By Jodie Van Kirk, for CNN
Lilly Caraeff’s feed on TikTok is a pretty typical teenage experience.
She posts videos of herself lip-syncing to dance tracks alongside boyfriends, friends and family. Sometimes the clips are caught in the background of her bedroom. Other times they are taken from her bedroom window, or from the living room. Lily has a serious side to her; she attends college in Connecticut.
As Lily says about her TikTok feed, “Basically, I try to post everything that I like and everything that I think is attractive.”
Lily became popular on TikTok after her boyfriend, Justin Raymond, posted a video of her lip-syncing to The Chainsmokers’ “Something Just Like This” on March 24. In Raymond’s accompanying caption, he joked: “If this ‘video’ doesn’t get you some girl, nothing will.”
On the same day, Lily’s 669-friend Instagram profile was joined by a record number of followers: more than 125,000. Raymond uploaded a video of himself lip-syncing to the song, along with the accompanying captions: “This girl is so nice,” “Get off her,” “I want to fuck her,” and “I wish you were my girlfriend.”
What went wrong?
Raymond’s profile is now flooded with tweets, memes and comments asking the question: “Why is my “Man Crush Monday” video so popular?”
And it’s not just Lily’s fans who think the video should have been deleted. One viewer suggested a viral video should be more wholesome, showing a rose petal stain on a stranger’s forehead or a woman wailing in agony after a horse kick. Some people said it reminded them of “Botanical Sexism” — a 1930s study of sexist comments about male trees that, according to Caraeff, has the word “sexism” banned from common usage.
Apparently, some friends were calling Raymond a “degenerate” and saying they were disappointed they “knew nothing about the backstory,” Caraeff told CNN over email. But, Raymond told BuzzFeed: “There has been no bullying whatsoever, nothing from my friends, nothing from anyone that I know — this has been totally up to me.”
Lily and Justin aren’t the only ones who disagree with the popular theory. Laurel Harper, a plant ecologist at Tulane University in New Orleans, said she’s “enormously sympathetic” to it, but that the idea is wrong. “The video isn’t sexist because men don’t say anything,” she told CNN. “And women don’t say anything about men.”
A different take
Though the debate hasn’t sparked a full-blown sociological debate yet, the online community is busy creating its own “mockumentary” to discuss Lily and Raymond’s video. The video shows the many “commentating botanical men” on the social media platform, after which they discuss the age-old “man erotica” theory.
The idea that sexism is a part of everyday life for men and women has inspired feminist research for years, Caraeff said. It’s easy to explain to someone why the reaction to Raymond’s lip-syncing video is reactionary to a “progressive social moment,” she said. But Caraeff is telling this story for young women who think they’re the first-ever to hear it.
Harper is also using this moment to raise awareness about the fact that young women like Lily are often judged by how they dress, their status and what they’re wearing.
“There are still a lot of ideas about femininity in relation to the way young women dress, and how that can be associated with things like being feminine and submissive, or being the homemaker and mother,” she said. “There are still some misguided ideas about what things mean, and that people will take you more seriously if you act a certain way.”
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After Raymond posted the original video, Lily realized she could “influence somebody,” she said. As a mom, she could help people feel “more positive towards themselves.”