Disclaimer: I’m not trying to say that making fun of white girls is a feminist issue, because it’s not. I’m saying that our society has a tendency to label traditionally feminine things as superficial because of internalized prejudices, and that it’s something I’ve personally had to overcome.
I’ll be the first to admit that The Bachelor probably isn’t deserving of an Emmy. I make no claims that reality TV is an art form of any sort or that the show is enriching in any way. That being said, I do enjoy spending the occasional Monday night with my roommate talking about how insane Olivia is and wondering if Ben will send the girl home following their hot tub rendezvous. And if you’re going to make fun of me or insult my intelligence because of that, you better have some pretty compelling reasons.
Recently, I was watching a stand-up special where the female comedian joked that a lot of the guys who are quick to tear into rom-coms and pastimes traditionally associated with women (i.e. getting a manicure or going shopping) aren’t necessarily spending their own free time visiting art museums and reading up on history. If they were, perhaps that’d make for an interesting debate. But I’m inclined to argue that many of the things that primarily interest women are regarded as superficial because of our culture’s internalized misogyny.
This led me to recall a quote I read some time ago, but that has stuck with me since, from blogger Greta Christina: “Like it or not, fashion and style are primarily a women’s art form. And I think it gets treated as trivial because women get treated as trivial.” I think the reason this quote resonated with me was because I’d been tremendously interested in fashion throughout my childhood and early teenage years, but as I grew older, I became incredibly embarrassed about vocalizing my interest. For some reason, it felt incompatible with my identity as Grace, the girl who won math competitions, and I’d placed so much value in my reputation as the smart girl that I didn’t want to jeopardize by revealing a common interest with the “airheads” on TV.
As I got older and came to BC, I began to realize that it is entirely possible for a girl to be interested in something like fashion while still being perceived as intelligent. However, just as I was becoming comfortable with this duality, our culture introduced another trope for trivializing women: the “basic bitch.” Admittedly, I engaged at first, which I’m not particularly proud of. I had gone to a lot of effort to distance myself from the girls I went to high school with, scoffing at the Victoria’s Secret Pink apparel and Uggs they sported. It was easy to write off the girls I didn’t particularly like as “basic,” and to make fun of them for the Starbucks cup they carried to class.
But when I moved into my dorm on upper, fitting my bed with a Lilly Pulitzer comforter, I was quickly confronted with the realization that by BC’s standards, I was one of the cringe-inducing “basic bitches.” And as I look back on my freshman year, I can now see that my first instinct was to distance myself from the stereotype, tucking the bold Lilly prints in my suitcase when I traveled home for Thanksgiving and swapping some of my J. Crew sweaters for Urban Outfitters counterparts. I was quick to assert that I was from Iowa, in hopes it would create for me an image separate from my female peers.
Of course, I couldn’t give up everything, like the Bean Boots with their characteristic practicality and the Diet Coke I’d developed nothing short of an addiction to. But luckily enough, before I made too many assumptions about the new crowd of girls around me, a dialogue began on campus about the plight of the “basic bitch,” (See The Rock, The Gavel). Given how conflicted I’d been feeling, I decided to take some time and listen. I came to a few conclusions:
-Oftentimes, things are simply popular because a lot of people enjoy them. The characterization of females as “basic” and their interests as generally frivolous is nothing other than the effects of our society’s internalized misogyny. Saying that it’s because you have some deep appreciation for originality is bullshit. To be brutally honest, our country is far from kind to people we perceive as being different, so that’s ridiculous.
-There is no correlation between the clothes someone wears and their intelligence. If you want to make an argument about the media they consume, I’m open to it. But I think it’s worth considering the fact that no one (for the most part) gives you a hard time for watching the Super Bowl, whereas things like The Bachelor draw a considerable amount of criticism.
-It is ridiculously unfair to demean women because of their lack of interest in sports or lack of knowledge regarding the rules. Women don’t owe it to their significant others to love sports, and their relative enjoyment of them is not linked to their intelligence. And as for not knowing the rules or understanding, this is also an unfair assumption to make, as plenty of women do. That being said, growing up, it wasn’t demonstrated to me and countless others that learning the rules of football was a priority. My parents did take care to make sure I knew how to golf, for whatever that’s worth.
-We need to work harder as women not to demean our peers for their interests. Realistically, women are subject to a lot of prejudice from men, so I think it’s sad when we worsen it by insinuating we’re somehow better than each other on the basis of things like each other’s preferred clothing and TV shows.
I wouldn’t say that I necessarily regret changing the way I dressed to differentiate myself from my peers. But I will say that I think it was wrong for me to do so because I didn’t want to be associated with people that I considered myself superior to. And honestly, a lot of people would probably still consider me “basic.” And while I’ve embraced the label for myself, I’m reluctant to apply it to others. If there’s anything we can learn from Legally Blonde, it’s that we can’t reduce intelligent women to their appearance and clothing preferences.