Usually on this blog I write about music, but today I want to write about being A Girl and I want to write about the way other women talk about being A Girl. As I am a white woman in my 20s, I will be speaking from that perspective about trends I see predominantly– though not exclusively, of course– within other white women around my age. Enjoy or don't!
I. Womanhood Online, Looking for Community and the Loss of the 'I' Statement
This year we've had massive cultural moments that have kind of become all about broad connection amongst a great deal of women. There is discussion about whether there is feminist value in Barbie or Taylor Swift, but I think it mostly just comes down to whether you engage with feminism predominantly through wanting to not feel undermined or made fun of by men for the things you like(d).
Is there feminist value in Greta Gerwig being the first solo female director to make a movie that made a billion dollars? Is it inherently feminist to make and/or enjoy pop music? Those things aren't really my concern. My concern is that I think what people mean when they call a Taylor Swift show or going to see the Barbie movie "feminist utopia" (to whatever degree of seriousness they're saying it), they mean it is a place they experienced a sense of community amongst a great deal of women.
Taylor Swift and the Barbie movie both have huge clothing centric movements happening with them. People have been dressing up in extravagant costumes to attend the Eras Tour and they've been putting on their best all pink outfits to attend their local movie theater for Barbie– these things and the joy they bring speak to something of a desire for collective experience among women. The delight women online were getting from saying, "Hi Barbie" to other women on the street sort of goes against the worrisome trend of viewing strangers as inherently suspicious or, maybe worse, barely-even-human NPCs. It's an expression of connection and community. It's not unlike people high-fiving on the train over both wearing a jersey for the same sports team. These are events, you dress to go to the event and experience community through all caring about the same thing.
When I was first going to a lot of shows as a teenager I always loved the feeling of being near the venue and seeing people dressed like me. I liked looking around and knowing I could hold a conversation with any of them because we have a base level of understanding that's built into shirts for similar bands. It's a nice feeling. There's nothing political about it regardless of any quote-unquote punk affiliations.
To me, the frustrating part about the way this big cultural phenomenon is discussed is the influx of posts that attempt to speak to womanhood broadly. Maybe I'm just paying attention more because of the Barbie Movie and Taylor Swift, but it's impossible to speak to womanhood broadly because womanhood is not one thing. Ostensibly, that's kind of something Barbie is all about. Stereotypical Barbie can't wait for the "more leadership oriented Barbies" to fix what's wrong in Barbieland. We contain multitudes. Whatever.
Womanhood is a deeply personal and individual thing, but there's nothing to gain on the internet from speaking only for yourself. I see parts of my life as a woman– as a girl– in Barbie. There were Barbies I destroyed. I played with a Midge doll when I was little and the dog that shits when you move its tail. I identify with trying to understand feelings for the first time and being told what anxiety is. There are also things about it that I don't connect with. Motherhood-as-sacrifice narratives don't connect with me. My male MyScene dolls were just as important as the girls to me and my play as a child.
On the internet, though, you have to just say, like, "Greta Gerwig is portraying womanhood in a way nobody has ever done it before!" or "Well this isn't feminism! If you identify with this you have rocks for brains!" and that'll get you more attention. The internet doesn't value an 'I' statement.
Is Womanhood the idea of Girl Dinner? Is Womanhood having a messy nightstand? Or maybe a very clean one?! Is Womanhood when you're drunk in the bathroom and you have a nice conversation with a stranger? The answer is maybe! Depends on your life! But that's not good content. The internet rewards attention to broad statements because people will either say "omg never had an original experience!" or "well this isn't true for me??? i am confused when it is not about me??" and both tell the algorithm that you're a very special girl who needs her content pushed to strangers who will likely not be kind.
II. The Choose Your Own Aesthetic Movement
A war between an obsession with individualism and self-definition through categorization is being waged inside girls all over the internet.
Every couple months it seems a new trend appears that is evoking a lifestyle. Maybe it's Clean Girl Aesthetic with its Stanley water cups and Dyson AirWraps and slicked back buns. Maybe it's Stay At Home Girlfriend with floor to ceiling windows and matching coffee (for the man) and matcha or green juice (for the girl) and tidying up. Maybe it's Rat Girl Summer with its attempt to subvert the business casual outfits and going to bed early attitude of some other group of women on the internet. Are you Coastal Grandmother or Dark Academia or Cottagecore or Fairycore? There have never been more types of girls!
Are you THAT GIRL?
