I watch a lot of YouTube. If I were to collect the data on my viewing habits, I’d hazard a guess that YouTube would easily claim the top spot over traditional TV channels and the streaming services I (and my parents) subscribe to. I have the app on both my phone and television, and after a long day of work or studying, flipping through videos feels like the most relaxing option. It’s the perfect way to end a day of having YouTube on in the background constantly while I do more productive things.
My choice of videos is reasonably limited: I like book bloggers, detailed pop culture video essays, deep dives into esoteric topics like theme park histories or abandoned buildings, cooking shows with good production values, chatty movie talk, and musical playlists of the same six artists. There are videos I’ve watched over and over again, forever delighted by them as if they’re my favourite movies. I know what I like, and I tend to stick to it. Unlike, say, literature or cinema, where I’m frequently more adventurous, YouTube is my foray into the familiar. It’s a site that seems perfectly designed to feed that part of my mind that craves the stuff I’ve had before.
This usually means I’m hesitant to try new channels unless they come recommended by trusted sources. YouTube may encourage you to keep watching whatever is next on the playlist but its Wild West nature and penchant for housing some of the most toxic people on the internet makes such explorations a frantic stab in the dark some of us have no desire to try out. Simply looking for videos of your hobbies or the pop culture you love will inevitably lead to the site recommending you an endless series of 45 minute screeds on why that thing is SJW cancer or another sign of Hillary Clinton’s evil.
Most of the time, YouTube just recommends the same faces. There are major vloggers that YouTube have invested heavily in, with tens of millions of views to their names and the zealous fan-bases to match. Beyond the Logan Pauls of the world, there are countless men screaming at video games, fresh-faced 20-year-old guys with armies of indistinguishable bros and acts of buffoonery that have somehow become calling cards. I’ve lost count of the number of times YouTube has tried to convince me to watch PewDiePie or the Paul duo or whatever kids the Fine Brothers have reacting to things now. Anytime I watch a movie review, I am recommended even more white men reviewing the same movie, or a panel of them sharing near identical opinions.
There are a number of reasons why YouTube has become like this. For one, the site, like Twitter, seemingly has little interest in dealing with harassment and abuse. Why would any non-straight white dude want to put themselves out there in such a personal and immediate medium if they knew that abuse was not only inevitable but impossible to tackle? YouTube was supposed to make entertainment a democratic process, but it cannot help but play into the same issues that plague every other corner of the internet.
I found myself playing into this problem. I didn’t want to risk encountering upsetting bullshit so I just stuck to the same old videos, even as many of them began to bore me. I wanted more from YouTube film criticism and industry talk, but the options seemed so pointless. I felt like I was perpetuating the problem and buying into the myth that women just didn’t like vlogging.
So, I decided to try a little experiment.
For one whole week, I decided that I would only watch women on YouTube.
This plan involved a few rules.
First, the videos in question had to be either female only or majority women. Second, the videos had to be the sort of stuff I would usually watch, meaning the aforementioned topics I tend to spend all my time looking for on YouTube anyway. Third, I couldn’t just stick to the few women YouTubers I already watched. I had to be willing to step outside the box. If possible, I would avoid the major celebrities of the site, mostly because I don’t watch them anyway (except for Good Mythical Morning, and even then, I only tune in when they’re eating disgusting stuff).
On paper, this seemed pathetically easy. Really, this was hardly a challenge, I originally thought. It’s not like I was committing to watching women only directed films for a year, as one of my friends managed to do. A week of being more selective with my YouTubing should be a breeze.
And then I started it.
What I immediately learned was that YouTube didn’t make such a task easy. A seemingly simple search for a movie review by women was seldom a matter as easy as that sounded. Looking for female critics’ thoughts on Annihilation, which I had watched that week, turned into a task and a half. Of the first 25 results from ‘Annihilation Review’, only three were by women, either on their own or in a pair, and one of those videos did not reveal its reviewers until you clicked on it. Another search for the new Tomb Raider film offered 4 women out of 25, with two videos being by the same woman and another being heavily down-voted and accused of ‘SJW agendas’ because she had a problem with the film focusing too much on Lara Croft’s dad. Racial diversity was almost non-existent, particularly with videos by women of colour. If my challenge had been focused solely on videos by women who weren’t white, it would have been an even tougher task.
YouTube has become my go-to viewing option of choice mostly out of convenience, but this challenge forced me to dispose of such notions. There was nothing convenient about taking the time to slowly and methodically look for new faces, especially since YouTube saw fit to bury most of them several pages into the search.
There were bright spots to be found amid this search. Taking time to look allowed me to find the sort of stuff I’d always wanted - Horror cooking shows! Feminist anime reviews! Deep dives into folklore and musicals!
There were areas of YouTube that seemed more openly feminine, for obvious reasons. If I wore or in any way cared about make-up, the challenge would have been easier. I am a former book blogger, so I enjoyed seeing more of what the BookTube community had to offer. In its earlier days, I had found that subset of the reviewing world to be rather tedious, but it’s evolved into something far more interesting and varied in its approaches. More importantly, it’s a community whose lifeblood remains young women who are passionate about literature and social issues.
YouTube, like any social website, is what you make it. You don’t have to deal with the obnoxious screamers or cults of ‘Well, actually…’ if you don’t want to. Even when the site itself seems determined to shove such atrocities into your presence, there are ways around it. That’s not to say that such matters are as simple as ‘I just ignore the messes’, because it shouldn’t be like that. It also shouldn’t be so darn difficult to find something as simple as a group of diverse women talking about pop culture on YouTube. They are there, but they’re often tough to find, and it isn’t helped by the reality of how inhospitable many creators find the site. YouTube fosters certain mentalities and styles. It’s one of the reasons you see so many dudes screaming in your faces about Rey being a Mary-Sue or the degradation of the male species through Ghostbusters remakes. Can you blame any woman who wants to find her creative outlets elsewhere?
If I have learned anything from this brief cultural experience, it’s that YouTube suffers from the same problems as any other part of the entertainment industry. As much as they big up their records of change and encourage claims of anti-establishment freedom from the old ways, it’s a site that is still beholden to the expected issues of diversity, harassment, advertising and public relations. For casual viewers like me, the task is to be more adventurous and now just swallow what the site feeds us. Given how tough it is for the women who are trying to make YouTube their own, the least we can do is give them a few views.
Who are your favourite women YouTubers? Let us know in the comments.
(Header image from Pixabay)