The Vagenda

Why Twee Needs to Die a Death

Woah there, hipsters. Before you jump down my throat faster than an ice cream shaped cakesickle hybrid, I’m not about to say that I want to kill Belle & Sebastian. I quite like Belle & Sebastian, when I’m in the right frame of mind. But all this twee shit really has got to stop. 
Twee is defined as ‘excessively sentimental, sweet, or pretty’, but is also a musical genre with its roots lying in the famous C86 tape. It’s the jingly jangly indie pop of the Magnetic Fields, Beat Happening, Camera Obscura, et al. A genre which, while once good, has now permeated every aspect of modern culture (or at least, modern culture for those under thirty.)
If you ride to work on a pink bike, have a picture cluster in your bedroom, listen to vinyl records, stand around in a tea dress holding a heart shaped balloon, have your own cupcakery, think ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ posters are charmingly nostalgic, use instagram, think people who use instagram are wannabes because you have your own polaroid camera, go to things that have bunting, collect vintage china and take an unhealthy interest in typography, then you are probably pretty fucking twee. You probably think heart-shape sunglasses are pretty cute and that Lolita by Nabokov wasn’t even that pervy. Time to stop.
So why all the twee anger? Surely this is just another blog post about hating on hipsters, right? Which means you must just be jealous that you’re not a hipster yourself? Wrong, dear reader. Firstly, this is so much worse than your ordinary, workaday hipster vibe. This is pop culture taken to vomitous, nauseating, ubiquitous heights. Plus, I’m 25 in four days time. You can not physically be a hipster after you are 25. Hipsterdom is the territory of the young. After that age you are definitely supposed to be an adult, with fully formed opinions and a personality, so mindlessly following an ill-defined youth subculture that is actually pretty consumerist and mainstream starts to look a teensy bit sad. Which brings me to yesterday. 
We went to a launch thing yesterday that was the ultimate in all things twee. I won’t say where as it wouldn’t be fair on the participants, but as I sipped on my coconut rum flavoured pink cocktail in the basement of an analog camera store and listened to the jingling of a two-piece band singing about a love accompanied by a tambourine, it struck me that twee had reached its apex. No one, in the whole world, could be doing anything as twee as what I was doing right that moment. There was LITERALLY nowhere that twee could go from this. I contemplated this as I chewed on my sherbet filled flying saucer and lustfully eyed up a guy in the corner, not because he was handsome but because he was drinking a beer. 
Twee is very much a girl thing. It has a creepy childhood nostalgia about it that makes me very uncomfortable. It’s as though if you eat enough marshmallows and put enough flowers in your hair all your adult problems will go away. You can’t really be a twee grown-up, with a job and a mortgage and oddball sexual fetishes. The two just don’t compute. Yet more and more we’re seeing this tweeness infiltrate the minds of ordinarily intelligent people. Suddenly everyone wants to be a fifties housewife and is going to Crafternoons, eating macaroons, and doing other things ending in ‘oon.’ It’s not normal.
There are certain things that go hand in hand with becoming an adult and one of them is learning not to let this stuff affect your identity. This can be taken as a more general point with regards to any ‘trend’ but is especially important when it comes to women and the twee explosion. From what I saw last night, women are actually in danger of turning themselves into real life Manic Pixie Dreamgirls and not living breathing entities with thoughts and ideas and opinions. Twee girls don’t have screaming political arguments about capitalism at dinner parties. Twee girls don’t do shots, or have zipless fucks, or basically do anything fun. I’m not saying that because you enjoy knitting or baking that you’re some kind of traitor to the feminist cause, but when your identity is so wrapped up in it that you’re beginning to become an archetype then that’s when there’s trouble a-brewing.
I have no doubt that twee will die a death of its own accord and the young ‘uns will move on to something equally meaningless to occupy their empty days with, but until that happens, maybe help hurry things along a bit by not using fonts with names such as ‘peach sundress’ and acknowledging that, London traffic being the way it is, it’s probably safer to have a bike with brakes. Twee may seem inoffensive and innocent, but it’s become so ubiquitous now that it’s in danger of hijacking anything genuinely subversive. Of course, I’m not going to preach to you about how its alternative credentials are a sham and that it is just as capitalistic as running around Mahikis with a bottle of Cristal while pointing at your vajazzle. You’re a clever girl, you know this already. But at the same time, from the looks of it, it’s quite fun being a woman, and you can’t really be a proper woman if you have to go home with a tummy ache from all the sickly pink cocktails, cookies and sweeties you ingested. Which is what happened to us yesterday. Yeah. Twee made us physically sick. 