I find it a bit tiresome, but I'm intimately aware that just because I don't call the way I dress a certain thing doesn't mean I don't use the clothes I wear as some signal. Jessica Hopper told me she liked my jacket once and I was elated. I spent months talking about buying a Dismemberment Plan shirt then bought it and wrote a weepy blog post about how much it means to me. We all have an aesthetic of sorts and there is a level of belonging to be found in dressing to evoke something about yourself.
I think the TikTok obsession with these sorts of "aesthetics," though, is a facsimile of what the underlying impulse is usually connected to. Instead of dressing or cultivating a space that speaks to a community, it's only speaking to a category. It likely will speak to something about you and the way you live your life, but in an individual way. I don't think that's a bad thing inherently, but I do think it's kind of a restrictive and superficial way to engage with what clothes can add to your life experience.
I get wanting to fit in to something– particularly in the post-2020 world we live in that knows deep isolation– and I don't think these categories speak to anything really. At its best, the content supports a perfectly fine desire to have some fun with different looks. At its worst, it's a driver of overconsumption and the ever shortening trend cycle that is making clothing worse for everybody from production to purchase.
Something I do find interesting is when people put themselves into these sorts of categories then insist some other person is copying them. Logic would say you can't intentionally be a part of an online community based on maximalism DIY then get mad when another girl is .. doing maximalist DIY similar to yours. That's a sort of "main character energy" going on online and it seems like it would be incompatible with identifying with a greater "aesthetic" that many are a part of, but I think it all goes back to how this is not about community or shared interests. This is about the enjoyment found in seeing yourself represented and aspiring to look like the kind of person other people would want to be.
It's tough to not be sympathetic, though. The internet has done nothing but alienate us from real community and make us more interested in looking inward to a detrimental degree. Individual users of social media aren't entirely responsible for that.
III. The Fantasy of an "Easy Life" as Empowerment
The more dangerous Womanhood discussion is when it strays toward things like, "I shouldn't have to go to school, I was put on this planet to eat strawberries in a field with my friends and that's it" and "I'm a 25 year old teenage girl" and "I don't dream of labor, my man will take care of me" and other sentiments that resist independence and growth.
I don't want to make fun of the people who say things like that. I think half the time it's a joke, but even jokes have something more serious underlying which is what I want to speak to. I really think this is a reaction to nihilism being the accepted worldview of young people who consider themselves informed about the worsening world around us. Does it make sense to not really care about having a career when the climate crisis is happening? Of course. Does it make sense to feel like some level of youth was stolen from you by the pandemic? Yes.
But there isn't anything progressive about not caring. The world is not going to end in 10 years and we should not act as if it is. I don't say this in the "well it won't really affect where I live" way. I mean it in the "Climate crisis is in motion and it's so depressing to not believe anything can be done" type way.
Infantilizing yourself through insisting that womanhood is about only the frivolous isn't helping anybody. It's not feminism to merely state that, since you know we live in a patriarchal society, it's actually morally righteous to benefit from a man through him funding your life while you enjoy the spoils of an easy life. That's a dangerous lie to tell yourself and other young women. Abuse can and will be found in those situations. It's not empowering to have to rely on a man. The chances he will worship you to the level necessary for that delusion is near zero.
I just think it's depressing to see. Ambition doesn't have to look the way your mom and dad think it should, but it's important to find out what that means for you and it's important to be independent and figure out who you are as an adult. There is no glory in being young forever.
If you're someone interested in my other thoughts on womanhood, I wrote about Camp Cope and their impact on my relationship with being a woman a while back:
Recently I went to Pitchfork Music Festival and it was really fun here's a photo!
I also saw PONY and Tv Star play while I was in Chicago and they rocked. I really like both those bands and they've both put out cool music this year. Here's a photo of PONY!
My favorite PONY song on the new album is this one:
My favorite TV Star song is this one:
I also went to one of the tallest lift locks in the united states while visiting my pal and roommate's family in Upstate New York. It was beautiful. This isn't of the lift lock, just a beautiful photo. I loved it! Being from the midwest just means I think everywhere is deeply beautiful. My capacity for wonder is soooo vast.
As a programming note, I have a couple things planned for the blog but I'm also moving this month so forgive me if I don't post too frequently!
Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, podcaster and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter to see photos I take and other thoughts on being a girl: @mirandareinert. This blog does have a paid option and I would so appreciate any money you would be willing to throw me! You may also send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo if you want. As always, thanks for reading!