A Cool Girl, a Fleabag and a Bimbo Walk into a Bar
I'm going to start this off really quick with a hello and whoops I'm sorry for neglecting the blog. It's been a while since I've written. But, then again, it's also been a while since I've been able to parse together actual, concrete thoughts, so here we go.
Art by Kora Designs
Last Sunday, I was in the middle of attempting to match up some rogue socks (one of the most mind numbing adult tasks). when my friend sent me the following text:
Two Things You Should Know First:
Whenever this friend sends me anything, I know it's going to be wildly interesting (as she is a wildly interesting human)
I can't resist a good podcast - let alone one that has "Feminism" in the episode title, we should all know this by now.
For those who are not familiar, Binchtopia is a conversational podcast that discusses current popular culture phenomena and trends, intermingled with various sociological and psychological perspectives. In other words, hosts Julia Hava and Eliza McLamb - a duo that frequently made me laugh and pause in the middle of trying to find that other damn white tube sock (spoiler alert - I never found it) - delightfully deconstruct all kinds of topics.
In their episode, Feminism is When Women are Stupid, Hava and McLamb discuss the complex and challenging nature(s) of several current social-media popularized feminist movements such as dissociative feminism and bimbo feminism.
As someone who is almost always neck-deep in feminist literature, I've come to realize that the lines between first, second, third and fourth-wave feminism aren't as clear as they apparently used to be. Not everyone who is a feminist today identifies with feminism in the same way. Feminism today, rather than being one fixed position, is a central term that splinters off into many different avenues. Much like astrological signs with their intricate, corresponding traits, many seek to identify with a subgrouping or a type of feminism that aligns with their personal experiences and expression of self.
Feminism is no longer a one-size-fits-all solution.
And really, I appreciate that. Most of the time.
In "The 'Fleabag' Era of Dissociative Feminism Must End" Sophia Peyser writes:
"Rather than complaining about their oppression or taking action to stop it, the young, contrarian women of TikTok have decided to align themselves with their favorite female heroines and simply exist as pained beings. Instead of clawing our way to the top, we are interiorizing our existential aches. We’re numb.... [dissociative feminism] does not refer to medically diagnosed occurrences of dissociation like D.I.D. It’s more accurately characterized as a state of existence championed by women on TikTok and inspired by fictional heroines. Encapsulating a nihilistic attitude toward feminine progress and toward existence in general...."
From what I understand of Peyser's article and Hava and McLamb's discussion, dissociative feminism involves the immersion in one's own sorrows to the point that it allows them to splinter off from feeling any sort of responsibility (be it societal or personal responsibility). Within dissociative feminism, women drastically change their appearance - aesthetically "dirtying" themselves with slept in makeup, unwashed hair and messy clothes in an attempt to give off an overall impression of not caring: not caring about themselves, the people they meet or of what society thinks of them.
On the surface, I dig this. I get it. I get wanting to rebel against a post-#MeToo society that has screamed the world "GIRLBOSS" down our throats. I get wanting to show up to brunch, drink all you want, in makeup from the wild night before. I get wanting to be so immersed in yourself that you try to forget the gender-norms that have shackled you to a particular feminine stereotype.
But that is where my appreciation for dissociative feminism ends.
While it is performed and celebrated in television shows such as Fleabag (a great show by the way), dissociative feminism is a fetishization of despair, indulgence and ultimately selfishness. Hava and McLamb explain: "[dissociative feminism] really epitomizes white feminism - giving up on progress and deciding to be nihilistic, because at the end of the day... it's a uniquely skinny white girl privilege... people love a skinny self-destructive bitch."
Essentially, to pull off the dissociative feminist aesthetic, you need to not care about your looks, society or your friends while also being interpreted as attractive. As Hava and McLamb point out, dissociative feminism is highly linked to the aesthetic of the "cool girl". Come on - we all remember the cool girl right?
Much like the cool girl epitomizes a traditionally feminine, soft archetype, the dissociative feminist (D.F) revels in self-destruction.
And when I really think about it, D.F really isn't a new phenomenon - I think we've really just found a name for it. I've lost track of how many women I know to revel in this kind of feminism. Ultimately, D.F's end up caught in the rush of their own destructive behaviours in the form of harmful lies, cheating and ultimately (as Sophia Peyser aptly explains) implicating others in their "destructive quest".
"The theme that ties all these dissociating women together is passivity. They all possess a desire to sit back and wallow in their hardship; to cope with it instead of fix it. Passivity is a tenet of white feminism. To be able to approach feminism in a nihilistic way is to be incredibly privileged.... Dissociative feminism, and it's accompanying passivity, revolves around women with the world at their feet—women who are cis, white, pretty, and wealthy. These women are tortured and unpleasant yet interesting; they have the resources to remove themselves from oppression and thus feel no need to fight for the rights of women without said resources." - Sophia Peyser
The ability to check out, indulge in partying and form a self-narrative that surrounds the coolness of "disassociating" from friends, responsibilities and life, is rooted in privilege.
However harmful dissociative feminism is, much like the "cool girl", I think it is a trend to grow from rather than be stuck in. As a retired "cool girl" myself, I can see the appeal to D.F. I understand the rebellion (in theory) against a society that has pushed such an ignorantly positive rhetoric about feminism (ra-ra, you go girl, girlboss!) However, I don't think dissociative feminism has a place in contemporary gender-based activism - or, it shouldn't have a space when it isn't truly about feminism or gender equity at all. It's all about repurposing harmful aesthetics to be "edgy."
