TikTok’s Role in Reframing Gender Inequality

by Adeline Ferolo

An online social media platform helps young people tackle issues of gender inequality.

Content Warning: This article discusses sexual assault and rape culture.

TikTok. This social media platform’s name incites a variety of reactions. You might recognize it for its role in singlehandedly dismantling a pro-Trump rally in Oklahoma back in June of 2020—or maybe this is a familiar app that you open every morning just seconds after waking up. Regardless, TikTok is at the center of communication, and sometimes news, for most teenagers. I admit to spending over an hour per day browsing, sharing, and commenting on videos. While to some (mainly my parents) this average may seem unreasonable and unproductive, I view my time on the platform as essential. TikTok is a place where I can laugh at weird videos, watch the daily lives of other teenagers, and feel a welcoming sense of community. And most recently TikTok has introduced me to prevalent social issues—specifically the current culture perpetuating gender inequality in our daily lives.

For instance, a video recently popped up on my feed illustrating the impact of syntax structure, or the organization of a sentence, in relation to reporting and framing sexual harassment statistics. The video explained the media reports on sexual harassment through a “blame” focused lens. Whether conscious or not, this lens shifts the issue of sexual harassment to argue it is merely a woman’s issue. For example, a statistic may be farmed as “a certain percentage of women were sexually harassed last year” and not “a certain percentage of men sexually harassed women last year.” This video immediately resonated with me, especially after reading a New York Times article detailing the sexual assault accusations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. I believe the increase of sexual assault reports following the #MeToo movement have fallen subject to the aforementioned syntax structure. Consequently, this perpetuates the notion that sexual assault reports are not necessarily true and instead redefining them as accusations to be proven.

After viewing this, I began to see more TikTok videos highlighting topics of sexual harassment, rape culture, and misogyny—and their roles in our daily lives. Many videos reference a study conducted by a United Nations entity in the UK. It found that 970 out of 1,000 (97%) women ages 18-24 living in the United Kingdom have experienced sexual harassment (Thompson). The #97percent hashtag on TikTok has accumulated 201.9 million views. This hashtag has served as a platform for individuals to address and share their own personal experiences with sexual harassment and assault. The hashtag has also promoted videos similar to the one I initially viewed, criticizing the lack of intersectionality concerning sexual harassment. For instance, sexual harassment is not exclusive to ciswomen, but all individuals—no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation. The hashtag has created a safe space where individuals can tell their stories and others can actively choose to listen to them. For those who are interested in learning more about how to prevent sexual assault and strengthen public policy, please check out RAINN—the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States.

About Adeline Ferolo

Stories, arguably, are the most underrated form of currency that floods the digital world, through highlighted Instagram posts and viral YouTube videos. As a rising senior at Richwoods High School, Adeline Ferolo aims to express herself and the issues closest to her authentically through engaging, storytelling, and other mediums. She is a competitively academic student. Her interests range across many creative outlets—as an active writer for the Richwoods Shield, the monthly school newspaper, and as a contributor to the youth-led blog EnviroWrite, which explores rising environmental concerns. Recently she has discovered her passion for the medium of film after attending the National High School Institute summer program at Northwestern University, where she had previously studied creative-intensive subjects ranging from sustainable architecture to graphic design. Within the past year, she has focused her efforts on exploring the visual medium in both her academic and personal life, opting to create experimental videos for class projects and continuing to explore different aspects of the visual language.

Nely Hatfield

by Mina Phetsavanh

Mina Phetsavanh is a sophomore at Peoria High School. Always more of a quiet person, she has ventured out and explored more of what she can do. Phetsavanh finds herself thinking more and more about how to improve and think about the things around her more positively. She want to be a psychologist or an entrepreneur. Phetsavanh also wants to be able to help those going through a tough time get out and see a brighter side in life. For now, she will keep on making art and making the best memories she can.

I painted someone that inspires me: Nely Hatfield, a teacher at Peoria High School. I never looked at a celebrity and thought, ‘Wow, they inspire me!’ Instead, those who inspire me will always be the people that surround me. Nely Hatfield always welcomed me with warm smiles and has been there when I needed to vent. Hatfield has patience and calmness, speaks words that no one else has spoken, and can make anyone’s day just by being near her. That is what inspires me—I want to be someone like that.

Hyunjin Hwang

by Khennedy Adkins-Dutro

Khennedy Adkins-Dutro is a sophomore in the preparatory school of the arts program at Peoria High School. Her interests include finding new music, learning to paint better, reading, writing Drabble stories, and watching Anime. Adkins-Dutro’s goals in life include becoming an influence to many younger people who look like her. She wants to show them that if you put your mind to something, you can do anything. Adkins-Dutro hopes to become a singer one day and travel the world. Ultimately, her goal is to be happy and content with everything that happens.

