Author’s note: Apologies for the two week hiatus. Richard and I both had some Life Stuff happening. This week you are probably expecting me to talk about the Kavanaugh nomination, or Les Moonves, or that Jian Ghomeshi bullshit, or why Ralph Norman should be punched in the face, or the newest evidence of extensive molestation in the Catholic church, or that guy who kidnapped a woman and assaulted her and is getting no jail time, or the assholes who are blaming Ariana Grande for Mac Miller’s death, but literally all of those things make me so angry that I make a sound that I am pretty sure only my dog can hear. So in order to save my blood pressure and her ears, I’m turning my attention elsewhere this week. I’m calling my past self out and defending pumpkin spice lattes. So buckle up.
I’ve mentioned before that feminism is a process as much as it is an identity (or, you know, a noun). We are all the products of our culture and of our education, and there is always more learning and growing that a person can do. The feminist I am now is vastly different from the feminist I was even five years ago. (For one thing, I’m even angrier! I wouldn’t have thought that was possible five years ago.) If you’re a nerd like I am, it can be useful to look at the journey like you’re a Pokémon. You’re continually gaining experience, learning new skills, and even getting items to help you along the way. And while you’re on the journey, you feel like you’re pretty awesome at what you’re doing at all times. And then once you hit Celadon City (yes that’s a Pokémon Red reference, I’m old, shut up) you look back at yourself at think, “Holy shit what was wrong with me?” Because while you might be a rocking Gyrados now, you had a few really, really unfortunate Magikarp phases. For a lot of cis female feminists (including myself) that Magikarp phase is also known as “internalized misogyny.”
For basically as long as I can remember, I have found myself at odds with a lot of the dictates of traditional femininity. If I had to describe myself from basically age 6 to… now… I would probably use “smart, large, angry, and awkward.” I was the tallest person in my grade for most of my elementary education, and shot past the size for most of the “cute” clothes other girls were wearing at an early age. When other girls were having tea parties, I was wandering around forests, and learning how to fend off mountain lions in a way that skipped straight to the most disturbing possible option. Most of my friends were boys, and despite my best efforts, I never seemed to fit in well with girls. (The closest I got was when I was used as a bodyguard for the popular girls during our collective “boys have cooties” phase. It’s good to be needed?) While I still did a lot of the things that all the other girls were doing—playing with Barbies, listening to Spice Girls, hanging ★NSYNC posters on my wall—there seemed to be some kind of fundamental divide between me and other girls, one that I couldn’t bridge no matter how hard I tried.
So I stopped trying, and started hating instead. I entered a prolonged “not like other girls” phase. I decided to formulate my own identity, my own special status, and my own worth, by how different I was from other girls, and by how much I could disdain the girls who alternately bullied and mystified me.
I decided I abhorred the color pink. I closed my eyes whenever I passed the violently pink Victoria’s Secret store in the mall, forcing my mother to take my hand and lead me safely past it before I would deign to open my eyes. I bought long sleeved tees from the boys’ section because they were more “hardcore.” I convinced myself that I liked wrestling and South Park, because that’s what the boys liked. (I didn’t, and I didn’t at the time, though I like it a lot better now.) I wrote poems that mocked girls as airheads. I declared an absolutely unnecessary vendetta against Leonardo DiCaprio, simply because all of the girls in my class were swooning over him. (To be fair, I’m still way more sad when the poor people in steerage die than when Jack sinks unnecessarily into the ocean.) I idolized fictional characters like Daria from Daria, and Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, fellow smart girls who disdained the “normal” girls and were odd and quirky (and somehow still ended up with the guy). I bragged about having mostly male friends, and talked about how much “drama” other girls were. I also bragged about how I didn’t wear makeup, and could get ready for school in five minutes flat. In short, I did everything I could to prove that I was “not like other girls,” because in my roiling mix of anger, jealousy, and frustration, I misidentified the source of my problem. (Again, to be fair, I hadn’t learned words like “patriarchy” when I was twelve.)
While the girls who confused and abused me were definitely part of the problem, they were the symptom, not the source. I wasn’t truly angry at girls. I was (in the words of one of my friends) angry about girls. I was angry about gender norms, and the patriarchy, and enforced, performative femininity. But it was way easier to hate and make fun of girls, and police the things they liked and didn’t like, than to understand that.
