I’m sure we’ve all taken note of the way the word “girl” has saturated every part of online life in the past few years. One of our readings for this class is even about girlhood and its ubiquitousness online. To name just a few, we’ve had the Hot Girl, That Girl, the Girlboss and its inverse the Girlfailure, Sad Girl, Cool Girl, and the Girl’s Girl. You can put anything in front of girl- it’s used as a suffix in a similar way to -core to describe the identity that a girl constructs and curates online. Rayne Fisher-Quann in her essay standing on the shoulders of complex female characters touches on the type of girl and how it converges with online individuality and consumer culture.
“one girl on your tiktok feed might be a self-described joan didion/eve babitz/marlboro reds/straight-cut levis/fleabag girl (this means she has depression). another will call herself a babydoll dress/sylvia plath/red scare/miu miu/lana del rey girl (eating disorder), or a green juice/claw clip/emma chamberlain/yoga mat/podcast girl (different eating disorder)”Rayne Fisher-Quann
Fisher-Quann rationalizes the obsessive labeling of oneself as a particular type of girl as a way to make oneself and one’s neuroses more easily digestible, smoothed down and curated for online consumption.
This is applicable to the trends about a specific type of girl, but we’ve also seen trends like Girl dinner, Girl math, and social media accounts dedicated to Girlsplaining concepts. All three of these phenomena, but especially the latter two, have been criticized for reinforcing the gender binary and the idea of women, girls, as stupid and unable to understand ideas so complex as numbers or news without filtering it through makeup and buying clothes. There is infantilization in calling yourself and the people who relate to you girls rather than women as an adult. The word carries connotations of innocence and immaturity, and it can’t be separated from the idea that women are at their most desirable when they’re youthful. I see this as a continuation of the discussion around the Bimbo and whether it’s a revolutionary feminist position women can take that parodies and undermines the patriarchy or just perpetuates negative stereotypes that feminists have been working to counter for decades.
Of course, its hard to separate the word girl from its gendered connotations, but it has also been posited that once online, everyone is a girl symbolically. Girl in this sense is more of an in-group that anyone regardless of gender can be part of as long as they consume the content and are in on the joke. Alex Quicho in an article for Wired argues that the very nature of social media and the way it makes us want to be desired girlifies us by force. I’m not sure if I agree with this. I’ve definitely noticed a shift in the posts I see online from carefully gender-neutral language to proudly proclaiming that certain items are for girls and others are for boys, and I don’t think that the vast majority of users are critically engaging with the ways they think about gender when posting like this.
What do you guys think of the whole girl takeover of the past few years? Has it influenced your thoughts on online identity or gender at all?