34 thoughts on “Why Twee Needs to Die a Death

  1. I read this post while embroidering a cushion for my boyfriend and listening to Evanescence. Seriously!

    Each to their own…

  2. Evanescence are most certainly not twee, so well done on that. May we inquire as to the design on your embroidered cushion? Perhaps the Vagenda will do a line of them and we may call on you for help!

  3. Er… it’s Rutger Hauer’s death speech from Blade Runner: “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire…” etc. Was going to do “Dave… what are you doing, Dave…?” from 2001 but it was w-a-y too long!

    We’re such nerds.

    I admit it’s all less twee in context. I am wearing handknitted socks, though.

  4. Fact: Rutger Hauer can never be twee. The quote makes your embroidery the very antithesis of tweeness.

    In an unrelated but phonetically associated fact, have you heard about the virulent new virus being transmitted through Twitter? Apparently it’s untweetable.

  5. Well, here’s the thing. I regularly wear flowers in my hair, my favourite song in the entire world is by Camera Obscura, I enjoy cupcakes (but don’t reckon they’re the best thing ever), and the sparklier the thing is the better. Granted, I can’t bake to save my life, I look like a twat in a tea dress, knitting is very much not for me and I don’t own a bicycle but… I’d guess I’m twee.

    I’m also thirty, I earn my own money, I’m a trade union rep (and indeed women’s officer for my branch), I frequently argue about politics and I assure you, I have plenty of fun ;)

    I guess I don’t see the love of cute things as a barrier to being a kick-ass feminist. Owning an array of things covered in butterflies and melting clean away at the sight of kittens (never babies. Always kittens) doesn’t mean you (I) can’t call bullshit on sexism.

    Also Instagram is GREAT, and far less of a fucking farce to store your photos on than Facebook. :)

  6. Dear Vagenda. I have been a big fan of yours for the past few months. I find the majority of your articles absolutely hilarious. I find they bring a little uplifting bit of girl power to my day. Usually I agree with most, or all, of what you say and feel like you are expressing my thoughts in a much more articulate and witty way than I ever could. You’re like that cool older girl at school with the subversive uterus-shaped earrings that you always wish you could be like.

    Anyway, enough flattery. Re: this article. What the actual?! As hilarious feminists, surely, suuuuurely you would be the first to admit that the “let’s generalise about other women based on one aspect of their lives to extrapolate to how interesting/sexually adventurous/intelligent/politically aware/etc etc they are” line of reasoning is like, the number one Thing Feminists Do Not Do straight out of the How Not To Stereotype Women handbook?

    “Twee girls don’t have screaming political arguments about capitalism at dinner parties. Twee girls don’t do shots, or have zipless fucks, or basically do anything fun.”
    - seriously?? I know one who does all of the above. Whilst wearing a flowery fucking apron.

  7. This article has generated an interesting discussion, with people on Twitter generally in agreement with it, and those on the comments not. Shame we can’t have it all in one place really!

  8. I normally agree with every word written on The Vagenda but unfortunately this article has really rubbed me up the wrong way. I am a 25 year old woman who identifies with the twee sub-culture, I wear a lot of tea-dresses because I like the femininity of them, I bake cakes because I absolutely love cake, but I also have screaming feminist rows with people who dare cross me and have a great affinity to the word cunt, which is pretty much the antithesis to twee. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying a certain aesthetic, whether that be sickly sweet femininity or butch dirty biker womanhood.

