When we hear something offensive or discriminatory in person, we expect our friends to step in and stand up to this hatred. Well, what if we see something vile and offensive through our phones — and the only person in the room is us? Cue TikTok creator Drew Afualo, riding in on her horse to roast bigots on the internet. Except the horse is her toilet, where she films most of her videos.
Afualo, a 26-year-old Samoan woman from Inland Empire, California, is widely known as TikTok’s misogyny watchdog. On her TikTok page, you’ll find videos of Afualo clapping back at transphobes, taking down men who are fatphobic, defending plus-size creators, and clips from her weekly podcast "The Comment Section" (which you can watch on YouTube or wherever you get podcasts). It’s not all about trolling the trolls though; Afualo also gets serious like when she details the harmful effects of assault and coercion.
After finding herself unemployed at the start of the pandemic, Afualo wanted a new start. Her boyfriend encouraged her to post on TikTok because he thought she, with a bite to her humor, would thrive on the app. After all, her Snapchat rants, of everyday things that irritated her while in college, were already popular among her friends and family. Her “KING,” as Afualo calls him, was right; Afualo started to post her videos in March of 2020 and her page took off in a consistent upward trajectory, growing from a million followers in August 2021 to over 7 million by April 2022.
What you see on TikTok is Afualo through and through. On our call, Afualo is funny, thoughtful, authentic, and kind. Afualo prides herself on always being the person to step in and educate those spreading harmful verbiage about people and communities she cares about. This is a weight most women, specifically women of color, carry. When asked about taking on this responsibility for millions of people, you can see Afualo’s face light up as she says, “It's been a really unexpected but wonderful privilege that I've been gifted. This platform was given to me by all of these people. So the honor is truly mine to be somebody that they look to for courage and strength. And it is something I don't take lightly.”
Being one of the main faces on our FYPs, Afualo is inundated by thousands of tags everyday from TikTok users, most of them being women. It’s not easy to see bigotry everyday and have people relying on you to insert yourself into it, and then have people come for your neck when you’re just trying to stand up for the community you’ve built and care about. “Do my feelings get hurt when you call me a fat buffalo a million times? No,” Afualo says. “But when I have women coming after me, that's the only kind of hate that really hurts me because I feel like I'm on your side, girl. I'm trying really hard to fight for you. That's the only time that I don't know if I want to do this anymore. It feels like I'm standing in a boat where I'm constantly shoveling out water and it just keeps coming in. I'm constantly working overtime to try and make us stay afloat and negative comments from women doesn’t help.” Afualo takes a pause and then does her signature cackle after adding, “But general hate and vitriol doesn't make me not want to do it. It only makes me want to do it more.”
Afualo is empathetic to the fact we’re all born into a patriarchal society, and internalized misogyny is a large reason that she sometimes is the recipient of hate from women. As a true intersectional feminist, however, she balances this truth with the assumption that she has to spend her time providing educational resources for those who have yet to unlearn their internalized misogyny. She encourages her followers and bigots on the internet to do their own research, and not rely on women, especially women of color, to do the educational labor for them.
Google is free. I'm not going to hold your hand and walk you through why you shouldn't put on a public app why you hate women.
“It's our job as contributing members of society to unlearn it and workshop it out. We're all born with some sort of bigotry and it's our job to unlearn it,” Afualo says “But it's not my responsibility. It's not my job to educate you. I've never said I'm going to teach you. I've never said I will give you a work cited page of all these resources to look up. Google is free. I'm not going to hold your hand and walk you through why you shouldn't put on a public app why you hate women.” Afualo calls out the bigotry, but expects you to take the time and effort to educate yourself, the way many intersectional feminists do.
While most of Afualo’s content is geared towards sexism, it would be remiss to not point out the blatant racism she experiences. “If I was a small white woman, if I was a white man, [haters] would never treat me the way that they treat me now. The vitriol I get wouldn't be so violent if I wasn't a Brown woman and I wasn't a non-skinny woman. The backlash wouldn't be this hateful.” Afualo recalls a time when a thin white creator modeled her TikTok content off of Afualo’s, using the same mannerisms and verbiage as Afualo to post a clapback video. Men in the white creator’s page left comments such as “tough but fair,” Afualo says, a courtesy she never received as a Brown mid-size woman.
But that doesn’t stop Afualo; she’s energized by her family, attributing her mom’s strength and independence, as well as her dad’s standard of treating women well, as what fuels her unwavering commitment to carry so much for the community she’s built online. And when she sees the positive comments, it’s easy to see why Afualo chooses to continue battling bigots on the internet. Afualo is visibly emotional as she details DMs and comments from followers who have told her that her videos have given them the confidence to stand up for themselves. “I've gotten so many sweet DMs. Some that move me to tears. I've even gotten some people telling me that my videos gave them the courage to report their assault.”
While on vacation in Mexico recently, a woman started to tear up while telling Afualo that her videos give her so much confidence as a fat woman and they’ve changed her life. When describing the interaction, Afualo says she still has goosebumps, explaining “she was in tears and I went back to my room and I was so emotional because stuff like that is truly what keeps me going. It's very difficult to do what I do. I feel like a lot of times people water it down because I'm so funny.” Many of these positive DMs and interactions are from younger people, but Afualo recalls a woman in her 50s who finally left her abusive marriage because her videos gave her the courage to stand up for herself. This is an impact Afualo never thought she would have.
The networks and education social media has given us access to is a gift, but when we’re left to self-filter the rampant misogyny, it can be overwhelming. Afualo's message to the girls, gays, and theys who look up to her is to never allow bigotry to make you feel smaller. “Don’t shrink yourself down to make men feel confident and comfortable because it's your job. You’re not their mom.”