheap alcohol, and even fighting.
This, in tandem with the use of the word ‘chav’ – a slur used against people of working-class origins – makes it clear that these videos are far from an innocent comedy. Instead, they are quite clearly implying that your average working-class woman’s hobbies du jour are uncouth, unsightly, and absolutely subject to mocking despite the fact that these are deeply hurtful and offensive things to imply about a large majority of women in the UK.
What’s even more bizarre about this trend is that many users are creating content that is otherwise socially aware while simultaneously bullying their idea of a ‘chav’ woman in other videos. One user even has a video condemning the actions of those who poke fun at so-called ‘basic’ girls, yet openly mocking girls who wear heavy make-up and tracksuits in the next. In another video, the user is expressing their rage that too many girls in the TikTok alternative scene are secretly just posers in disguise. The comments are overwhelmingly in defense of these women, inquiring, “why do you hate women?” and asking the user to just “let women live.”
However, if you look at the comments on the videos which are creating these chav caricatures, they are full of laughter instead. If you were to only look at the former video, you’d be forgiven for thinking that most TikTok users (bear in mind that the majority of these users are under 25) have feminist ideals. So, how, in the golden age of ‘girls supporting girls’ did we reach a point where videos on the ‘chav check’ tag are accompanied by support rather than rightful feminist outrage, as seen in the comments of videos poking fun at other groups of women?
The truth is that despite young people’s recent strides towards a more inclusive, feminist world, class is consistently left out of the question. Mainstream feminism will, of course, never be the answer to dismantling a patriarchal society, as seasoned feminists will tell you time and time again. However, we cannot escape the fact that mainstream feminism is where young people will first learn about gender equality. And it is these mainstream feminist writers and influencers who, despite mentioning intersectionality occasionally, consistently push their middle-class ideals to the front and fail to mention that working-class women often suffer from misogyny to a greater extent than middle-class women.
While you cannot blame mainstream feminism for centuries of classism within the UK, you can certainly make a link between these failings and why otherwise socially aware young people are bullying working-class women by projecting their classist stereotyping onto them. After all, they’ve never had these views challenged before.
This lack of challenging the obstacles which working-class women face – despite the fact that obstacles such as slut-shaming, the pay gap, and a lack of female CEOs are regularly discussed on sites such as TikTok – is a clear sign that mainstream feminism is dimming feminism’s radical light. When ‘shareable’ phrases such as ‘support women’ are emptily brandished everywhere, without a greater conversation about providing additional support to marginalized women (such as women who are members of the working class), they become skewed and understood in the way their audiences want to understand them.
For example, middle-class women drink, smoke, dance with their friends all the time on sites like TikTok – as they should. Yet, no one is poking fun at them because to do so wouldn’t fit in with the ‘girls supporting girls’ messaging of mainstream feminism. Yet, when this is a body attached to working-class life, it becomes free game for mockery. A woman in pretty designer clothes drinking cocktails with her friends is palatable and pretty while a woman in ordinary clothes drinking something cheaper is – according to the respectability focused confines of mainstream feminist ideals – unpolished and laughable.
Apparently, it’s only ‘respectable’ girls that are to be supported and protected, and nothing within the current Internet culture embodies this more than the ‘chav check’ trend. Sadly, this is exactly what happens when feminism becomes reduced to empty phrases rather than real, supportive conversations. In other words, this is what happens when mainstream feminism reigns supreme over a form of feminism which is class conscious, as well as intersectional.
The truth is that it’s working-class women who feminism should be striving to protect – especially those who have a platform online and influence countless numbers of young people. It is working-class women who disproportionately face slut-shaming – something which is a rightly ‘cancellable’ offense on TikTok – within the mainstream media. Their bodily choices are constantly questioned by right-wing newspapers such as The Daily Mail who will slander poor women for having children and claiming the benefits which they are perfectly entitled to.
You will not see the same headlines about rich families with twelve children. While both mothers in this situation are loving, caring, and have their best interests at heart, the poorer woman will be condemned as the journalist will claim her as ‘classless,’ ‘beastly,’ and ‘a drain on respectable society.’ In other words, the same stereotyping that these TikTok teens use to create their ‘chavvy’ women characters. A disturbing comparison, given that right-wing, anti-women propaganda is otherwise absolutely rejected by the very online young people of today.
With all this in mind, it’s clear that more needs to be done in terms of educating young people, or else classism is set to become the oppression that is left forgotten about by those striving to become more educated. It’s not the case that these TikTok creators are [always] being deliberately offensive.
In fact, many of them active on the tag have come forward and said that they had no idea that chav was a classist term or that it held such heavily weighted meaning. So, it is clear that more has to be done in terms of speaking about class, amplifying working-class feminist voices and actively condemning classist actions – which, at least in terms of the ‘chav check’ – has barely been done, at least on a widespread level.
Without these actions, it is without a doubt that a generation of feminists, activists, and generally politically involved young people will grow up ridiculing working-class folks in a way that is reminiscent of the early 2000’s days of Ladette to Lady and classist Catherine Tate sketches. And that’s a part of history that we certainly don’t need repeating.
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