Despite the world being faced with labels for everything, no one get’s the spotlight like women do. Coming up for new ways to categorize women is a relentless effort- it seems. Even in some attempts to dissect sexist tropes, they are still paradoxically unhelpful. Society is obsessed with naming women: Cool Girl, Manic Pixie Dream Girl, Prude, Tease, Hot Girl, Quirky Girl, NLOG (Not Like Other Girls), Femcel, Soft Girl, Clean Girl, Good Girl, Bad Girl, Boy Girl, Bossy, B*, Mean Girl, Nice Girl– whatever the label is, really… Give it a rest.
Calling women names has never been a jolly experience. Most times: it’s either belittling, or a form of harassment. So the rush to come up with new names, even if it’s to combat internal sexism, is a counter-intuitive false virtue signal of progressivism that is eating itself alive like an ouroboros.
Taking isolated behaviors, hyper-fixating on them, turning them into global truths, and then superimposing them onto women will never make the world more equitable. Not everything a person does is a statement warranting a reduction of her complex personhood.
Fighting Internal Sexism and Sexism With More Internal Sexism and Sexism
We don’t actually need a glossary of terms to address different behaviors and pathologies and we certainly don’t need to target them toward a globally subjugated community of people–each with their own unique perspectives, shortcomings, and psychologies.
Every season, there is some new and exciting word to call a woman. Whilst pop culture consumers latch onto trending names, others try to recreate themselves, reclaim, or join the many conversations in the ether on “what it means to be” every type of girl (our go-to word for women) and how this undermines the mainstream feminist agenda, which causes swaths of others to deviate from the terms altogether.
Some labels have been around for decades while others are personifications of a broader issue of blatant sexism and internalized misogyny — while others are more recent–attempting to use labels to shine a light on these issues while, ironically, still putting women in an equally constricting box.
At the end of the day, all of these names count against making room for intersectional narratives, representation, and overall feminine agency.
The more we create, dissect, and make room for obsessing over what women do, the more claustrophobic identity-talks in pop culture become.
To illustrate this point, we can look at the rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, not as a concept, but as a misconception altogether.
This concept has been around for centuries dating back to Greek mythology.
However, in the early 2000s, manic pixie dream girl was a term coined for them by Nathan Rabin to describe the stock character trope (often white) “existing only in the feverish minds of sensitive writer directors” to have no essential purpose except for male protagonists to better understand life and all its simple pleasures. It was never meant to be taken literally, to be a compliment to women in the real world, or made into a vehicle for celebrities and YouTube commentators to psychoanalyze why others dress the way they do and play the ukulele.
It was a figurative trope, existing only in the imaginations of sensitive cis heteronormative men.
Films like Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, 500 Days of Summer and Ruby Sparks all recreated anti-tropes to shine a light on the ridiculousness of the archetype and how women are so often pressured to exist within the framework of reductive fantasy’s and fetishes that aren’t grounded in reality.
The 3 films showcased realistic and flawed characters with depth and personality. However, the films were quickly misinterpreted as reinforcing the trope, and their titular characters that were meant to be anti-tropes were quickly dismissed as “pixies”.
In spite of Summer, Clementine, and Ruby’s free-will, complexities and inner lives, the MPDG fantasy had, become so deeply entrenched in pop culture conversations and so deeply reductive that it had taken on a life of its own.
People adapted the phrase liberally and literally, highlighting any woman (real or fictional) who matched certain physical and personality traits: dyed hair, free-spirit, sense of humor, etc. Anyone with these traits could easily be deemed as a walking embodiment of the MPDG .
The internet was quickly divided as the phrase grew in both popularity and misconception. Many women felt honored to deem themselves as literal representations of MPDG’s in real life–often finding themselves exhausted, exploited, and in demoralizing relationship positions as they attempted to bring the archetype to life or fit into the roles designated to them. This further reinforced the fundamentally flawed blueprint of our earliest Pixies in mythology.
Manic pixies are purely archetypal and not literal representations of people… yet many have self-proclaimed as pixies or even condemned others for fitting the stereotype– a problem in itself.
Before we knew it, men were calling their exes MPDGs, women were calling themselves MPDGs, and a flourish of them were making videos on how to “tone down their pixie-ness” to get “taken seriously”, inadvertently hyper-fixating on and minimizing any and all women who had qualities that remotely aligned with the type. Others were trying to escape the label altogether.