  9. The problem with Twee for me is that it is marketed towards women. The advertising campaigns that follow this line suggest that women who are twee are cute, flowery, girly, quirky and like ‘Summer’ from that infuriatingly twee film.
    my big problem is that along with all the cupcakes, cola bottles and gingham comes a suggested way that a woman should act. In a nutshell twee women are inoffensive. Yes, they might shout ‘penis’ in a park while sitting on their homespun wool blanket- but it’s all in good, harmless, unchallenging, sweet-cause-she-just-said-penis sorta way.
    You couldn’t imagine a twee woman at Slutwalk, or getting her end away with a honking great dildo. and that isn’t to say they don’t do these things, but no one would imagine them doing this. Twee is for sweet, innocent, harmless women. And I, for one, would never want to be seen as any of those things.

  10. I’m a little Twee. Dresses, sometimes coloured tights, like fruity ciders or sailor jerrys rum (coconut rum too), crocheted handbags, drawing and art journallin, lovely brogues or t-bar shoes in bright yellow, using the word lovely a little too often… But that doesn’t take away my ability to function as a carer, feminist, vegetarian (so no marshmallows for me!). YES me and my fellow feminist/activist friend (who wouldnt be caught dead in a dress or make up or underwire bra and doesnt drink alcohol at all) have crafting sessions at her house (for crafternoons as you call them) and macaroons are too hard to make (except the coconut ones!) but we bake, we have fun and we’re happy as hell with that =)

  11. 1: yes, marketed towards women but also towards men (see john lewis and house of fraiser window displays)

    2: a spade is a spade but people are more complicated than that! twee doesn’t mean that someone’s a sub to a dominatrix. There are grey areas. That may be what Twee is for you but nothings ever that simple that you an take in the sight of a twee-looking person and assume that they’re sweet, innocent, harmless or a woman. Did you see Grayson Perry’s last show? Those upper-class ladies and gents were twee in their tweet, male or female, and many of them felt they had no need to feel like they had to please anyone with their crumbling old homes, crumbling old tweed, taxidermy, the lords crazy painted walls and old very cars.

    Just forget about 500 days of summer (was it called?) and maybe you’ll be less angry.

  12. I too am a touch twee and also enjoy a good political debate/shouting match/tequila shot. I know plenty of other chicks who are partial to a tea dress and are intelligent outspoken individuals. Judging anyone on their personal aesthetics basically sucks balls: if a lady wants to bake or bikini wax then she should be allowed to in peace! as your other fine articles have often pointed out there are bigger fish to fry, and pointing out which ladies are letting the cause down is simply unhelpful and discouraging.

  13. I realise I’m echoing what a few other people have said already, but Vagenda! I’m not sure you’re doing much for the ’cause’ here: if I didn’t know better, I’d saw you were trying to make me feel a bit GUILTY for liking dresses, sweet things, baking, and vintage photography; like I’ve mindlessly followed every part of this twee trend without ACTUALLY using my brain to decide whether I like these things or not. And yes, I did read: “I’m not saying that because you enjoy knitting or baking that you’re some kind of traitor to the feminist cause”, and yet you ARE kind of implying that throughout the rest of the article!

    Don’t get me wrong, I can see what you’re ranting about, I’m just not sure it’s come across quite right (Maddle Paddle seemed to touch on something a little more worth exploring, in my opinion).

    You’re talking about an archetype, but plenty of people reading this will identify in some way to this ‘twee’ trend, and I don’t think they should feel bad about it. It doesn’t mean you don’t have opinions, or fun, it just means this author probably knows some quite boring ‘twee’ people, and went to an event that clearly wasn’t to their taste. Do what you like doing, please don’t judge others for doing the same!

    I am a big fan of Vagenda, I just think maybe this article missed the mark a bit.