Hyunjin Hwang is a member of a K-Pop boy group Stray Kids. He was born in Seongnae, Seoul, South Korea and attended the School of Performing Arts there. Hyunjin is Stray Kids’ lead rapper, main dancer, and sub vocalist. In his K-Pop profile, it is noted that he wanted to become a singer because being on stage made him very happy and the music is very appealing to him. Before his debut, Hwang was a Trainee with the JYP entertainment company for two years where he met his fellow bandmates.

Leonora Carrington

by Ella Van Kuren

Ella Van Kuren is a 15-year-old student and Peoria High School. She enjoys art, music, and sleep. She hopes to improve her art skills greatly and continue to create as long as possible.

Leonora Carrington was one the longest surviving artists of the surrealist movement. She was born into a rich family in Britain and was expected to marry a wealthy person. However, she wanted to do more. Carrington faced sexism in the artist community. Additionally, her family put her in a mental asylum where she was forced to lie in her own excrement. Once freed, she moved to Mexico and became a recluse. She made beautiful artworks and sculptures up until her death in 2011.

Boy George

by Clarice Gates

Clarice Gates is in 11th grade at Peoria High School, where she studies in the preparatory school of the arts program taught by Joseph Orteza. She hopes to become a professional artist. You can find her artwork on Instagram: @ claricelikestodraw.

Boy George is the lead singer of my favorite band, Culture Club. Culture Club was most popular in the 1980’s. Boy George shocked everyone with his gender-bending appearance and soulful voice. He had several number one hits and came across as educated and witty in his TV interviews. He slowly fell into drug addiction starting in 1984, and at the worst of times had a 400-dollar-a-day heroin habit. He eventually got help, overcame his addiction, and is now touring again with Culture Club at the age of 59. He has also worked as a DJ, music producer, and mentor on “The Voice UK.” Boy George inspires me never to give up and always have faith in the impossible.

Andy Warhol

by Madison Seling

Madison Seling is a senior at Peoria High School. She is an aspiring artist that loves to draw and paint. Seling has an impressionist style of drawing and likes to paint portraits of people. She hopes to go to college and become a dermatologist whilst keeping up with art on the side.

As the leading figure in the visual art movement known as “pop art,” Andy Warhol is one of my favorite artists. He did what good artists do: he created art and shared it with the world, along with his message. His art was explosive with color and composition. He was a fan of repetition and patterns. Andy Warhol used technology to reproduce and replicate art. He felt that if the intention to create and send a message was present, then that work was art. Though most people know him for his pop art, Warhol played a large role in defining the concept of “art.” It is thanks to him and many others that we can produce so many wonderful things and are able to call it art.

Faces of Influencers

by Doug and Eileen Leunig

This month Giving Voice unveils “Faces of Influencers,” a feature dedicated toward the art of portraiture. This feature is a companion of a project Big Picture Peoria began in the fall of 2020 called “Portraits of Peoria.” That project involves local professional artists portraying significant personalities who have made a difference in our community. The portraits will be displayed as public art on storefront windows in downtown Peoria starting this spring.

Similar to that concept, “Faces of Influencers” will be a feature in Giving Voice for student artists. The portraits won’t be exclusively focused on local personalities. Instead, students can draw from the vast global pool of influencers who are a part of their lives. Their heroes are in front of them on TV, sports, the internet, and in their homes and schools. The only criteria we asked students to consider was to choose someone they admire. In addition to their art, we asked them to write a paragraph about themselves and their reason for choosing their subject.

The premier of “Faces of Influencers” comes from five students in Joseph Ortez’s and Carmen Sanchez-Lorente’s art classes at Peoria High. Ella Van Kuren, Clarice Gates, Mina Phetsavanh, Madison Seling, and KhennedyAdkins-Dutro have given usan insight into the world as they know it.

Each month Giving Voice will focus on art classes in different schools. The practice of mastery begins early and is sustained when encouraged. We are looking forward to Giving Voice continuing to encourage and mentor more creative expression of all kinds.

If you know of students who are interested in participating and expressing themselves creatively, please put them in touch with us. Email us at bigpicturepeoria@gmail.com. It gives us great pleasure to provide the vehicle of expression for creativity.

Celebrating Clean Water

by Trent Miles

The 28th Clean Water Celebration (CWC) is a two-day event held every spring at the Peoria Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois. Due to the pandemic, the program will be held virtually this year on April 26, 2021. Students will be able to discover how to change the world by conserving water—our most valuable resource. Illinois students, teachers, industry professionals, scientists, and environmentalists need to be working together to revolutionize the way to talk about water.

