Categories
Opinion Pop Culture

On Being Basic

by Isa Meyers //

If you do any of the following:

  1. Love watching The Bachelor
  2. Have attended Coachella
  3. Exclusively drink rosé 
  4. Regularly post selfies on social media
  5. And/or, hop on the latest fashion trends

you are, by most definitions, a basic bitch. The term basic bitch, commonly shortened to just basic, popped up in pop culture in the early 2010s. Being basic is being predictable, and a follower of social and cultural trends. While the manifestations of basic-ness have changed from the 2014 pumpkin-spice-latte-drinking, duck-face-posing, Ugg-wearing, basic bitch poster child, the threat of being basic persists in our notions of femininity today. Basic has only changed trends, leading to the next cultural fad that Tik Tok and other platforms make viral. 

I would like to stress that I recognize there is privilege with being basic—there is privilege in being critiqued for being a part of the norm. This is a privilege that is not given to people who are genderqueer and are oppressed for precisely not conventionally embodying femininity.

Trends come and go, but what continually permeates this notion of basic-ness is the sexism it’s rooted in. Women have constantly been critiqued for what activities they partake in. If someone is too feminine, she’s basic. If someone is not feminine enough, she’s “one of the guys.” Women, mostly white, embody the stereotype of “cool girl” (coined by Gillian Flynn in her novel Gone Girl) when they embrace masculinity. Because your identity as a cis woman can only be rewarded when it’s associated with masculine qualities and rejects what constitutes as feminine. Contrastingly, it is imperative to note that queer women and women of color are not afforded this chance to grasp the power of being a bro the same way cis white women are able to smoothly integrate into the communities composed of their white male counterparts.

The issue with basic is that it polices women for choices that are, frankly, unimportant. However, I would like to stress that I recognize there is privilege with being basic—there is privilege in being critiqued for being a part of the norm. This is a privilege that is not given to people who are genderqueer and are oppressed for precisely not conventionally embodying femininity. And in contrast to the threat of violence these individuals face, being basic is a trivial problem. I also want to stress that being basic is closely tied with socioeconomic privilege. One cannot be basic without also being able to buy into these capitalist trends.

Because men who watch football are not basic, they just like football. Men who wear khakis are practical. Men who spend several hours at the gym each week care about their health. Men aren’t basic, they’re just men. 

But the constant criticism of how women decide to dress, what they choose to watch, and what foods they like to eat, is outdated and contributes to our oppressive gender binary. This calls into question the relationship women have with the common critic: white men. Being deemed basic upholds hegemonic masculinity. Because men who watch football are not basic, they just like football. Men who wear khakis are practical. Men who spend several hours at the gym each week care about their health. Men aren’t basic, they’re just men. 

White, cishet men might try and argue that they are cast into negative stereotypes as well. And they should argue this because they’re not wrong. There are so many negative ways these assumptions affect men’s self-esteem. Sayings like “boys don’t cry” or “man up” inherently place masculinity as the antithesis to emotions. There’s a reason why men in the US are criticized for being emotive: they are taught to suppress any ounce of feeling for the sake of upholding their masculinity. 

But the typecast most similar to being basic for male-identified individuals (being a frat boy “Chad”) is created by a different set of stereotypes. Being a Chad is linked to his privilege. In other words, someone is a Chad when they are A.) white, B.) cisgender, C.) straight, D.) affluent, or E.) all of the above. Being a Chad is not based on what this Chad likes to watch or how this Chad likes to dress. Rather, being a Chad is not recognizing your privilege or using that privilege to oppress others without consequences because of the institutions they are a part of. This is drastically different than a woman being a basic bitch because she enjoys watching Addison Rae’s Tik Toks.

Privilege does come into play when discussing the word basic. And I’m not trying to minimize the white, socioeconomic, and cis privilege of being able to fit into the category of being basic. Instead, I’d like to insist we think about the words we use to degrade people, especially women. What may appear as a joke or a simple colloquialism can, and does, reflect the institutions that police gender norms related to masculinity and femininity. And these norms affect everyone.