Ever wondered how YouTube vloggers have the guts to broadcast their opinions to the world? Kat Lazo talked to HelloFlo about her intersectional feminism, and the importance of sharing those passions as a Latina woman.
For readers who may not know, what is TheeKatsMeoww, and what inspired you to do it?
Kat Lazo: TheeKatsMeoww is a YouTube channel aimed at challenging the media and questioning social norms through a feminist lens.
I’ve covered topics ranging from the representation of periods in the media to street harassment, from cultural appropriation to body image.
I was in my last year of college when I started TheeKatsMeoww. I had stopped acting because of how the industry limited my potential by stereotyping me and instead went to study advertising and marketing communications at The Fashion Institute of Technology, thinking I could change the industry from within. But as graduation was approaching, I had learned so much about how manipulative the advertising industry was that I knew I couldn’t contribute to the damaging messages young boys and girls receive from advertising, so I decided to make my own media.
There were a lot of YouTubers who I loved and inspired me like Franchesca Ramsey, Laci Green and Anita Sarkeesian. But none of them were Latina. I couldn’t find any Latina YouTubers making socially conscious videos. So why not me? I enlisted the help of my best friend Sara Waber to help and its been history since then.
Not only do encourage people to think critically about EVERYTHING including the media but Im now serving as a Latina representation on youtube; an example that yes you can be Latina and feminist.
Can you talk more about the numbers regarding inequitable representation in media—why is it so important to think critically about the media and social norms?
KL: As an Indigenous Latina, I rarely saw myself represented in the media and if I did it was a misrepresentation.
- Latin America has the largest population of African-descended people outside of Africa but yet the message the media sends out is that Afro Latinx people don’t exist. Instead the media often picks the lightest most white-presenting Latinx person to represent Latinx people as a whole.
- Latinx people are also the most underrepresented ethnic group on screen. We make up 17.1% of the U.S. population yet make up 4.9% of speaking parts in 2014.
- Latinas are 30% also more likely to appear on screen in “sexy attire” in comparison to 29% of Black female characters. 27.5% of White female characters and 25.7% of Asian female characters.
For me the lack of and misrepresenation of POC in the media is personal. Not only as a consumer of the media but also as an actress. I studied theater at LaGuardia High School of The Performing Arts and loved every minute of it. But once I graduated and started auditioning, I realized the perception the media had of me just because I was Latina. My four years of formal theater training didn’t matter, all that mattered was whether I could “say that a little more urban” (something I was constantly told in auditions) and whether I was willing to appear semi-nude on camera. The roles that I would always be called for would be “gangster girl,” “teen mom,” or what I like to call “the ambiguous best friend to the leading white protagonist.”
Going on these auditions took a toll on my perception of myself as a Latina and so I stopped acting. I don’t regret it because it allowed me to think critically about identity. Its important to think critically about the media we consume because whether you realize it or not, you internalize those messages. As people but in particular women of color, deconstructing the messages from the media is a way to protect and preserve ourselves from dehumanizing messaging.
Is there something specific that sparked your interest in feminism?
KL: I didn’t have just one feminist awakening moment. It was just an accumulation of injustices that I saw growing up like my mother’s unfair burden of the housework or being told that I should aspire to marry meanwhile boys were being told to dream of their careers. My introduction to feminism came by way of Tumblr. Tumblr blogs, pictures and graphics gave me the language for all the injustices I witnessed and experienced growing up based on my gender and other intersections of my identity like ethnicity and class.
What are your hopes for your future and the future of TheeKatsMeoww?
KL: Starting TheeKatsMeoww has opened so many doors and opened my eyes to the endless possibilities out there. I started TKM with the help of my best friend Sara Waber and thereafter started our own production company, June Baby Productions. My dream is to produce and direct our own documentary through JBP. I love learning and connecting through storytelling with people. I hope to make a documentary about being the eldest child to immigrant parents or about Marianismo, the counterpart to machismo in the Latinx community.
Can you describe one of your proudest moments since starting your YouTube channel?