  14. I think a lot of people have just clearly misunderstoo the article; I think it’s great. It wasn’t written to make you feel bad, to offend etc, but to open your eyes a little. Some of these replies are just hilarious…ARCHETYPES, ladies. Think about it and deprogramme yourself. Using the word c*** just doesn’t cut it.

  15. Oh, come on. “Deprogramme” is a word usually used to describe being freed from the influence of a People’s Temple-style cult. It’s ridiculous to use it to describe this cultural archetype.

    IMHO, at any rate, we all have our little ridiculous affectations and are hardly terrible people as a result. I or you may find “twee” ridiculous, but whatever. I can’t see any case for saying that it does any harm, and as a result I’m inclined just to leave them to it.

  16. Much of my social life revolves around the post-C86 indie scene in London. I wear peter pan collars. I own bunting, use instagram & own an analogue camera.

    I’m also a feminist. I have political arguments sometimes, I’m pro-choice anti-racism anti-homophobia anti-transphobia, I’m a Masters student, I’ve been called a slut, I’ve been called frigid, I don’t know who I want to fuck or if I want to fuck anyone at all. The commenter who ‘can’t imagine a twee woman at Slutwalk’ may wish to know I attended its London satellite last year & can report that the shape of my sunglasses didn’t seem to affect the atmosphere of solidarity. I’m not perfect. I swear a lot, procrastinate too much, drink too much beer and once (just FYI) did so many tequila shots I blacked out.

    In short, I’m a woman, a complex person with needs, wants, beliefs, as is *every woman* regardless of the femininity (or otherwise) she performs, for whatever reasons she performs it. I HAVE ‘FULLY FORMED OPINIONS AND A PERSONALITY’ BECAUSE I’M A HUMAN. If you think the shape of my sunglasses undermines my personhood & respectability as a woman, you’re committing misogyny. You’re using my performed femininity, intersected by my female identity, to undermine my autonomy as a person. This is sexism. Bravo.

    Aren’t we done with female essentialism ? When you say ‘woman x doesn’t do this & does do this’ you tap into a broader societal narrative dictating that women aren’t people with inner lives & nuanced preferences. I expect more from a supposedly feminist blog.

    I also find it interesting that you’ve involved C86 and the subculture it generated in this discussion when that subculture was arguably the main predecessor of riot grrrl. Much of the original scene’s music concerns gender/sexuality norms – check out the Field Mice’s ‘Sensitive’ (which queries normative masculinity) & ‘This Love Is Not Wrong’ (a gender-bent pro-LGB anthem) & Heavenly’s ‘So’ (which questions victim-blaming and rape culture). This often gets ignored, maybe because it’s packaged in the trappings of femininity and, as this article proves, many people seem unable to reconcile femininities with delivering a meaningful message (which is itself rooted in sexism).

    To day, the ‘twee scene’ (though many prefer to refer to it as ‘indiepop’, perhaps because ‘twee’ is often used pejoratively) & its music labels have a substantial female presence compared to their counterparts; most of the twee musicians and DJs I know are women, along with many label managers and promoters. After a lifetime of thinking independent music was a boys’ club, I’m playing in one of the headline bands in an indiepop festival this summer and I feel like I’m being *listened* to, even if only by a small group. It’s empowering. It’s a start. It’s worth noting that the only clubnights at which I’ve never experienced sexual harassment were twee clubnights. Make of that what you will. I’m not saying the scene’s perfect & I know its music isn’t to everyone’s tastes; but in terms of gender politics, it’s more evolved than many subcultures.

    I know this comment’s enormous, but I want to highlight one very valid criticism of the twee identity: it’s available mainly to white middle-class women. Tami Harris highlighted this in a Racialicious article last year – – and this, I think, is a striking point Vagenda’s article doesn’t address. Any woman can be devalued for her choice to perform femininity – this devaluation in itself is misogynistic, but WoC have less opportunity to choose to perform that femininity in the first place. If we’re going to talk about problems with twee, I’d rather we talk about that.

