The evolution of the basic bitch

Emma Stone, just your average "bland, basic bitch".

Emma Stone, just your average "bland, basic bitch". Photo: Getty

Bitch has contained multitudes since at least circa 1997 when Meredith Brooks wailed with all the Alanis-inspired passion she could muster, “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I do not feel ashamed”. (Side note: Is the single cover not the most nineties thing you’ve ever laid eyes on? Sunflowers AND slip dresses.) The ever-flexible ‘bitch’ has functioned as hurtful slur, reclaimed title of feminine power and somewhat bizarre bonding term (alongside terms like ‘whore’ and ‘slut’ as Tina Fey so cleverly highlighted in Mean Girls).

The latest era of bitchery has taken things a step further – it’s now all about the ‘basic bitch’. (And I apologise in advance, if you play a drinking game where you take a shot every time I say ‘basic’ or ‘bitch’, you will wind up in ER within roughly the next 600 words). So who is this mysterious basic bitch and from whence did she spring forth? This insult popped up around 2009 according to the modern etymological ground zero of Urban Dictionary, where it was defined as ‘one who has no personality; dull and irrelevant’.

The term has since slowly grown to meme-worthy levels of popularity. Kreayshawn brought it to the public consciousness in her 2011 single Gucci Gucci proclaiming her derision for luxury labels with the statement, “Basic bitches wear that shit so I don’t even bother”. In 2012, teen Youtube star Lohanthony released a nine-second viral video titled Calling All the Basic Bitches.

Shoshanna in Girls likes Sex and the City, hair donuts and other basic  bitch accrouments.

Shoshanna in Girls likes Sex and the City, hair donuts and other basic bitch accrouments.

This year the concept has reached critical mass, going from relatively underground label to pop culture phenomenon with a full taxonomy emerging. Comedy website College Humor released a skit on how to tell if you’re a basic bitch including symptoms like enjoying scented candles, taking Zumba classes and owning a picture frame that says ‘family’ on it. Discussions trying to define her have popped up and you can even do a quiz to find out if the dreaded label applies.

So what exactly is a basic bitch? It’s a woman whose taste is obvious or clichéd, she prefers fitting in to standing out. The basic bitch’s biggest misdeed is liking girly things and being a bit late to the party on trends – Shoshanna from Girls is probably the best pop culture example. Her polar opposite is the ‘bad bitch’. (You thought it might not involve being a bitch at all? Sorry to disappoint.)

The other thing on those How Basic Bitch are you lists are liking the movie Love Actually. No, LOVING, the movie Love Actually.

The other thing on those How Basic Bitch are you lists are liking the movie Love Actually. No, LOVING, the movie Love Actually.

At first glance ‘basic bitch’ seems potentially subversive. It’s praises (albeit through disparaging the opposite) women not conforming and reinforces the idea that female and femininity are not synonymous. But scrape the surface a little and you’ll realise it’s still a verbal cage that says don’t be a certain sort of woman. The message is if you happen to like stereotypically girly things or products squarely aimed at girls and women, you’ll be put down as ‘basic’ and lacking in discernment. The other issue is that it seems to be used as a term designed to engender competitiveness amongst women, the subtext when it’s used being ‘She’s a basic bitch, but I’m not’. Like Gillian Flynn’s much quoted ‘cool girls’ passage from the best-selling soon to be a movie Gone Girl it just sets up further us and them divisions.

Emma Stone (an unabashed Spice Girls fan) had probably the classiest response to the term. Stone told Vogue when she Googled herself she found someone had described her as a ‘bland basic bitch’. She found the term so hilarious she embraced the insult and started using it in reference to herself. Touché, Ms Stone.

If we were all completely honest we’d probably admit to having at least one ‘basic bitch’ thing we love. (I shamelessly enjoy Starbucks dark chocolate Frappuccinos and find myself glued to the couch all zombie-like mumbling ‘She’s like the wind through the trees’ when Dirty Dancing turns up on television.) And that’s fine, the reason things are labelled as feel-good is because they feel good – it’s not a crime to be passé. Anyway, if basic bitches are so terrible, what is the alternative? To forego Love Actually, leggings and Audrey Hepburn posters for cooler pastures? But then you might be equally derided as... hipster. Could the solution be to simply hate everything? How terribly dreary.

According to many a Buzzfeed listicle, Starbucks is the preferred beverage of basic bitches.

According to many a Buzzfeed listicle, Starbucks is the preferred beverage of basic bitches. Photo: Bloomberg

There is a middle path though. Drink a cold drip while listening to Katy Perry. Put a Joan Didion quote on your Pinterest board. Wear your double buckle slides with a star tattoo proudly displayed on your ankle. Watch Friends repeats while eating Korean Mexican fusion. Like what you like – basically.

12 comments so far

  • In Australia, we don't need the term "Basic Bitch", for decades we've had the term "Bogan", and it applies to both sexes, so it serves us well!

    Commenter
    Consider this
    Date and time
    June 16, 2014, 10:49AM
    • I am sooo unaware of current pop culture.

      I thought this article was going to be about women who are bitches, basically.

      What do I know!?

      Commenter
      Gee Emm
      Date and time
      June 16, 2014, 10:56AM
      • I thought this article was going to be about female dogs. It's not cool to call women bitches.

        Commenter
        Mel
        Date and time
        June 16, 2014, 11:46AM
      • They started it!

        Commenter
        Gee Emm
        Date and time
        June 16, 2014, 1:59PM
      • Well said Mel
        It is a nasty word thrown about to put women down - no matter how you dress it up in humour it was always designed as a put down & an insult .
        I think the constant use of the word particularly in modern music & the context it is used in says it all.

        Commenter
        Bridget
        Date and time
        June 16, 2014, 6:26PM
    • And the war continues between the female race....and itself.

      No one said it better than Mark Twain.
      "Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see."

      Commenter
      kat
      Location
      melbs
      Date and time
      June 16, 2014, 1:59PM
      • As one black blogger pointed out, this is an urban term that has been appropriated. It was never meant to refer to the candle-burning, netball playing, college girl stereotype: it more closely referred to fashion-label wearing, flashy-but-soulless types. But oh well, appropriating urban terms goes well with flower crowns and stuff.

        Commenter
        missminute
        Date and time
        June 16, 2014, 4:52PM
        • Love, Actually. Hated it the first time I saw it but have seen it several times since and actually, love it!

          Commenter
          Catherine
          Date and time
          June 16, 2014, 5:31PM
          • Language is very fluid these days.

            Commenter
            Barry
            Date and time
            June 16, 2014, 7:19PM
            • I don't think 'bogan' means quite the same thing. But yes, the whole thing is boring and stupid and American. There is an edge of nastiness that really shouldn't be encouraged by the media. There are so many better things that one could be doing than giving a moment of time to such things.....

              Commenter
              lola
              Date and time
              June 16, 2014, 8:22PM

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