And I’m not the only one. In my piece about Ready Player One, I briefly discussed Lindsay Ellis’ video essay on Twilight, and the points she made about how we have extra disdain and hatred for the things that women (and especially teen girls) enjoy, and how it’s seen as a way for women and girls to gain respect to distance themselves from the “average” girl. I luckily eventually evolved. Or at least got more uh, EXP. I’ve tried to expunge phrases like “I don’t really ‘girl’ well” out of my vocabulary. I am a girl (actually, I am a motherfucking lady thank you very much) and therefore I “girl” just fine. I’ve started wearing dresses way more often. I’ve called a ceasefire on my war on the color pink. I wear bright red lipstick like a confident 18th-century harlot. I like to think I’ve gotten a lot better. But I still have slip-ups.
Which brings me to my second “Magikarp/Internalized misogyny” phase, and the one that I’m hopefully helping myself (and others!) overcome today: the discourse around the “basic bitch.” And of course, pumpkin spice lattes.
I don’t really remember how old I was when the phrase “basic bitch” began to enter the cultural consciousness, but it was probably a good deal after that when it entered my consciousness. I also don’t remember when pumpkin-spice lattes became so… hateable. But I remember leaning into the curve, hard, in my mid-twenties, long after I should have known better. College Humor has a video that pretty accurately sums up the “symptoms” of what was culturally known as “basic,” but in my own mind the phrase is inextricable from leggings-as-pants, Ugg boots, Pinterest, and the ultimate symbol, the pumpkin spice latte.
In my mid-twenties, I apparently hadn’t totally overcome my desire to make myself seem more special by putting down other women. I definitely described more than a few women as basic. And at the time, I didn’t mean it as a compliment. My only (weak) defense of it is that I associated “basic-ness” with a certain class and race consciousness, or rather unconsciousness. For me “basic” was pretty much inextricable from “Becky,” referring to upper-middle class white women who “didn’t see race” and would have kept drinking Starbucks even if the coffee beans were proven to be made from dried orphan tears. But that’s not what most people meant by “basic,” and it wasn’t even everything I meant by “basic.” Luckily, I went from “leaning in to the curve” to “super uncomfortable with the curve” pretty quickly. But it seems other people haven’t made the trip with me.
For whatever reason, I feel like the anti-pumpkin spice latte hate has gotten worse this year (prompting this article). It’s the middle of September, and I’ve already seen multiple articles and Facebook posts that are basically like, “Put down the pumpkin spice lattes and stop being happy about terrible things, IT ISN’T FALL YET YOU WHORES.” And we all just need to take a deep breath, calm down, and stop hating on things that are basic/hating on basic women who love pumpkin spice lattes.
Because if we are not intending it as a critique of willful ignorance (as in my former paltry defense) then we are expressing it as a critique of women. And not in the “women who don’t help other women” sense, but the “the thing you like is stupid because things girls like are stupid” sense. Because when we call someone or something basic, we are letting that word stand in for other words. “Bland,” maybe. “Inoffensive, but not my scene.” “Mainstream.” Most of all, “normal.” When we are calling someone or something basic, we are reliving our desperate desires to be seen as special, or set apart. For those of us who overcame our first Magikarp stage, we’re reliving our desire to be seen as “not like other girls.”
We’re hating things for no reason other than the fact that multiple women performing “traditional” femininity like them. Leggings are comfortable, and we’re basically a couple steps away from returning to the “legging and tunic” days, which would make my inner fantasy nerd happy. Uggs are also comfortable. Pinterest is shiny and addictive. And pumpkin spice lattes are not totally my thing, but they are no worse than any other seasonal thing Starbucks pops out. To steal a quote from another friend, “Liking Doctor Who and craft beer does not make me inherently better than another girl who likes This is Us and pumpkin spice lattes.” These are preferences, not the moral judgments that we frame them as. Ironically, College Humor recently released a new video doing basically what I am doing here, and defending things that are “basic.”
And the things “basic” girls get made fun of are all just as average, and just as popular, as a lot of the things that guys like, but never get called “basic” for. How stereotypical is it for a guy to like cars, or sports? Or beer? But we don’t look at a pack of men shouting at a stadium and sloshing Budweiser and go, “Ugh, oh my god. Look at those basic bitches.” Because again, we’re unfairly angry about things that girls like, and we internalize a loooooot of misogyny.
So learn from my example. Make your Magikarp phases as short as possible. And for fuck’s sake, stop making fun of/using the phrase “basic bitches.”
Signed: Feminist Fury.
Featured Image of two packets of Dunkin’ Donuts Pumpkin Spice coffee is by Mike Mozart and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.