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Girls, 2012-2017 (TV Still)
Girls, 2012-2017 (TV Still)

‘Girl’s girl’ feminism is bullshit

The phrase, believed to uplift other women, has encouraged some to police and riddle those who do not fit into their idea of what makes a ‘good’ woman

One of the worst things somebody could call you on the internet today is a ‘pick me girl’. Defined as a girl who “seeks male validation by indirectly or directly insinuating that she is not like other girls”, it’s an insult that you’ll only receive from another girl. Since the rise and popularisation of the phrase ‘girl’s girl’, a term used to describe a woman who supposedly “believes in uplifting other women, has a strong group of girlfriends and always abides by the girl code,” those seen as not adhering to those conventions are mercilessly lambasted online.

This most recent example happened to comedian Stef Dag, whose Subway Takes interview went viral. When asked about her most controversial take, she ranted about the state of dating in New York. “My take is that all guys think they want to date the cool, hot, artsy, baddie girlfriend. But that’s actually not the case at all. What all guys in New York want is to date the ‘candid girlfriend’”. According to Dag, the ‘candid girlfriend’ is a 5”5, naturally thin woman with mousy brown hair that is “no longer than shoulder length”. She studied art history, loves pomegranate, and her boyfriend exclusively posts film photographs of her in carefully curated Instagram photo dumps. She is, as our deputy editor Serena Smith wrote, “essentially a pretty but vapid blank canvas that men are drawn to because ‘they can make a muse out of her’”.

The comedian was persecuted online for making fun of another woman and for not coming to her defence. One Twitter user wrote: “This is not a ‘girl’s girl’. A ‘girl’s girl’ would try and find the sweet, interesting, cute things about a girl and express frustration that the girl’s boyfriend had made her [into] the muse instead of a person. This [meaning Stef] is a mean jealous snake.” Another tweet shared the same sentiments: “Not funny, jealous and misogynistic. Not a girl’s girl, but a pick me.”

Dag received thousands of comments like this, and they didn’t stop at calling her a pick me or a misogynist but insulted her physical appearance, too. While her comments – which she later clarified were jokes – do highlight that she suffers from some internalised misogyny, those who claimed to be true ‘girl’s girls’ didn’t think to address her with kindness, or to empathically explain to her that she’s subconsciously projecting sexist ideas onto other women (something all women sometimes find themselves doing under patriarchy). Instead, ‘girl’s girl’ feminism has emboldened women to bully and ridicule one another when those within our gender slip up and make mistakes.

While the idea of the ‘girl’s girl’ is nice on paper, those online dangerously police how women should behave, think and feel. For example, Ariana Grande has famously been accused of not being a ‘girl’s girl’ by the internet and her current boyfriend’s (Ethan Slater) estranged wife, Lilly Jay. The story is that Grande is a homewrecker who destroyed the pair’s marriage. While Jay’s feelings on the matter are valid, those on the internet don’t seem to understand that life is far more complicated than any set of rules (girl code) could fully encapsulate or understand. I’m not here to debate whether Grande was right or wrong in her actions, but I am here to say that women make mistakes, and those who ascribe to ‘girl’s girl’ feminism fail to recognise that. They place the same unbelievably high standards upon women that they themselves argue against.

After I wrote my last feature, ‘Will ‘decentering’ men really fix all your problems’, accusations of pick-me-ism and internalised misogyny were levelled against me. My crime? Suggesting that some women who are involved in the ‘decentering’ men movement online can focus too much on themselves and not enough on the structural problems in our society, created by heteronormative domination and capitalism, that make decentering men and romantic relationships so challenging. What the women in our Instagram comments wanted me to do was support all women’s actions, even if I disagreed with them; and because I didn’t, I became a traitor to my gender.

When I spoke to my friend, researcher and philosopher Esme Hood, about her opinions on decentering men, she suggested that “maybe it’s about not centring gender, instead of not centring men,” because all we do when we talk about the behaviour of men or women in this generalistic way, is “reinforce gender binaries”. The same can be said about ‘girl’s girl’ feminism and the discourse it produces. Through this policing of women’s behaviour, all these women do is further entrap women into strict and violent gender binaries that state that women are, and must always be, morally good, polite, accommodating and agreeable. If they deviate from that norm, they will be punished.

What kind of sisterhood is created under these conditions? Certainly not one that sets the stage for the overthrow of patriarchy, as bell hooks writes in her book Feminism is For Everybody. Because, ultimately, ‘girl’s girl’ feminism still supports patriarchy through the harmful ways it reaffirms traditional gender binaries.

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