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Think Again before you Label Women.

24 Mar 2021

Jess Wilson

Think Again before you Label Women.

The internet has a tendency to group women into categories and call them names. This isn’t always meant maliciously, and in fact it can sometimes be genuinely amusing (the whole concept of Fiat 500 twitter is hilarious to me). But sometimes, although these names are far more subtle than ‘bitch’ or ‘slut’, they can be similarly damaging, or seem to blame women for the damage that has been done to them. Below is a short list of things the internet calls women that make me uneasy.


#girlboss

This sarcastic term is admittedly often pretty funny. It refers to women who have broken the glass ceiling and are thriving in their (often corporate or political) careers. Liberals seem to believe that, just because she is a woman playing a man’s game, she can do no wrong, or has already solved the world’s problems just by being where she is. Usually, her role or actions could be seen as dangerous or exploitative in a capitalist, military or political sense, but this is widely overlooked because, well, at least she’s a woman. A prime example would be Kamala Harris. Though I believe it was aimed at Hillary Clinton, I’m sure many of us have enjoyed the cartoon picturing a woman running from a US drone strike saying: “They say the next ones will be sent by a woman! Really makes you feel like you’re a part of history.” It’s a perfect sum-up of the absurdity of anyone resting on their laurels just because the Vice President happens to be female.


Of course, women assuming powerful positions usually reserved for men is not an automatic fix even for gender issues, let alone other issues. It’s incredibly frustrating to see women blindly applauded by many liberals for being the ones to maintain and enhance some of the world’s injustices, instead of leaving a man to do it. However, the term still makes me uncomfortable in some ways. It’s possible to be pleased to see gender barriers broken, without actually liking or supporting all (or any) of the individual women breaking them, and while disliking the structures women are starting to enter into. It is not automatically sexist to critique powerful women. But, equally, if you want to criticise Kamala Harris, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Priti Patel or indeed Sophia Amuroso (founder of Girlboss Media and Nasty Gal), there are myriad ways of doing so without bringing their gender into it at all. The main possible exception I can think of is US Senator Krysten Sinema’s recent vote against a $15 minimum wage, performed with a little hip wiggle and a cutesy thumbs down, which could be seen as femininity weaponised in order to feign innocence. In general though, the #girlboss joke makes a good point in a pretty lazy and reductive way, and it would still be more useful to focus on Sinema’s politics than her gender.


Pick-Me Girl

Again, I’m not above laughing at a pick-me joke, but we should probably think a little harder about it. The pick-me girl is desperate for male approval (Pick me! Pick me!), and she is willing to appease the most awful male behaviour and gender injustices in order to get it. If she gets cheated on, she asks herself what failing of hers caused him to stray. She prides herself on her willingness to do her partner’s cooking and cleaning for him, even to pay his bills. She looks down on any woman who enjoys going out or having casual sex, she would never be so reckless or unclassy. She insists that, in order to maintain a relationship, the key is to always put his needs first and forgive him for everything and anything, no questions asked. Anyone who doesn’t do this is regarded by the pick-me as a ‘hoe’ who will never be loved.


It’s a pretty awful perspective to have on relationships with men, so it’s very easy to criticise these women. Search #tweetlikeapickme on twitter and you’ll find countless examples of people parodying this mindset, and I dare you not to at least crack a smile. But isn’t it sad that so many women live their lives this way? Who taught them this behaviour, and what effect is it having on their mental and physical health, their self esteem, their finances? How many of these women are blaming themselves for genuinely abusive behaviour? Obviously, no one likes to be preached at by some random girl on the internet, particularly when it involves slut-shaming. But what these women probably need is compassion rather than derision. Rather than mocking them unconstructively, we should be criticising the society that taught them that they are entirely responsible for running their boyfriends’ lives, any bad behaviour on his part is always her fault, and the sacrifice of her autonomy and full personhood is necessary and worth it in order to maintain a relationship. People lucky enough to have been taught to recognise and question patriarchal practices can do a lot better than laughing at those who haven’t had the same opportunity. Men who laugh at women sadly falling victim to structures they themselves uphold, or refuse to challenge, are particularly infuriating.


Not Like Other Girls

Girls who insist they are “not like other girls” do so by citing behaviour that is famously and amusingly incredibly normal and widespread. Think “I’m not like other girls, I prefer big jumpers and pizza to crop tops and salads”, or “I’m not like other girls, I don’t wear makeup and I’d rather read a book than scroll through instagram”. They’re pretty similar to pick-mes in that they are often searching for male approval, except instead of bragging about worrying lifestyle choices they brag about doing the most standard, mundane stuff which, bafflingly, they think other girls don’t do. It’s annoying because it’s steeped in misogyny. Girls who ‘aren’t like other girls’ often see other women as inferior for doing things like going to parties or dressing glamorously, which is bad in itself, but they also imply that all women are one of two 2-dimensional stereotypes - the party girl or the nerd. No women could ever enjoy nights out but also quiet evenings at home. No women could ever like dressing up at times, but keep it lowkey at others. There’s also usually a lot of slut-shaming and, weirdly, mocking of women with eating disorders involved.


But, again, like pick-me girls, we should be genuinely worried for these women and critique them constructively rather than just ridicule them. Many, many cis women go through phases, particularly in early teenhood, where they reject traditional femininity partially due to internalised misogyny. Most people grow out of it but those who don’t must be painfully burdened by the belief that their gender and the gendered practices attached to it, such as wearing makeup or caring about fashion, are so inferior they must alone fight against them to be taken seriously. As with the girlbosses and Pick-Mes, men do not seem to hold back from openly hating these women on twitter, without stretching to think about how their own behaviour, or the behaviour of their peers which they do not challenge, may have contributed to these sad and problematic delusions.


I’m not for a moment saying this is a hugely pressing issue - I’m cautious of nitpicking non-issues in feminism meanwhile very imminent dangers continue to lurk for women. I just think we could perhaps do with asking ourselves what these labels are really doing, beyond making people laugh.

Image by Erin Sass