This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

Spring 2024

Girl stuff

It’s silly that women get bullied just for liking things, but there’s a lot more to be said on the subject

Sam Nock

A Stanley quencher water bottle is tinted pink with several hearts around it to signify internet likes

Photo by Natilyn Photography

I am admittedly a formerly pretentious, insecure hater of all things popular, pastel, and mainstream. As a teenager I forced myself to sit down and read Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, making long lists of Russian names, trying to keep complex plots straight that were honestly above my paygrade. Though I still think Anna Karenina is a deeply beautiful and sad story that any Ottessa Moshfegh fan would like, I clung to a highly curated, highbrow air that was intertwined with my own internalized misogyny and white supremacy. Me? Listen to pop music? Never. I only listened to indie music I unearthed from the depths of MySpace.

I dedicated myself to becoming “not like the other girls,” or more accurately, “not how I constructed the other girls to be.” I threw myself into what I saw as alternatives: teenage goth Sam with a dyed black pixie cut and eyeliner drawn down to the tops of my cheeks; emo Sam with layered teased hair and off-brand slip-on Vans; pretentious Sam reading Russian literature; and indie-music Sam, worshiping at the altar of the manic pixies. Even into my twenties and my first tastes of adulthood, I threw myself into various alt scenes, making sure my baby bangs were blunt and my distaste for “normies” even blunter. No matter where I landed on the alt spectrum, there were still women I compared myself to, both inside my circles and out. Yet regardless of what armour I was trying to encase myself in, I was wholly in a competition not against other women and girls, but against myself.

Throughout every phase, each carefully curated taste, I found genuine interests. I love getting lost in books; the screamo and emo music of the early aughts is my nostalgic homecalling; I made lifelong friends through arts and music scenes. Through all of this, I never let myself love what I actually love, because deep down I was too scared that if I stepped one toe outside of my imagined line, the fragile house of cards I had built for myself would topple to the ground and leave my true form revealed: a shy, chubby 12-year-old in slacks and a Walmart blouse.

This is not without nuance, and within my own journey there are multiple intersections of class, race, and gender privilege and oppression I both hold and face. Womanhood, in all its complexities, is constructed in ephemera and is a varied experience across communities. I, in my lived experience as a fair-skinned, cisgender Métis woman from rural Northern B.C., performed with the best of them in a theatre of public opinion.

As growing parts of our lives are lived through social media, we are all in some sort of death-knell competition where obsession with liking the right thing is the law and we are all our own jury and executioner. To put it simply: we love to hate. Being a hater is a tongue-in-cheek, relatable identity we slip into that provides us with shallow boundaries, shallow connections, and the idea of control in a world that feels like it’s slipping into chaos. Why rally against capitalism, colonialism, and crumbling Western democracy when we can all rally against Bethany and her ivory Stanley cup? Or point fingers at long lines of eager consumers lining up outside Target to buy the newest Stanley collab? We are all implicated under a crumbling colonial and capitalist empire, and it’s easier to point fingers at others than to look in our own backyards.

Now, before anyone gets the idea that I’m here to defend the harbingers of Christian Girl Autumn with their perfect Utah curl: I’m not. We need to challenge our consumption habits and the ways in which we are all media trained to think “me good, them bad.” Social media has given us a new gateway into fast-moving microtrends that tell us “x is out and y is in” on what feels like a near-weekly basis. Just as fast as the rise of the soft girls, we saw their downfall and the rise of the mob-wife aesthetic, which just happened to coincide with the 25th anniversary of The Sopranos. This is the gears of late-stage capitalism telling us to consume more.

Sure, influencers are showing us unobtainable lifestyles built on consumption, but these are small symptoms of much larger issues of systemic capitalism and hungry empire. It’s easier to look at individuals and see them as the problem than it is to look at the larger structures of oppression, the ways in which we are harmed, and the ways in which we harm.

Coastal grandma, vanilla girl, mob wife, and whatever new viral trend will pop up in the next five to 10 business days all suffer from the same suffocating delicate whiteness that erases the aesthetic and political history of many of these trends. Much of what is “new” today was created within Black and racialized communities. Think Hailey Bieber’s “brownie-glazed lips.” If you grew up around Black and brown women in the 1990s, you recognized this trend instantly. Yet, when these trends were stewarded by racialized people well before the rise of TikTok, they were met with racist backlash. Now, heralded by a new generation of young white women, they are trendy, and cosmetic colours better suited for deeper skin tones— which are already less available— are selling out as a result.

Critique is not hate. None of us are above critique, but we are all socially indoctrinated into thinking that we are better than one another based on the things we enjoy. Boycotting, speaking truth to ignored histories, and fighting against systemic injustices is not being a hater.

Lately, I’ve been trying to ask myself two questions before I throw myself into discourse:

Do I hate this thing everyone loves because I have solid critique or reason, or is it because I am projecting my anger and frustration on something innocuous?

If I hate it because I just don’t like it, do I need to share this publicly?

It feels like we’re in an era where individualist pressure to be “right” surpasses the need to organize along collective lines. Nothing we do is without critique, without us having to live our values, and identify where we need to be accountable. But what if we did this work without also fighting in stan death matches, defending multimillionaire celebrities who are never held to the same standards we hold each other to?

Recently, I’ve started letting myself openly love and enjoy the things I loved in secret: cheesy romance novels, action movies (ask me about the Fast & Furious franchise), all the indie folk you can imagine, and yes, I have a lovely teal Stanley cup. I’ve shed my near-pathological need to try to force myself to only read whatever is being lauded as The Literature of the season, apologize anytime I listen to music out loud insisting it’s only a guilty pleasure, or sit through long arty films that bore me to tears. It’s not that I don’t enjoy these things, but I’m getting far too old and far too exhausted to try and like the right things, to cultivate my personality around them.

If I’m being completely honest, in the last couple of years I’ve been relearning who I am and just letting my interests and desires lead my process. Who knew that I’d end up being a former snob now revelling in romantasy books about fairies and getting too caught up in reality TV dating competitions? Maybe it’s basic, laughed at by people who think they’re better because of the media and art they consume, but I’m learning how to have fun again. And yes, Titanic is my favourite movie, and I have an annual, nostalgia-fueled Twilight rewatch every year. When I was younger, I used to make jokes about basic girls, but deep down, I was a basic bitch with a yearning heart.

This is me officially retiring my hater hat. I simply cannot waste any more energy on what water bottle Midwest momfluencers are using. Sure, there are things I see and need to make jokes about, but I’ve found my people I can do that with—privately.

We are watching untold horrors unfold: genocide, climate collapse, the rise of fascism, and ever-increasing instability. If reading smut and drinking from a fancy water bottle gets you through the day, I love that for you. But let’s be accountable to each other so neither of us get lost in the hypocrisy of capitalism and white supremacy. Let’s hold ourselves to the same standards we hold each other to.

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