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Girlification: Is the Internet Really for 'The Girls?'

Article By: Tory Basile

What it means to be a girl right now.



There are few words quite as divisive as girl. And that’s inevitable, really.


Attempting to adequately define a word that’s so dynamic, so imbued with history and culture and identity, is labyrinthine. Girl is simultaneously a being, a muse, a caricature, and most recently – a culture.


It’s no secret that popular culture exists on the internet. Our actual lives are increasingly fused with the online world in part because social media is always defining, redefining, and responding to what we think and talk about both on and off the web.


TikTok, in particular, is the latest and greatest harbinger of internet culture. Love it or hate it, the platform with 1 billion monthly users has an incomprehensible ability to direct “the discourse.” Its latest exercise in verbal virality? The Girl-ification of daily life.


On the slim chance the algorithm gods have yet to reach you, allow me to explain: we no longer say we’re eating random snacks for dinner, we say we’re eating Girl Dinner. It’s not a relaxing stroll, it’s a Hot Girl Walk. It’s not bad fiscal budgeting, it’s Girl Math. It’s not wildly diluting the complexities of geopolitics, it’s Explaining the War in Ukraine for the Girlies. We’re Lazy Girls. We’re Clean Girls. We’re Silly Girls. We’re Girl’s Girls. We’re just Girls. This is so Girl-Core.


And Girlification is so 2023.


To make it big on the internet today, you’ve got to keep it short and sweet. So, too long; didn’t read? Girlification is the act of taking regular, everyday stuff – dinner, walking, money, war – and ‘feminizing’ it, for a laugh.


It’s the sort of funny, post-ironic meme that would make Betty Friedan roll in her grave and that could only ever exist right about now. Meme culture and virality are exercises in layering on and subverting what’s been done before. Girlification is no different.


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At face value, Girlification is a twisted play on old stereotypes. To be raised as a girl in a patriarchal society is to grow up acutely aware of all the reasons the world fundamentally cannot take you seriously. Thus, the irony of Girlification lies in the reclamation of phrases that have historically been wielded to put girls (and grown women) down, and make them our jokes instead.


The jokes are funny again, theoretically, because girls are the ones making them. It's fun to kid with your girlfriends about how none of you should be expected to go to work in the morning, you’re just little girls! Never mind that you’re 24 and have a credit card bill to pay.


What’s uncomfortable, however, is the blurriness between irony and sincerity that’s inherent on the internet. The repopularizing of banal stereotypes is sardonically funny, but also, kind of really weird.


For one, Tik Tok’s definition of girl is inextricably linked to youth. By its most primitive definition, a girl is a young, female person. So why is it that adults online today are so taken with describing themselves as “girls” instead of women or adult people?


Well, it’s comforting. There’s an undeniable catharsis in embracing youth and girlhood, because being a 21st century adult woman is hard.


Our girlboss-feminist foremothers fought for us to finally have it all. No longer are we relegated to the home as doting mothers and dutiful wives. Now, we can simultaneously go to school, thrive in our careers, manage our own money, pursue our passions AND be doting mothers and dutiful wives.


Modern, adult womanhood is empowering in theory but often exhausting in application. So of course, sometimes it’s easiest to throw your hands up and say, “How should I know? I’m just a silly little girl.” Leaning into our own infantilization isn’t just the product of ironic internet meme culture, it’s an act of self-soothing in a demanding world.


It’s natural that Girlification is so entwined with youth –– but not because it’s some meditative exercise in finding our inner child. It’s because Girlification has surprisingly little to do with being an actual girl, and much more to do with fitting a banal, flat version of femininity marketed to us by our patriarchal society. We’re taught that to be feminine is to be young, silly, delicate, and stupid.



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Girlification is a complicated amalgam of reclamation and regression tied up in a very confusing pink bow –– and it’s taking a huge swath of the web by storm. No longer are these stereotypes about girls, they’re For The Girls! We’re stoking the bonds of sisterhood one girl dinner at a time, right?


Maybe, but probably not.


No, girl culture on the internet is not going to set feminism back 50 years. Maybe it’s proof that the gender binary still has a chokehold on us, at least in our language. Or maybe, it’s just fodder for a thirty-something culture writer to overanalyze at The Cut. It could even just be really funny.


But to be clear, Girlification is not an exercise in mobilizing the masses with a pro-girl movement, because it has very little to do with actual people. It feels like internet culture is saying, “girls are in.” But the archetype of “girls” being embraced is a shallow, unrealistic and cliched one – one we only need 15 viral seconds to joke about.


Girlification isn’t about embracing girls and women for who they are. It’s a misguided, pseudo-edgy repackaging of stereotypes. By realigning girlhood with outdated, suffocating notions of femininity, we’re alienating actual, real people. At the risk of redundancy, not all women are feminine, and not all feminine people are women.


So, why revert to such an inadequate definition of girl?


When cultural debates are confined to an app as absurd as TikTok, we need to understand the limits of the medium. Because the platform is operated by a freaky AI algorithm, it has the potential to transport us into online community spaces that feel like home. But in growing accustomed to our cozy internet bubbles, we sometimes forget the actual point of the app: to spread content widely and very, very fast.


With a conversation that exists online, the risks are heightened. At wine night or in (insert girl tiktoker)’s comments, joking about feminine stereotypes is a hilarious, ironic bit. But by nature of the internet, that bit has become ubiquitous, hitting the screens of people (men) who are less likely to get that it’s unserious.


Next time you save up to buy an expensive pair of shoes, and your boyfriend rags on your spending, calling it “girl math,” you might be annoyed. Or when your innocent, 30-second video about girl dinner gets pulled by an incel Redditer for his latest Feminist Owned: Women Are Stupid YouTube compilation, the joke definitely won’t land.


But the worst is when a 12-year-old girl sees it, because she might believe it too. We’re teaching young girls that it’s socially empowering to be a silly, stupid kind of feminine –– girls who may be too young to have the historical context, the self awareness, to understand the irony.


Words have the power to weaken or strengthen, include or exclude, define or dilute. Living in a post-second wave, post-MeToo era, it feels safe to make jokes about the past. But whether we’d like to accept it or not, the political status of women and gender nonconforming folks in this country is not secure in an age of sweeping conservative regression. Now might not be the time to equate girlhood with frailty –– especially so publicly.


And of course, there’s nothing wrong with being stereotypically girly, or with being young, silly, delicate and stupid. But let’s be real: there’s nothing truly subversive about adhering to a stereotypical definition of femininity –– not when we live in a world where being a feminine, straight, “normal” kind of woman gives you all kinds of social and political powers in a heteronormative, male-dominated world.


But what do I know anyways? I’m literally just a girl.



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