The CWC is a one-of-a-kind experience, “a phrase coined by a small group of stakeholders, now expanded nationwide” said by Karen Zuckerman, chairperson of the Sun Foundation’s Clean Water Celebration and the CWC Navigating Committee.

The aim is to instill in students the value of thinking globally while living locally. The CWC contributes to the discussion about the right to have access to clean water and raises awareness in the community and schools about the value of water conservation and environmental sustainability.

I felt it important to gain the perspective of someone who could tell me more about the CWC. Luckily, I had the chance to chat with Karen Zuckerman for a Q&A session.

Q: What is the celebration going to look like this year?

A: “Due to COVID-19, it was especially hard planning the CWC. This year, we worked with the sponsorship of Illinois American Water to develop lesson plans that engage in environmental sustainability. Interactive Studios has created a way that enables students to travel along the Peoria Riverfront to visit with and learn from Clean Water Champions: scientists, artists, conservationists, storytellers, and youth advocated through a YouTube channel.

Q: What are ways students can get involved?

A: “The event is catered towards artists, students, and teachers who have a passion for environmentalism. Essentially, during this event, you can create action planscentered around protecting water. Students can get involved at home or at school when teachers create lesson plans structured by CWC material. Leadership roles such as being a presenter or key-note speaker are available during the celebration. For example, we had East Peoria High School, Pekin High School, and Pontiac High School facilitate a presentation. Again, getting that hands on experience is essential.”

Q: What do you want your audience to get out of this experience?

A: “The Clean Water Celebration is a unique event that began as a collaborative effort between the Rivers Project and the Sun Foundation. We hope that students can think globally, act locally, and increase knowledge within community and schools about water conservation.”

Q: What is your favorite part about the CWC?

A: “My favorite part about the CWC is the networking component. The ability to see all ages gather together in one space and listen to each other. Being able to create and execute lesson plans centered around change within our environment… It’s very important that we get a fresh outlook on water conservation and making sure that we are talking about it.” For more information about the Clean Water Celebration, visit the Sun Foundation’s website.

About Trent Miles

Trent Miles is a senior at Richwoods High School and has been working for Big Picture Initiative since May 2020. He is academically competitive and a well-rounded student. Trent is the founder of his school’s Climate Action Club, Vice President of the Minority Academic Advancement Project, and a contributing Op-Ed writer for The Shield (school newspaper). Outside of school, he is heavily involved in Jack and Jill of America, where he currently serves as the Chapter Legislative Chair. Trent is also a writing intern for the New York-based platform LORYN, where he manages the featured artist page, interviews artists, finds talent, and more. He has earned several writing and Presidential Community Service awards. Trent contributed more than 1,000 hours of community service through various service projects, including a winter wear drive, collecting toiletries, and helping at the Neighborhood House in Peoria, Illinois.

Broadway’s Got A Long Way To Go

by Anjali Yedavalli

New York City’s Broadway has a reputation for being inclusive—for being a space where you can find yourself and forge connections unlike any other. Yet the diversity problems that plague its L.A.-based counterpart (aka Hollywood) seem to plague it, too.

An annual study from the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that during the 2016-2017 season, 86.8% of shows were written by white playwrights and 66.8% of the roles were played by white performers—which would make them the only group to be overrepresented in terms of their relation to the demographics of New York City. Another study by Actors’ Equity found that women and people of color find far fewer job opportunities on Broadway compared to white male artists. They are also more likely to land jobs in lower-paying shows.

These statistics are not all that surprising. Broadway, like many industries, was created as a “bastion of white patriarchal supremacy,” according to Tony-nominated playwright Dominique Morisseau. “It’s maddening we’re still having to express why the American landscape of storytelling should reflect the American landscape of human beings,” she observes. This requires that people of color have a presence behind the scenes—as directors and playwrights—to tell these stories in the first place. So, what are the other steps to be taken?

When actress Aisha Jackson, who played Princess Anna in Broadway’s Frozen, stumbled across a cast listing on Disney’s Facebook page, she said she “made the mistake of reading the comments.” “People were saying Anna couldn’t be Black,” Jackson notes. “People were saying, ‘Oh, I’m sure she’s good, but a Black Anna, really?’”

Actor Noah J. Ricketts, who played Kristoff on Broadway, discussed an incident where someone burned a hole through his cast picture hanging outside of the theater. “I looked over at my white counterparts… their pictures were pristine,” he recalls. “So, why me? And why aren’t there more principal roles for people of color on Broadway?”

It is not an actor of color’s job to make audiences feel more open to diverse casting, so the only way to create a world in which people of color are accepted is for the industry to make it a priority to give them equal opportunity. Thankfully, this has already begun. In 2017, Shoba Narayan became the first South Asian female in a principal role on Broadway since Bombay Dreams. Jackson and Ricketts paved the way for Black actors to make iconic Disney characters their own. Shows like Ain’t Too Proud, Tina, and the Tony Award juggernaut Hadestown feature a cast that is predominantly people of color.

