Opinion | ‘Woke’ thirst traps plague social media activism

By Vidhi Patel, Columnist

Trigger warning: This column mentions sexual assault.

Tiktok has created a new era of social activism. With a wider reach of awareness and more accountability throughout platforms, it has created a lot of changes in how people see social issues. 

However, because of this new standard of accountability, there has been a drastic rise in “performative activism.” As it sounds, performative activism is when people speak out simply to get praise and popularity, rather than real devotion to the cause. 

Unfortunately, for all the good TikTok has done for social awareness, it has bred a new form of performative activism: “woke” thirst traps. 

These videos usually consist of men creating a normal thirst trap — a video highlighting their attractive qualities — with a message relating to social issues, such as disapproval of sexual assault or violence against women. Some of the more produced videos include a skit of the man’s friend being misogynistic while the thirst trapper looks angry and tells his friend to shut up. 

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The comments on these thirst traps are the reason why men continue this genre of videos. “He’s one of the good ones” or “notice how he’s hot” are the most common reactions these posters elicit. In praising men for having the most basic human decency, we are perpetuating a culture in which men can be fawned over for simply saying that sexual assault is bad. 

The sad reality is that the bare minimum for feminism is out of reach for many people. In an aggressively patriarchal society, it is not that unbelievable that women would be excited and impressed by men who claim to oppose rape culture. 

There are men on TikTok who are doing productive work in bringing legitimate awareness to feminist problems. They use their platform to acknowledge their privilege and boost female voices. 

However, the men who use feminist issues to get attention from women are not the allies they pretend to be. This public display of “woke” opinions is manipulative and performative. 

These thirst trappers are not posting their nuanced opinions and experiences to bring awareness to women’s issues. They are using these problems as a tool to get attention and likes. 

Thirst trap culture is thriving on TikTok, proving that it is unnecessary to have any substance in a post to get attention. If you’re going to make a thirst trap, just lip-sync to a song for likes and comments instead of exploiting — and pretending to care about — sensitive problems. People will not be mad at a thirst trapper for not talking about feminism when their platform is usually unrelated to social issues. 

This type of performative activism has done more harm than good. It is commodifying serious problems that marginalized people are going through. Whether it be these thirst traps or posting a black square during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, some people’s activism has become a list of useless tasks to check off in order to prove one’s decency. 

People who are genuinely interested in being socially active should research topics they are ignorant about or listen to marginalized groups’ perspectives on ways people can help. There are countless organizations and charities dedicated to bringing real change to the world that could always use support and awareness. There are many opportunities to genuinely help  — and you don’t have to take your shirt off.

Vidhi is a sophomore in LAS.

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