KL: There hasn’t been one moment that sticks out, its really an accumulation of opportunities starting TKM has brought. Such as giving a TEDx Talk, being in a U by Kotex commercial/campaign or being named one of Mic’s 50 next impactful leaders of our generation.
But the most gratifying opportunity has been traveling to different universities and high schools and meeting other Latinas who shared their joy of seeing a fellow Latina on YouTube talking about social justice. I know how much media representation means and to realize that my presence on YouTube is making an impact on other Latinx people, was exactly what I set out to do.
What has been one of your biggest career challenges, and how did you overcome it?
KL: I’m currently the Video Production Specialist at Race Forward. Outside of that I do speaking engagements on an array of topics like feminism, Latinx identity and racism at universities around the country. I’m also currently making videos for Bustle and Uplift (a video series about sexual assault). Prior to that, I was freelancing, contributing my video production skills for different people and orgs like Feministing.
So I’d have to say that my biggest career challenge was embracing change and inconsistency. I’m a “type A” personality and with that comes an adoration for structure and stability. But ever since starting TheeKatsMeoww, life took a turn for the better; it challenged me to embrace the unknown. I love what I do, I love making digital video content and I love getting people to think critically so if that comes with an untraditional schedule so be it.
What was it like to publish your first video on YouTube? Do you have any advice for women who are thinking about vlogging?
KL: My first video was “Girl Can’t Eat A Banana?”, tackling being street harassed while eating “phallic” shaped foods. Publishing the video came easy because I didn’t have an audience so there were no expectations. But once I realized people were watching, thats when I got scared and started to overthink things. Which is why it was great to have started TKM with my best friend Sara Waber because she would reassure me that the content we were making was needed.
My advice to women thinking of making YouTube videos for the first time is to JUST START. My biggest hurtle, even to this day, is waiting till everything is perfect to make a video. But if we wait till then, we’ll never start. You need to just start from where you are and from there you’ll start realizing what you can do to improve your messaging, your video. It takes practice.
Second advice would be to think of yourself as a brand. Sounds obnoxious, but by “brand,” I’m referring to people liking consistency. So perhaps you have the same intro in all your videos or the same font, or at the very least your about me on all your social media platforms should be consistent and tell people who / what you are about. If you take time to think of what you are saying in your videos, then take time out to make sure its packaged in a way that’s visually pleasing- think thumbnails, YouTube banner, video color scheme, etc.
What has been the most difficult thing about being an activist and personality on the Internet?
KL: When I first started my YouTube channel, I called myself a Feminist Media Activist. But after meeting actual ground activists, the term didn’t seem right for the work I was doing.
But the most difficult think about a having a public presence online is the pressure to make videos consistent basis. I’m not like many YouTubers, I don’t make videos on a weekly basis. I make videos when I understand that that means I’m not as “popular” as others but I never got into making YouTube videos to be popular. I did it to add my voice as a Latina Feminist to the mix of socially conscious YouTubers.
What is the biggest misconception people have about feminism?
KL: I believe the biggest misconception about feminism is that its a white woman’s movement. It’s a misconception because that’s how its taught in our history books and because white feminists are the ones that get the most media attention, i.e. Lena Dunham, Emma Watson, Gloria Steinem, etc.
But women of color are not only participants of the movement, we are the movement. Folks like author and activist Alice Walker, Gloria Rodriguez of the Young Lords, labor rights activist Dolores Huerta and activist and poet Audre Lorde are all intricate parts of the feminist movement. Not only did these women and other feminists of color fight for gender equity but their feminism was intersectional focusing on other forms of identity that are equally as oppressed like race, sexual orientation, gender identity and citizenship.
Do you have any advice for young girls interested in social activism?
KL: You have the biggest megaphone today, the internet. So whether that’s on your phone or on a laptop, you have the power to have your voice heard. I’m living proof of that but there so many other examples of young people, young girls organizing together online to create a change. Change doesn’t happen with one person; it takes many but it also takes people to be brave enough to speak up. Whether its a movie, a toy or a public statement that is offensive you with the help of others can create change.