By Corrin Bond
I first heard it in the fall. It was the beginning of a new semester and my roommate and I, both transfer students, had just started settling into Moscow. About a week into classes, a friend came over to study. He took one look at our room––the spotless floor, the Brita filter, the scented candles––and snorted, “You’re such basic bitches.” At first I laughed at the idea behind his modified insult, at the idea of being completely normal, standard… basic. Then I began to hear it everywhere––standing in line for coffee, taking notes in class, filling up my water bottle. The phrase was pervasive and seemed to slip easily into any conversation––“Did you that Instagram post? SO basic.” From what I heard around campus, I assumed that the basic bitch fever was some new, extreme strain of the stigma against women who wear shorts with Uggs.
Then came the listicles. From BuzzFeed to Thought Catalog to BroBible, it seemed as if everyone on the internet had something to contribute to the conversation about this rising colloquialism. That’s when I realized the basic bitch phenomenon was anything but a casual trend. It’s a concept that emerged from a combination of contemporary society’s compulsion to feel individualistic and its love for alliterations. Although the phrase was originally coined by the rapper Lil Duval in his 2009 Youtube hit “basic bitch”, the term slowly made its way into popular culture and now dominates the millennial’s lexicon. Urban Dictionary defines the basic bitch as “an extra-regular female” or “someone who is boring and unoriginal.” Additional definitions, although contradictory, range from women who don’t “put out” to those who are perceived as promiscuous. While “basic bitch” is beginning to become a catch-all phrase for anything that a woman does which society disagrees with, the idea behind it is that if you’re basic then you like and endorse popular, common activities and products.The basic bitch is, essentially, the anti-hipster.
While the term is detrimental to women as well as to the progress made by contemporary feminists for a number of reasons, the heart of the issue can be broken down into two parts: the psychology of the “basic bitch” and what its usage teaches, and the dangerous dichotomization between the “basic” and the “bad” bitch which has developed from the fear of being unoriginal or standard.
While some chose to parody the phrase (“You write with a pen? How basic.”, “You drink water and like to stay hydrated? What a basic bitch.”) its emergence has fostered a hostile environment in which young women are encouraged to isolate one another and pass judgement on the basis of superficiality. The kinds of things which supposedly define a basic bitch also walk the border of the absurd. Pretty and Witty blogger Ashley Hesseltine points out that popular listicles, such as BuzzFeed’s “25 Things All Basic White Girls Do in the Fall” name common activities which are not specific to “basic white girls” but rather, are things that a variety of women, and human beings in general, happen to enjoy. These things include bonfires, wearing flannel, watching Sex and the City, and indulging in all thinks pumpkin spice.
There is a distinct correlation between how basic one is and the brands they wear, the shows they watch, and the food they like. The superficiality behind the phrase, says New York Magazine’s Noreen Malone, lies in these very things used to identify a basic bitch. Malone argues that those who use the insult pretend that it is a critique of unoriginality, but “most of what basic actually seeks to dismiss is consumption patterns––what you watch, what you drink what you wear, and what you buy––without dismissing consumption itself.”
The superficiality only intensifies with the rise of the basic bitch’s antithesis, the bad bitch. Unlike the basic bitch, the bad bitch is classified by what she values. This dichotomy operates under the assumption that girls who wear NorthFace and go to brunch can’t value important things––that what you consume, and not what you think or say, is an accurate reflection of who you are as an individual. The concept only perpetuates the societal pressure placed upon women to fit into a particular mold. If you’re not a “bad bitch” then you’re a “basic” one. If you like Pumpkin Spice lattes and scented candles then through some immutable principle of personality your friendships are fake and your life is stagnant. It is possible to be assertive, have goals in life, and be genuine with others while also being able to belt out every Taylor Swift lyric ever written. In addition to pressuring one into a mold, the basic v. bad dichotomy, in and of itself, turns women against one another. It is rooted in the “I’m not like other girls” mentality where rather than building other women up and serving as an encouraging support system, there is a prevalence of tearing down others or ridiculing them. Basic bitches are looked down upon for not being original, something which is entirely contradictory as the only way to break away from the pattern of conformity that establishes one’s basic-ness is to conform, only to “bad bitch” standards.
In years to come, the basic bitch debacle may wash out as just another passing colloquialism, but an important idea still lies in its wake––that as a society, we should strive to move beyond the basic bitch mentality and embrace people for who they are as individuals and not their favorite kind of latte.