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Bows, Bright Pink And Girlhood: Reclamation Or Regression?

Spend any time on social media populated by the under 35s you'll find something dubbed ‘girl’. From ‘girl hobbies’ to ‘girl dinner’ and ‘girl walk’, every seemingly universal or banal human activity seems to be feminised. Whilst much of this trend emerged on TikTok, we can see it slowly creeping into Pinterest, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram.

In the wake of what colloquially became recognized as the “Year of the Barbie movie”, 2024 seems to dive even deeper into the world of feminine codes that emerged in 2023.

Yet in a fascinating turn of events, this striving for ‘girlhood’ is spearheaded by women in their twenties and thirties, those well beyond the whimsy and frolicky fun of childhood this leaning into traditional stereotypes of female ideas, hobbies and styles is only expanding as women add bows to every aspect of their lives with all its lipgloss and adult slumber parties. This reclamation of interests, colours and notions often associated with frivolity and childishness is deemed to be all about embracing the things majority of women were bullied for in their early adolescence. It stems from a desire to change the narrative around the heavily gendered space of toys and games they feel they were forced to conform to during their tender years and abandon upon coming of age something their male counterparts are alien to. 

Young girl embracing feminine things

An excerpt from Mya G. Wolf’s poem goes like this “being a daughter is helping with dinner while your brother plays with video games” clearly encapsulating the notion of women being pushed to mature and grow faster than men, that they can’t carry the fun and games from their childhood into their adult life whilst men continue to play video games, crawl into their own man caves every now and then, and are never really told they're too old for something. Toy cars become real cars, video games get more violent, bikes become skateboards and cycling, whereas women must bid adieu to their hobbies, and instead cook, clean, babysit young kids, and push to be taken seriously at work — the kitchen, house, and dress-up games of their girlhood years serving as training ground for seamless execution of the stereotypical feminine activities they are expected to conform to when they step into ladyhood.

No more scathingly was the essence of this captured than by Barbie Movie actress, America Fererra, in an interview with Etalk in 2023, “Growing up is about leaving behind childish things, particularly for women. Men get to have their man caves and play their video games forever. And women, it’s like, ‘toys away, do the chores, grow up”.

Taylor swift and Keleigh Teller

This trend of ‘girlhood’ flies in the face of this systemic gender inequality. As Taylor Swift’s Eras tours sell out stadiums across the globe, women of all ages make friendship bracelets to trade with other fans and the Barbie Movie re-invigorated our love of fushia and bright pink as opposed to the subtle and serious millennial pink that reigned for years. Even TikTok aesthetics are allowing women to embrace more traditionally cute and feminine styles of dress, from Coquette to Lolita and ‘That Girl’.

But these girl ‘things’ our bows, our pink outfits and girl math despite their attempts to embrace the feminine codes surrounding them, can pose an adverse effect. In our venture to reclaim girlhood, we have gendered things that didn't need gendering, inadvertently adding stereotypes to previously neutral ideas and objects. Whilst some aspects of our rushed childhoods have come into our grasp, others have failed to be anything more than seen as trivial and childish.

Furthermore, this has othered female hobbies and likes even further girl math seems to be irresponsible in the face of general math, and the Barbie movie was mocked and reduced to being about a ‘plastic dolly with big boobies’ in Jo Koy’s speech at the Golden Globes, and ‘girl dinner’ became synonymous with disordered eating. Girl hobbies, which could just be hobbies, now don’t exist in the same space as regular hobbies, often those dominated by men and the line between girlhood and ladyhood has been blurred as 11-year-olds on TikTok flaunt expensive skincare routines and no longer shop in the kids sections at stores.

Our rush to walk down the abandoned girlhood aisle has invariably pushed young females to enter the adulting phase faster than they already were and pull ourselves out of the male spaces we had worked so hard to infuse inclusivity into and make just ‘spaces’. 

It has also solidified a discourse that sidelines women on the non-binary spectrum, trans females, tomboys, and unconventional rebels. The term girl, especially as a prefix, is incredibly dysphoric for many non-binary individuals and even those who identify as female. As an article by the Guardian points out, “it is infantilising when used to describe a grown woman”, and many women who have fought hard to be taken seriously in their space do not align themselves with the use of the word ‘girl’ for fear of losing that respect. 

bow in hair

This supposedly safe space is built on periods, bows, trinkets and anything pink and as a result, has excluded those who don’t relate to or enjoy the same things fostering a community that men cannot be a part of, and yet women have spent decades fighting to dismantle male-dominated worlds that they weren’t let into. 

There is also the argument that this ‘girlification’ reinforced the outdated notions of femininity we are all too familiar with, the love for pink and the feminised compartmentalization of hobbies, especially as we are yet to see things such as ‘girl building’, ‘girl coding’ or any other reclaiming of typically masculine pursuits and hobbies. All these ‘girl’ trends that have sprung up are things women have been doing for decades hobbies and interests already heavily associated with femininity.

Whilst ‘girl dinners’ and ‘girl math’ may parade in the form of a fun internet trend on the surface, it has harmful undertones. In a world where ‘girl’ can still be derogatory, women still aren’t paid equally across the globe and their rights are secretly being stripped by countries once deemed ‘progressive the trend belittles and diminishes female interests and pursuits. I wear bows constantly, half my wardrobe is pink and there are soft toys on my bed in the flat I rent with my own money, yet I don’t segregate and define these as inherently infantile or ‘feminine’. These are just part of who I am and go hand in hand with my ambition, my strength, and my independence.

If I were to participate in ‘girl dinner’ and ‘hot girl walks’, it wouldn’t erase any of my drive, passion and autonomy. But it would unnecessarily segregate and gender these interests enforcing a world where women aren’t equal and patriarchy still continues to dominate male and female spaces to the detriment of everyone.

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