Not every show with people of color can be as financially or critically successful as Hamilton, but maybe they don’t have to be. They just have to continue getting made, and spaces must continue to be carved so that all versions of all stories can be told on a Broadway stage. In the meantime, casual theatergoers can play their part too. Supporting artists of color through their social media and attending shows that embrace diversity both on and offstage can help show the industry what is really important.

Learn more about diversity in the theater industry at bfrj.org, and read Playbill’s “5 Steps Toward Making Theatre More Diverse” by clicking here.

About Anjali Yedavalli

Anjali Yedavalli is a senior at Dunlap High School. Aside from taking academically rigorous classes, Anjali is involved in Speech Team (IHSA State qualifier in 2020), Student Council, UNICEF Club, the school plays, Jazz Choir, and is the Madrigal Queen of Dunlap’s Madrigal choir. Anjali’s main goal in the community is spreading passion for both academics and creativity. She has organized and led multiple public speaking workshops for middle school students and volunteered her time at North South Foundation, an organization dedicated to funding underprivileged children in India. In addition, she has joined and contributed to the Dunlap Young Musicians, a student-created music group that performs at senior homes on the holidays. She is also active in her Sunday School (Chinmaya Mission) and has helped write promotional songs and plays to help fundraise for the school. Last but not least, Anjali is a classically trained Bharatanatyam dancer of Mythili Dance Academy and has contributed to shows that have raised over $500k for a variety of charities.

Empathy is Not A Weakness

by Emma Baumgartel

As a college student, it is common to meet many headstrong and assertive students that are incredibly independent thinkers. Being a person who likes to empathize with others, I felt like empathy didn’t have as much of a place in this self motivated atmosphere where everyone lives by the motto “toughen up.” I started to internalize the notion that being sensitive to others and willing to listen somehow meant that I wasn’t focusing enough on my own success—that it would be better to disconnect and let my emotions and sensitivity fall to the wayside. But that empathy and emotional sensitivity was and always will be a part of me, and I have come to understand that it is actually a good thing.

As a psychology student, I have learned a lot of different things about human behavior and processes. After reading studies about empathy and relating the findings to my own life, I began to see how empathy is incrediblyuseful. Being able to understand another person is a strength and not a weakness. Empathy plays a huge role in friendships, romantic relationships, and even in highpressure situations such as negotiations. In relationships, being able to understand a partner and validating their emotions is the surest way to offer them emotional support, which in turn strengthens the relationship as a whole. In negotiations, understanding the goals of the person you are negotiating with can create rapport and result in a scenario that benefits both parties.

However, within a professional, sales driven environment, empathy is not considered a necessary tool for success—despite research showing the social benefits of having empathy. As I get closer to entering the workforce, I have also noticed that emotional intelligence and empathy never seem to be high on a list of employable skills, unlike “time management” or “complex problem solving.” Though empathy isn’t often mentioned as a key skill in the workplace, it is crucial for collaboration and communication and can result in better professional outcomes. The bottom line is this: empathy has a place wherever human connections are made and therefore should be encouraged.

Students, including myself, often hear that effective communication or forming working relationships is key in the workplace. But the truth is, without being able to relate on an emotional level, conversations will not be nearly as effective, and those human connections will be weaker. The ability to create authentic connections by relating to others is a huge strength… and it all comes from empathy.

Empathy is not an innate process. But according to psychologists studying empathy such as Jamil Zaki, empathy is a skill that can be learned—by police officers, doctors, even those with racist beliefs. Zaki explains that in today’s society where political or social divisions abound, a person can challenge their empathy skills by attempting to understand a person you disagree with. If you want to learn more about Jamil’s research on empathy, click this link to watch his TED Talk.

About Emma Baumgartel

Emma Baumgartel is an incoming senior at Lake Forest College in Illinois, majoring in Psychology with a minor in English Writing. Baumgartel previously attended Richwoods High School. She has always enjoyed writing—especially about current events and psychology—and believes in advocating for the truth. At Lake Forest, Emma was a writing tutor as well as an editor for Inter-text, LF’s social science journal. Next semester, Baumgartel plans on joining the college newspaper to gain more writing experience. After graduation, Emma is planning on continuing to submit articles to online publications, as well as a blog on Medium.com. She also hopes to land a professional content writing or marketing role.

Art by Aryanne Westfall

Aryanne “Ary” Westfall is a sophomore at Bradley University majoring in Animation and minoring in Theatre Arts. She is pursuing a career as a storyboard artist and enjoys creating graphic novels in her free time. As a member of the Digital Art Team, Westfall spends her time connecting with other artists and creating as much as she can.

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