Drew Afualo’s Crusade Against Bigotry Is Only Just Beginning

“I'm so far removed from the male gaze, it's not even funny.”

Originally Published: 
Lais Borges/Elite Daily; Photos by Lindy Lin and Angella Choe

The internet can be a cruel place for creators, even the most confident and unbothered. It’s one thing to fend off the occasional online troll, but quite another to build a career fueled directly by online hate — to look at sh*tty comments about yourself, day after day, and figure out how to respond to them. That reality may sound like hell to a lot of people, but it’s precisely what has catapulted Drew Afualo to stardom.

The 27-year-old has built a TikTok following of nearly 8 million for her witty takedowns of bigotry. Using the app’s stitch feature, she’ll respond to videos where men share their misogynistic “hot takes” — laughingly calling them out with lines like, “Listen up, terrible men. You want to know why you’re f*cking single? You suck.” Afualo will also reply directly to mean comments on her own videos, joking about the insecurity it takes to spend valuable time posting hateful things online.

Afualo knows the irony of having a platform where the more that men despise her, the more successful she becomes. “It's truly the biggest UNO Reverse,” she tells Elite Daily. “And because they haven't mastered the art of shutting the f*ck up, they will never stop. It's the most aggressive form of job security.” Sure enough, she keeps on rising: She recently attended the Oscars as a red carpet host, and her podcast The Comment Section became a Spotify exclusive on April 5.

Here, Afualo tells Elite Daily how she built her brand, why she sees her work as inherently feminist, and what advice she’d give to single women who are frustrated with dating men.

Elite Daily: How did you get started on TikTok? And how did you figure out this niche of eviscerating problematic men?

Drew Afualo: My boyfriend encouraged me to use the app as a tool to be creative. Back in the day, I used to post Snapchat rants to make my friends laugh. So in 2021, I started sharing stories on TikTok about my own personal unfortunate run-ins with men. As I started doing that, I started getting more attention.

The one video that really launched my niche was about 15 specific red flags in men. It invited a lot of new followers that had never seen me before — and on the flip side, a bunch of terrible responses from men. I had never received hate in any capacity, and when it started pouring in, I was like, “Well, I'm just going to make fun of you.” It snowballed into this huge crusade and mantle that I've taken up, which is a wonderful thing. I truly believe it's my purpose in life to do this.

ED: How would you define these “problematic” or “terrible” men you go after in your videos?

DA: They're all the same person in different fonts, and the thread line they share is bigotry. They’re misogynists, obviously, and a lot of times they have other bigoted beliefs, including homophobia, transphobia, and racism. It's never necessarily a look, but they all share the same brain. I feel almost like a drug dog. I can just sniff it out.

ED: There are so many awful takes out there, and I’m sure you get tagged in all of them. How do you decide who's worth making a video about?

DA: At this point, it's a pretty selective process, mostly because these guys all share the same jokes. They're not unique or clever in any way, shape, or form. So I select almost solely based on whether I have something really funny to say in response.

Some men have convinced themselves that if I stitch them, they'll go viral and become an influencer. God knows why. When I stitch them, nothing but bad things happen. Some of them purposely antagonize me because they want to goad me into a fight. I ignore them because I don't do charity work, so I'm not going to stitch someone who's begging me for attention. That's embarrassing. They should probably get a job instead.

Women have been taught for so long to shrink in the face of disrespect. I'm living proof that doesn't need to be the case.

ED: You’re unapologetically mean to these dudes and you’ve embraced that word. What’s the power in being mean?

DA: Meanness, to me, does not qualify whether or not someone's a good person because context is always required. When men like this say I’m a “mean” person, what they’re saying is they don’t like being stood up to by a woman, because they inherently believe women are vapid. They believe women hold all their worth and value in what they look like and are constantly seeking male validation.

I'm so far removed from the male gaze, it's not even funny. So they can't touch me. Nothing they say is going to hurt me or affect how I see myself, and they can't stand that. The one thing that they can objectively say is that I'm a mean person. That's true. I have the capacity to be extremely mean, but I think how you wield it matters.

ED: Women are often socialized to be the opposite: quiet and accommodating, especially toward men. What do you see as your role in changing that narrative?

DA: Representation in all forms is really important, and that goes beyond aesthetically. I'm very loud and proud about what I believe and what I stand for. I'm independent, I'm strong, and I make no apologies for that. When women and femmes see me doing this publicly with my full face and name, and they also see me having a loving relationship with a man, a loving family, friends, and success, they see that it’s possible to have all the things you want in life and not have to settle simply because men convince you that you should.

Women have been taught for so long to shrink and be quiet in the face of disrespect. I'm living proof that doesn't need to be the case. The first thing a lot of men online will say is that I must be single, and I'm not. Then they’ll say my boyfriend must be short and ugly, all these Eurocentric beauty standards, and he's not. We have a loving, equitable partnership. My audience tells me this gives them strength and courage, because there is light at the end of the tunnel. If you hold out, it will work out in the end.

ED: One thing I love about your content is that it truly seems like you don’t give a sh*t about the hate toward you. What led you to be like that?

DA: It’s equal parts who I am as a person and how I was raised. Samoan families are matriarchal in nature. My parents always held space for me to be exactly who I was, and they truly believed that it would lead me somewhere great.

A big reason why I’m so confident is that I truly think I'm the baddest version of myself. That's not to detract from anybody else — I don't ever think confidence should come at the expense of somebody else's confidence. I just love myself more than anyone else ever could. That's why my boyfriend loves me so much, because although we never will break up, if we ever were to, he knows I'd be OK. Some rando on the internet isn't going to penetrate that.

ED: It’s refreshing to see you in a great relationship with a man when you obviously see how difficult it is to interact with some of them. What’s your message for women who are single and trying to date men?

DA: The hardest part is waiting and not settling. The patriarchy is strong and clever, and it worms its way into your brain and convinces you that if you don't pick someone now, who knows what will happen? What if you end up alone? What if you never find a man that's good enough? I would say, so? Wouldn't you rather be alone than be with someone who doesn't deserve you? I know I would.

Months before I started dating my boyfriend six years ago, I had made my peace with being single. I thought, “If I get old and I'm alone for the rest of my life, I don't give a damn because I would rather love myself the way I know I deserve than waste my time trying to teach someone else how to do it.”

ED: What keeps you going? What’s the “why” behind making these videos?

DA: This platform on TikTok has given me a life that I never could have dreamed of, and my family's a big part of why I do it. The other part is all the people who draw strength and power from me. I hold onto that when I feel like I can't do this anymore, because it does get heavy. It can be exhausting and awful to see this hateful content all the time. But when people send me testimonies about how they’ve made changes in their lives because I’ve empowered them to do so, it makes it worth it.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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