Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Oh to be a teenage girl again – the hormones, the anxiety and to have most of what you love gently mocked by wider society. To feel like our interests weren’t ‘cool’ enough, they weren’t about football, or ‘indie’ music – I didn’t know the rules of rugby, nor did I know all the cult classic films. To be quizzed on anything I liked that is stereotypically ‘masculine’: “Oh yeah you like Arsenal? Name 6 players”. And, yes I loved Justin Bieber, watched Gossip Girl and shopped at Brandy Melville. I was like most (not all) 14 year old girls – “that girl”.
Adolescent girls have been the subject of ridicule since as far back as I could research. This genderised jeering looming over almost anything from boy bands to makeup to selfies and don’t get me started on ‘chick-flicks’. Take The Beatles – one of the most iconic bands of all time and whose founding support came from teenage girls who filled concert halls with their screaming. At first, dismissed as being ‘silly’ music made for ‘silly’ girls; it was only once their talent and artistic worth was credited were they suitable for male consumption.
An age-old sexist judgement, that what’s associated with girls must be ‘basic’ or ‘lame’, especially with the level of ‘girly’ emotion that often accompanies these interests. I wonder why it is uncool to like something, like really like something – to be obsessed, to love, to fantasise, to cry in your room over it/them. My parents and their friends rolling their eyes and laughing as I got the Justin Bieber perfume for Christmas (regrettably not my finest moment) – leave me alone, if I want to smell like floral scented liquorice let me.
Yet, if that thing you are totally obsessed with, happens to be football or most other high-profile traditionally masculine sport, everyone leaves you alone. My brother allowed to miss family meals to watch games, to be justified in slamming doors and screaming at us if his team lost. Me told to ‘leave him alone’ as ‘it’s hard on him’. Where was that kind of tolerance for the girls who wept for days over One Direction splitting up? Instead they were infantilised and laughed at across mass media.
“Hysterical”: a word thrown against female teens for decades. “Beatlemania” was the name given to the ‘mesmerising hysteria’ that ‘infected’ girls as a response to the foursome. Their screams “shocked the world”; it was the sound of female sexual revolution, and big change was in the air. Plenty didn’t like it, one such chauvinistic remark came from Paul Johnson for the New Statesman: “Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, whose vacant faces flicker over the TV screen, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures.”
Well, those ‘dull, idle, failures’ of teenage girls rule the world. Literally. For a demographic, they have vast cultural power, leading trends and popular culture, securing movie franchises, propelling artists into stardom and remaining fiercely loyal. Beliebers. Swifties. Arianators. Twilighters. Stylers. The corporate world knows just how much they are worth.
It continues today in another culture defying creation – TikTok, an app totally run by teens, for teens. The gendered belittling now in the form of the “VSCO girl” meme circulating in 2019– “the basic bitch” with her stickered water bottles, scrunchies, filtered photos and 90s wannabe surfer vibe. Since when was it a cultural crime to like reusable water bottles? Or in fact any of those things, and to berate a girl for doing so. I wonder where is the male equivalent? The “basic boy” – there’s plenty of those around, but no memes to go with them, or trivialising of their interests, however clichéd.
Or how about the trend of adolescent and even adult men duetting videos of female teens and trolling them for just being themselves.
Yet, TikTok’s “queens” are all exactly that – teenage girls. Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae have combined Instagram followers of 71.3 million and counting, almost triple that of Trump. They make millions dancing in their bedrooms, and if that isn’t a f**k you to this culture of not taking teen girls seriously, I don’t know what is.
So, to hell with the culture-bashing of teen girls. They’ve got enough on their plates – righting the wrongs of centuries of sexism, without Jack6186 telling them they care too much about makeup.