Skip to content
All posts

In Defense of the GIRL

“girl dinner”

Girl dinner, girl boss, soft girls, strong girls, girl math, girl power, proud to be girls’ girls. A resurgence of girldom has swept popular culture, and while this celebration of all things girly does not come without criticism, I feel a sense of comfort. To be called a girl is a naming to relish. Girldom is a celebration, a state of being that prioritizes passion; it can be a worldview that is enthusiastic. This celebration of girlishness also marks an aging out of the old instinct to discern oneself from what is considered feminine. According to many who criticize the use and celebration of “girl,” to be a “girl” anything is to be synonymous with unserious. We can accept and critique the overwhelming generalizations of the girlhood experience that exist in these ever-multiplying trends, but the impact of girls remains undeniable.

We Are All Teen Girls

This undeniable impact and common ground of girlhood is evident in Olivia Gatwood’s poem “When I Say That We Are All Teen Girls.” Gatwood’s poem describes the universal nature of the experiences of girlhood; we are all teen girls, she exclaims. The everyday and mundane experiences that the girl trends shine a light on are the same as those moments identified throughout the poem. These shared, common behaviors associated with this girldom are often deemed annoying and “too much” by serious adults, men, and society. Maybe this annoyance is because it is easy to identify oneself within teen girl behavior. There is a connection between the girl trends and the acknowledgment of the teen girl in all of us that Gatwood unpacks. It is what makes the era of girlhood so compelling and (to some) aggravating.

In Gatwood’s poems, teen girls are fathers, dogs, birds, grandmothers, and mountains. To be a teen girl is an attitude, a feeling, a vulnerability. She writes of her grandmother waiting for a response to her letter:

When I say that we are all teen girls
what I mean is that when my grandmother
called to ask why I didn’t respond to her letter,
all I heard was, Why didn’t you  
text me back? Why don’t you love me?

To feel unloved or sad because of another person’s action, or inaction, is not a feeling only experienced by girls, and yet it is commonly assigned to them. The popularity of the girl trend, or the era of girlhood, may have been so widespread because, even if only subconsciously, we see ourselves in girls.

Girl Power

This new era of girl in popular femme culture extends from the girl-boss desire to outwork the patriarchy, determined to break the glass ceiling. While many girls and women seek to do this, this new iteration of girldom is a deep dive into the delicate, the often stereotypical feminine, and the appreciation of the girl in all of us. This new iteration seeks to show that power and femininity are not mutually exclusive; a girl can be both.

The cultural influence of girls reached viral-trend status via social media in recent years, and in an age of trends that highlight girls, sharp criticism swiftly arrived along with the trend’s popularity.

The rise in popularity of all things “girl” goes beyond aesthetic viral trends; it is not limited to any one group. Instead, girlhood has become a lifestyle. TikTok trends focused on simple aspects of everyday life and highlighted them, giving them a name. Going for a walk became “hot girl walks,” while throwing together random snack food items for dinner became “girl dinner.” Much of the trend relies on documenting small, everyday tasks and romanticizing them or being silly about them. For example, “girl math” is used to justify purchases. What is present in the girl trends and the age of the girl is not so much a blueprint to girlhood but, instead, a celebration of the little pieces of life that can make girlhood special. There is no capturing the magic of girls in a list, and there is no use compiling what it is not. Anything and anyone can be “girl.”

Blog_March24_InDefenseoftheGirlThe power of the girl became clear, and tapping into the girl trends could be a profitable marketing endeavor. Brands focused their marketing campaigns on girls as consumers. Movies, TV shows, and music with femme audiences and experiences in mind, like Barbie, Wednesday, and Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour and Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, impacted culture in huge ways. Swaths of people dressed in head-to-toe pink filled movie theaters to see Barbie. People of all ages and genders made nostalgic friendship bracelets ahead of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. Beyond fashion trends and popularity, each of these examples greatly impacted the US economy. For instance, the Eras tour boosted the economies of every city Swift performed in, becoming the highest grossing tour in history. When it comes to turning a profit, the “girl” proved to be a valuable and serious target demographic.

I’m Just a Girl

The momentum of girl trends walked so criticism of girl trends could run and multiply. And to be clear, there are some valid points of criticism of the girl trends, such as the near-instant commodification of the trend that came hand-in-hand with viral TikToks. Going on “hot girl walks” requires a cute new outfit; girl math encourages us to spend without guilt or thought. Corporations love nothing more than a consumer who mindlessly purchases. Another note of great importance includes the repetitive use of the word “girl” attached to old gender norms and tropes that can be exclusionary if adhered to literally. Some of these girl trends have been criticized for centering whiteness and lacking diverse representation in themes and experiences. These points of criticism are warranted and should be acknowledged.

However, much of the frustration surrounding the popularity of girldom is deeply connected to socially accepted treatment of experiences deemed “girlish.” With the hivemind of negativity, critics became tired of girls and their “annoying” ways. Think pieces littered the internet picking apart all the ways in which the trend of “girls” falls short. Vogue writer Daniel Rodgers expresses his exhaustion with the trends in his article “Girl, Stop: Let’s End the Tyranny of 2023’s ‘Girl’ Trends,” stating: “The trends themselves were unremarkable—going on walks with friends, eating tomatoes in Europe, barhopping like an excitable rodent—but the added suffix of girl gave these innocuous, hyper-specific experiences a sense of outsized import.” According to Rodgers, these peaceful, simple actions are not serious enough to have longevity. They do not make an important statement; these walks with friends are not necessary enough for viral consumption. What Rodgers misses in his piece is that girlhood is remarkable in its simplicity. The goal of girldom is not to convince people that existence must be remarkable. Sometimes the most necessary moments are unremarkable, and the emphasis on everyday magic in the girl trends is evidence of that idea.

Who Run the World? Girls.

Even as I write this (my elder millennial lateness to trends is exposed), the girl trend continues to evolve in new ways. The most important part of the ever-growing girl trends is the inescapable nature of girls. There is no hiding, no making girls smaller to make room for matters and men of consequence. To exist in a girlhood and take pleasure in that space is enough. A world without girls would be a world without trailblazing girls and women who have made the world better. To be able to talk about the power of girldom is because girls and women today stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Those who fought for and won the right to vote, those who were the “first”: the first governor, the first astronaut, the first published author, the first teacher. It is only because of their work and efforts that we can now embrace, and indeed celebrate, girldom in its “loud enthusiasm” and remarkable simplicity.

Subscribe to our newsletter to download lesson plans for both middle and elementary school students.

Claire Wolters is a curriculum developer at Gibbs Smith Publishing based in Indiana. She was a high school English teacher for close to 10 years. Claire has written articles for volumes of The Issue and was a contributing author in the book CulturED: Pathways for Meaningful School Change. In her free time, Claire enjoys reading angsty girl poetry, nature girl poetry, and all poetry to her literary pup, Ernest Spaghetti. Otherwise, she is rock climbing or gardening for her local pollinators.