In 2014, Rabin apologized for even coining the term. However, this was to no avail. Even singers like Grimes are trying to “reclaim” the manic pixie dream girl —something neither necessary, nor possible, as the trope speaks to something purely figurative and conceptual.
All women have inner lives, free will and priorities of their own. None exists to fulfill the needs of cis men.
Since MPDG, many more labels have come along for the ride and inspired a motley of YouTube commentaries and articles documenting their inceptions and these labels have occupied the same trajectory and shelf-life as the MPDG phenomenon.
The commentators Are “Not Like the Girls Who Think They’re Not Like Other Girls”(…and other strange conversations we didn’t ask for)
Many of these paradoxical topics seemingly drown out the voices of intersectional narratives and POC experiences.
Nevertheless, with each label, the internet often gets split into factions, The “NLOGS/ Femcels/ Good Girls/ Pick Me’s and so on” and the commentators who aren’t like those girls.
The paradox of combatting misogyny by picking apart and re-framing what are essentially isolated behaviors perpetuated by some cisgender women keeps spawning more and more pop culture labels.
Where does it end? Does it ever end?
In 2022: It’s easy to be categorized and to self-categorize as any of the aforementioned types.
Women must be careful not to be too free-spirited or cut their hair too short, or be too quirky, or else be labeled a Manic Pixie Dream Girl or Quirky Girl. They must also not be too serious or too vocal about their struggles and dating grievances, or else be a Sad Girl or Femcel. They can’t enjoy too many video games or sports because those are “stereotypically male things” and that could earn them the title of a Boy Girl. If a woman is too easy going, they might be mistaken for a Cool Girl.
They can’t have too many male friends or criticize other women or else they’ll be called Pick Me’s and Nlogs. They can’t be too accommodating or available or else they’ll be called a Good Girl or the many other hateful names that predate any and all of these labels… If they’re too reckless, are they then–The Bad Girl? Does being outspoken mean they’re Bossy. If they’re not interested, will they be the prude or the tease? If they’re not accommodating, does that mean they’re a… okay, you get the point. How you dress can make you a soft girl or a clean girl.
Now Everyone is a “Type”… Not A Person
Each of these categories (whether used in a positive or negative light) broadly takes a paint brush to the subject, objectifying and making them into a 1 dimensional type.
The amount of ways that a woman can be reduced nowadays is exponential.
Ironically, these labels that have brought about mainstream conversations addressing misogyny are paradoxically phrases that only exist as a platitude to express a woman’s relationship to cis heteronormative men even on the grounds of how others perceive her… less so about how she might perceive herself. None of these terms seem to be untethered to some relationship or competition with (or for) cis heteronormative male identity–making much of today’s commentary extremely self-contradictory.
Many, for example, would argue that labels like Pick Me and NLOG speak to internal misogyny. However, even these terms have been applied broadly in ways that are reductive to a woman’s humanity while also undermining the complexity of women altogether.
The notion that some women are perpetuating internally misogyny is realistic, as it can be a psychological response to the pervasive, negative, and stereotypical representations of hyper femininity that have been entrenched in the media that so-often denigrate women.
Being a woman was already exhausting. Now every woman is navigating a mine field of urban labels and constantly having the internet shove them under a sorting hat. Even those who perpetuate these labels with the intention of combatting misogyny enable them to be misused and abused. Labels are reductive, denigrating, and they don’t spotlight the real issues.
Creating another box to combat an ism doesn’t actually incentivize the self-awareness we think it does. It often results in a pendulum effect until we’re faced with yet another label that counteracts our previous point— as we saw with Pick Me Girls leading to their counterpart– Femcels or the Bossy trope leading to the Cool Girl trope.
Even if identifying flawed and internally sexist behavior in women is to blame for these names, everyone has problematic qualities and implicit biases. This fact is universal and not exclusive to women.
Well then, how do we move away from these labels and address the real issues that they are attempting to speak to?
Feminism was never about establishing a way or a blueprint of the ideal feminist. It is a fundamental belief in equality of the sexes. In its simplest definition, it doesn’t speak to a competition of sexes or a tethering to cis heteronormative identity.
Finally, it also shouldn’t involve only one demographic of women.
We can identify behaviors in everyone (not just women) without shrinking and invalidating the person. The more we label and stereotype, the less we achieve in the long term.
People are complicated, diverse and complex and we are in a constant state of transition. Our emotions and experiences are fleeting, and while our attempts to interpret behaviors often comes from a place of curiosity and responsibility, the more we popularize labels, the more we stifle our capacity to truly understand the intricacies of human nature through the broader state of our socialization.