Essay: Basic Bitches

Lou Stoppard asks why women want to be girls

by Lou Stoppard .

Our generation has been forced into a time warp, cruelly prevented from ever growing up like some sad passive female Peter Pan in American Apparel disco pants.

Masculinity is in crisis. We all know that. Hey, Shortlist magazine have even set up a whole initiative to mentor lost young men, those poor bewildered twenty-something blokes who have no idea what their place in society is or who even cares about them anymore. Look around at young guys - once, as a collective, the nation's sweethearts, marching off to defend King and Country and wooing British beauties down the dance (all the clichés your grandparents go on about) – and you’ll see they've become mindless Superdry-wearing morons, neknominating themselves into oblivion while 'ripping the piss' out of their mates and quietly sinking into a shallowly-masked, confused comedown that lasts their whole twenties and thirties. Our heroes have no idea who they’re meant to be – society’s pillars or outcasts? Women’s protectors or equals? Tough, emotionless beings or sensitive creatives?

As always men are hogging the limelight. As the media avidly reports on their descent into a regressive state – those weekends playing Grand Theft Auto in their teenage bedrooms post-uni and attempts to replicate semi-violent YouPorn clips with poor unsuspecting girls  - women are going through their own identity crisis. Now I'm not giving bait to the mindless ‘feminism killed it for women’ brigade. This isn't about girls having too much choice and freedom that we don't know what to do with it and would rather just give up our jobs and freedoms and return to a blissful state of domesticity and passivity. This actually has very little to do with women’s rights, it's all about age, education and economy.

If you were a girl born any time between the mid eighties to early nineties - basically if you have some memory of making formative identity developments to the soundtrack of B*Witched or ever wore Von Dutch - you grew up being heralded as the mature ones. As a sex, girls ruled the school. We were told our mental ages were years above boys by beaming teachers who cast weary glances at the confused, acne-ridden idiots alongside us. We beat them in our GCSEs, we took 'their' university places. When Tim or Mark or whoever dumped us, our parents, friends or teachers told us he's just an immature loser – he’ll grow out of it, you’re too old/sensible/wise for him. But then, sometime post college or uni, as the recession hit, came the drastic realisation that there’s not much use having the sense and maturity of a boy 5-10 years older than you if your generation is jobless (733,000 young people aged 16 to 24 were unemployed in June to August 2014 and in 2012 1 in 10 graduates couldn’t get a job six months out of study). What's the use of kicking the ass of some sexist public school boy convinced of women's innate inferiority in your university finals (sorry Jack), if you're going to end up sleeping back at your parent’s house under those faded Powerpuff Girls bed sheets and picking back up the same part-time cash-in-hand job you had aged 15? Our generation has been forced into a time warp, cruelly prevented from ever growing up like some sad passive female Peter Pan in American Apparel disco pants. So what did we do in response? In a slightly less thuggish way than the boys, and in most cases with less substance abuse, we returned to a childlike state. Confused by our position, we reveled in our lack of responsibilities – even though we’d actually quite liked to have bought a house or, you know, have been offered a salary - and embraced eternal infancy.

It’s a sad cycle. We're told our body clocks are ticking and are constantly saddled with a strange Bridget Jones-esque 'sad single girl' tag by an older generation, confused by the fact we've been unable to pluck a husband from the tropes of bewildered boys struggling through the same crisis of societal and employment rejection. So we resort to silliness. Sure our eggs may be dying but have you seen our hilarious Mean Girls quotes on Instagram? Your hair looks sexy pushed back! It doesn't matter that we're unemployed as we're dressed like our responsibility-less 13-year-old self anyway! How ironic is this crop top? Emojis are our baby talk. Aren’t we cute! Our poster girls are either #TBT heroines like Cher Horowitz or TOWIE sirens like Amy Childs, on one hand so 18+ with her man-made breasts and lips, on the other so infantile with her baby voice, wide-eyes and moronic chit chat (she once asked if a matador was a type of penguin. Adorable!!) The ‘basic bitch’ isn't the only manifestation of this crisis but she's one of them. What's intriguing about her isn't her vapidity (Urban Dictionary defines her as a ‘white suburban girl who…takes pictures of everything, and when the miracle occurs that she leaves the house she will take snapchats of the endeavour to make sure the world knows. These journeys will include trips to Starbucks, Chipotle or other appropriately 'basic' locations.’) but her infantile props - the cupcakes, the florals, the ‘Keep Calm and Go Shopping’ cushions, the My Little Pony iPhone case, the glittery princess stickers decorating her iPad. Basically she's a sign that 'your average' twenty-something girl is stuck in time, obsessing over the music and fashion of her youth and the repressive domesticity - hello Cath Kidston - of her ancestors. If there was ever a sign our generation is reveling in childishness it’s Zoella: a 24-year-old woman – and, according to more sources than I’d care to read, this generation’s ‘role model’ - who makes YouTube videos of herself squealing like a hysterical toddler over a Boots bronzer. Bleak.

For women, is grasping at our infancy some desperate attempt to slow time down? A weird Disney-fetishising 'we never had it so good mentality', that leaves us dreaming of the infinite freedom but also infinite hope of our youth. The sheer number of girls who have selected The Little Mermaid as their social media avatar or are 'ironically' sporting Hello Kitty accessories seems to suggest so. Young women have no idea who our role models are. We want to be strong but can't be the 'power career women' Vogue makes a trend of each season because no one wants to hire us. That's never been more patently clear than on the runways. Those 'adult' icons - the strong women of Celine or the vixen of Tom Ford – entice us but don’t relate to us. Who is this ‘high flying gallerist or writer’ who shops Phoebe Philo? Not us. We can tell the Tom Ford look is regressive - who wants to look like the sad 19-year-old bride of a oligarch, dressed in clothes picked out by him - but we don't have much else that’s better and relevant to turn to. So we laugh off the crisis and use silliness as a crutch. For many it’s got nothing to do with personal style – sure, some women consciously and intelligently own this ‘Girly’ look, but most only dabble in accessories. That's where Moschino by Jeremy Scott comes in - peddling pink Barbie plastic phone cases that look like toys you played with as a child to twenty-somethings the world over. Why the success? It speaks to a generation that has nothing to say for itself other than LOL. One that is so displaced and confused about our position in society - rejected on one hand, criticised and obsessed-over on the other - that a Barbie or McDonald’s logo says more about us than anything else. It’s a sorrowful, smile-through-the-tears mentality where we're in control as long as we’re ROFLing. We feel safe around these childish remnants of our youth, they smack of a time before we’d realised we’d probably never get on the property ladder and would likely meet our life partner on Tinder with an action as haphazard and unromantic as a swipe left or right.

What's the alternative? Marry while at university? You'd almost certainly have to in order to wed at the same age as your parents’ generation. Pop out a couple of kids while juggling an internship with a Saturday job and living in a warehouse with six other people? Obviously not. But there is another way. Acceptance. Yes, we’ve been dealt a bad hand but it’s a very real and inescapable one. Fetishising the silly, cartoon and unreal – we all know a Barbie body wouldn’t be able to stand if it belonged to a real woman - may be a distraction but it’s not honest. Fashion’s meant to be about dreaming not numbing – about fantasy not ignoring your realities because they’ve got too tough and things were nicer when you were cared for like a child. Grow up – you can’t hide behind a Barbie hand mirror forever.