“This one is for ladies only, so if you’re not a girl, keep scrolling.”
This format has become its own rhetorical device on TikTok, popular for the last year and a half or longer. At times, it’s a tongue-in-cheek play on the concept of reverse psychology, with the creator specifically wanting men to watch, while at other times the remainder of the video might indeed be something like period cramp advice.
In either case, it’s emblematic of the last vestiges of binary gendered thinking among a Gen Z user base that has largely adopted the understanding of gender as a spectrum. Likely, many of those who engage with the line, either as creators or viewers, know that period cramp advice is applicable to those who don’t identify as a lady, too. But it’s only one piece of a greater phenomena that’s been spreading across TikTok ever since it began being something more than just a dance platform: People, young women especially, are using the platform as a sort of diary, and in perfect fashion, we all want a chance to glimpse within it.
It’s a more innocent component of a broader trend originating on TikTok. The popularity of TikTok creators on Onlyfans and the girl-next-door-alone-in-her-bedroom aesthetic in adult content are simply the more explicit renditions of the larger theme of providing an inside look at people doing what we all do — sit on our beds and play with our phones. This “secretive” method of narrative-building and our desire to consume it all plays into a familiar tendency to want to read someone’s diary, to peek into the locker room, to hear what the Other has to say when they believe their Other might not be around.
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At the same time, though, this tendency has also revitalized a form of confessional blogging. Whereas in previous years, women may have exploited their most traumatic experiences for $50 on a site like xoJane, today’s women have the option of exploiting their most traumatic experiences for a chance at TikTok fame. “Aye yo, something traumatic happened that changed my life check,” is a commonly repeated piece of audio on the app regularly used in earnest, despite its glib framing. In the original, for example, a woman discusses being raped by two men at a bonfire, failing to have charges brought upon her perpetrators and attempting suicide.
Like the “ladies only” TikToks, though, people regularly use the format as a joke. Among the top-viewed videos with the audio, numerous examples include people showing “footage” of themselves allegedly about to have a seizure or breaking their back, where the footage is ultimately of them just twerking. Still, it appears that women using the audio are more likely to do so authentically, revealing past assaults, health issues or random accidents that were indeed both traumatic and life-changing.
Men also use the audio, and there are plenty of videos that begin with a “if you’re not a guy, keep scrolling” premise. Again, though, these are primarily made in jest. More so than the “ladies only” videos, the “guys only” videos seem almost exclusively created with the intention of being seen by non-men.
Instead, this confessional genre and theme of peaking into the “opposite” gender’s world seems largely situated among women creators and male viewers. As TikTok user Joshua Bernstein tells me, men watch these “ladies only” videos “for the same reason that boys in the 1980s read Judy Blume.” Another male viewer, Jordan Cooper, says, “I now know how to shave my pubes and conquer period cramps” from sticking around after he’s technically not supposed to.
If anything, this overarching theme seems to point to the general conclusion that young women continue to shape much of our contemporary media, and that they’ll continue to be the subject of this voyeuristic gaze. Perhaps, though, the TikTok era places the camera itself into the hands of these young women for the first time, making this content actually impactful. Maybe some men are watching TikToks about period cramps out of voyeuristic curiosity, but there will still indeed be women learning something useful from it, as well.