Monday, May 2, 2016

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Why We Have to Stop Labeling Each Other

I'm SUPER excited to share my first EVER Guest Contributor with all of you! Teaching Girl is a 2nd year PhD student studying at the University of Nevada, Reno. She loves ice cream and her kitten, Ollie. When not writing for work, she loves reading the poetry of Adrienne Rich and imaging having tea parties with Jane Austen. 

It is an absolute pleasure to get to share her article with you. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!

So, without further ado...

Basic, Hipster, or Basic Hipster? Why We Have to Stop Labeling Each Other

I teach freshman-level college English classes for a living. As each new semester starts and ends, I feel the cultural distance between myself and my students widen faster and faster. I hear my student talking about TV shows I’ve never heard of and I have to be educated about slang like “fleek” and what “Netflix and chill” really means. Nothing about young adult is intuitive to me at this point, which brings me to two labels that I’ve heard thrown about among my students recently: basic and hipsters.

Being labeled ‘basic’ or a ‘basic bitch,’ I’ve learned, is not much of a compliment. According to one Hello Giggles blogger, enjoying mildly popular things like Starbucks and Instagram make a woman ‘basic’—somebody who is trying to be ‘cool’ but has been called out by opposing girls (mostly) for such attempts. As a student in one of my classes has pointed out, Taylor Swift is, above all others today, the epitome of ‘basic.’ Not only does loving Taylor Swift and her album 22 meet the ‘basic’ criteria in one BuzzFeed quiz (I got 14 out of 119, by the way), but the saturation of social media with photos of Taylor carrying Starbucks coffee and wearing trendy hats seem to point us in her direction. But there was something about these explanations of Taylor’s basic-ness that never made sense to me.

Those hats she wears, the ‘nerdy’ glasses she loves wearing, even her oversized sweaters all made me (an admitted outsider) believe Taylor was a supposed hipster. This label, as my students helped me realize, is even more ambiguous than that of the basic bitch, and here’s why: like being ‘basic,’ someone who is a ‘hipster’ doesn’t ever self-identity as being hipster. These individuals try to reject contemporary young adult culture (pop music, fashion trends, and all things middle class) by fleeing to what had been on the margins—beards, flannel, and, yes, those pesky ‘nerd’ glasses. These distinctions didn’t make sense to me. If Taylor was ‘basic,’ as Time Magazine claimed she is, could she also be a hipster? Some would say no, since her lyrics clearly make fun of hipsters, but as the Guardian pointed out, she embodies hipster culture in many ways: her unabashed acceptance of crooked teeth, her identification as ‘quirky” and “a nerd,” and as a musical “outsider” who doesn’t belong to one genre all seem to indicate some allegiance with hipster.

All of these labels, these interpretations and reinterpretations of one, highly visible woman got me thinking this semester. What’s the real difference between being basic and being a hipster? And, as it turns out, there really isn’t a lot of difference.

Both labels are used by (mostly) women against mostly women (‘basic) and men and women (hipster). Both are, at the end of the day, simply labels—words we use to keep “my group” pure from other groups who threaten my idea of myself. As it goes, if I can make you feel ridiculous for trying to be cool by labeling you ‘basic,’ then my social status can be maintained. I don’t mean to try to rehash Tina Fey’s indictment of girl against girl bullying in Mean Girls (she did it well enough without me), but I want to draw attention to the lines girls seem to continue to draw in the proverbial sand. When we obsess about who we define as ‘hipster’ and who is ‘basic,’ we continually draw ourselves into a label---That Girl. We become That Girl who always hates on others. And, while it may work for a while in high school or college, it is never That Girl who gets ahead in life. Karma has a way of coming back to them by Those Girls that That Girl always hated on.

-Teaching Girl