On the flip side of that same coin is bimbo feminism (which to some people may seem a bit like an oxymoron but just stick with me here).
Historically, the term bimbo, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, refers to "an attractive but unintelligent or frivolous young woman."
When you think of the word bimbo - what do you see? The first images that came to mine, in no particular order were:
Paris Hilton (simple life Paris phase)
Britney Spears (ridiculed early 2000s Britney).
1999 Barbie and Skipper Campaign
I thought of literally every negative stereotype regarding a white, blonde, traditionally attractive cis-gender woman.
To wrap it up for you, bimbo feminism revolves around a revitalization and alteration of the bimbo feminine archetype. Although, this time around, bimbo feminists are reclaiming the word bimbo. Yes, it still has associations with misogynist and patriarchal values, as women strive to "become decorative objects" (Jones, Rise of the Bimbo) - but, they are reclaiming the word and the archetype of the bimbo, to establish their own freedoms. On Binchtopia, Hava and McLamb assert that dissociative feminism and bimbo feminism are more closely related than they would appear (at least aesthetically).
Much like its edgier cousin, bimbo feminism relies heavily on self-indulgence and "checking out." While certain proclaimed bimbo feminists use their platform to give voice to topics such as LGBTQIAS2+ rights, transgender rights as well as movements such as Black Lives Matter (such as TikToker Chrissy Chlapecka) - there is something troubling about this trend that makes me sit back and go, okay wait, how is calling yourself a stupid whore revolutionary? If bimbo feminists are repurposing what it means to be a bimbo, how are they challenging its historical presence? As Jones writes: "A man who views women as intellectually inferior sex objects is unlikely to care whether or not the performance is ironic."
(Images pulled from Urban Dictionary)
I want to be clear. I have no issue with the style aesthetics that are integral to these subcultures. Who wouldn't want to dress up like a Bratz doll or emulate Phoebe Waller-Bridge? Express yourself however you want to, with whoever you want to. (If I thought I could pull off as much glitter and pigtails as Chrissy Chlapecka - I'd be sporting them too).
Perhaps I am more focused on what dissociative and bimbo feminism do as forms of contemporary feminism rather than what they look like.
"What is very troubling to me is that [bimbo feminists] carry around these little slogans like handbags, like 'oh I'm pro Black Lives Matter - I'm pro sex work - fuck Capitalism'... but I don't read and I don't know anything about anything.' So, okay let's follow that to its logical conclusion. You think Black lives matter, but you [claim you] don't know anything and you don't know how to read... you are saying to everyone fuck Capitalism... I don't want to participate in discourse... that means... that you are announcing that [these issues] don't actually mean anything to you" -Binchtopia.
It is easy to say that you support causes such as Black Lives Matter, without actually learning about what the movement stands for, or implicating yourself in dialogue surrounding its presence in society. After all, a cornerstone of bimbo feminism is "'no critical thinking, no self-awareness, no thoughts, just vibes'" (Jones, The Rise of the Bimbo). Instead of practising meaningful, intersectional activism, bimbo feminism makes activist buzzwords fashionable. (I'm getting major deja vu)
In certain ways, dissociative feminism and bimbo feminism evoke the same rhetoric as the mother-of-all exclusionary types of mainstream feminism: white feminism - a state of mind and practice that I think similarly revolves around the importance of "personalized autonomy" (Koa Beck, White Feminism). While the aesthetic presentation (or some may say performance) is different - from the dissociative feminist's smudged eyeliner to the bimbo's barbie crop-tops or the girl boss' pencil skirt - the intention behind these three subcultures could not be more reflective of each other, in that, there is a celebration in the self, in not caring. Whether that be through...
believing that white women's issues are more important (looking at you white feminism)
believing that nothing is important so why should you even care about anyone or anything but yourself (dissociative feminism)
believing that you're too pretty to have to learn or know anything outside of yourself (bimbo feminism)
Fundamentally, instead of questioning or being aware of oppressive power structures, I worry that dissociative feminism and bimbo feminism embraces them, or ignores them - and through that ignorance, continue in the perpetuation of systemic harms that a patriarchal-capitalist society is likely to produce. (Sexism, Ableism, Homophobia, Transphobia, Racism, Classism, Islamophobia - really take your pick).
At the end of the day, neither dissociative feminism nor bimbo feminism is revolutionary. At least, not in the way that perhaps these movements intend. However, I do think that they are representative of the (sometimes beautiful sometimes harmful) ways that feminism has branched out, to mean many different things to many different groups of people.
Now, I didn't really mean for this blog post to be a slam piece against those that say they're in their "fleabag era" or call themselves a "dumb whore." I guess I'm just as much interested in these types of feminism as I am frustrated by them.
More important than anything I've rambled on about - dissociative feminism and bimbo feminism speak to a larger issue at hand - pandemic trauma. They are means of self-expression and coping after nearly three years of watching the world destroy itself over and over again. The emergence of these subcultures coincide with police violence, abortion bans, book bans, the "don't say gay" bill and the criminalization of healthcare for transgender youth.
Millennials, those on the cusp of Gen Z and Gen Z's themselves grew up in a world that was not interested in their individuality. Rather, it sought to pigeonhole them into an endless-subliminal-messaging-merry-go-round of "be different but oh not too different."
From the days of flip phones, fat-shaming posts on Perez Hilton's blog and the Simple Life, we have arrived at a time of chaos that is "bound to leave one anxious and wishing they were staring at a white wall" (Jones). Ultimately, if you force yourself to dissociate and find that white wall in your mind, the world becomes a bit of an easier pill to swallow.