  17. I relate very strongly to the ‘twee’ identity as a specific mode of performed femininity (see enormously long comment below), I have sexual desires and preferences (quelle surprise) and I attend Slutwalk because I believe in the cause and deem displays of solidarity against rape culture to be socially vital. Please don’t stereotype me according to my personal aesthetic preferences.

    And it’s marketed towards men over women because it’s still largely socially unacceptable for men to be feminine.

  18. Ugh I just reread this and I’m sorry for all the typos and the horrible rhetoric, in my defence it’s almost 3am. Hope my point still stands though.

  19. I own a polaroid camera, have a bike without brakes on in London, love baking and sewing and always wear tea dresses so I guess you could say I am this twee “stereotype”. Except the reason I do all these things has nothing to do with feminism, I do them because they make me really happy. The ironic thing is that loads of these “twee” girls and women are using their skills to start up small businesses or do activism with. I went to a Craftivist event a couple of weeks ago and have never come across so many interesting, talented, creative women all in one place. This whole article feels like it is shaming women into acting a certain way to prove they are feminists.

    And FYI I also went to SlutWalk London last year and wore an adorable flowery dress. So there!

  20. Just have to say I knitted a pink sweater for my bike and it is FUCKING AWESOME! I am twee, I’m very smart, have a good job and great sex and I have opinions. You underestimate and belittle women when you say that something is dumb just because it is ‘girly’. It’s important to celebrate the nice things in life.

  21. I secretly would love to be a 50s housewife, because at least I would know my place then and probably would not feel so confused about my tendencies to love everything that is cute and pretty.

    I find it really hard to admit to some people that I love a cosy home, would quit my job if I could somehow afford it and that my dream job is being a waitress. I do feel shamefully embarrassed by these desires, because they are, as you rightly said, opposing the stereotypical feminist beliefs.

    But is being a feminist not all about making choices and deciding about which way you want to go in life without being judged? Embroidery, cakes, flowers and pretty dresses ARE part of my identity, but I can still stand up against sexism, prejudice and inequality, can’t I?

    By the way, I am 35 and had my share of drunken nights and sex with strange men. Doesn’t mean I can’t now do shots out of vintage glasses with my husband while sitting at the lace-covered table in my well-used kitchen during a heated political discussion.

    P.S.: If I feel like having a beer, I order one!

  22. I don’t see this article so much making the point that Twee is anti-feminist as much as it’s trying to say, in part, that it purports to be anti-capitalist while being anything but.
    And while the article does claim that Twee is more of a women’s thing than a men’s, I can certainly call to mind a few men I know who could fall into the category of twee too.
    So IMO this isn’t really a feminist issue as much as it’s just calling people out on the whole fashionably Twee thing and saying its a bit tired now and a bit disingenuous.

  23. Some young, ‘hip’ people are into some thing. Evil capitalist marketing men realise they can exploit this thing and use it to sell to same young, ‘hip’ people. Same old story.

    My aesthetic tastes are pretty much exactly what you describe (apart from the music – prefer hip hop). I’ve always referred to my tastes as ‘kitsch’ rather than ‘twee’ though – kitsch is more of an aesthetic value, whereas to me the word twee has connotations of certain behaviours. However, I’m not going to start burning my floral dresses, smashing up my vintage china and giving up sewing just because some sly marketing team jumped on the bandwagon – that’d just be letting them win!

  24. I think the whole twee deal has got muddled with the indiepop crowd. Nauseating dating website adverts are one thing, and I think the DIY attitude of the post C86 indiepop vibe is quite another. They might coaslesce occasionally (the Camera-Obscura Blossom Hill advert for example) but I don’t think you can reduce the gender politics of the indiepop world with the marketing materials that the article has reckoned has ‘permeated every aspect of pop culture’.

    This may seem a really petty distinction but it’s relevant because twee is treated as *exclusively* feminine. I find it annoying (and occasionally frustrating/patronising/disempowering) when the anodyne harmlessness of ‘twee’ pursuits (even up-til-now gender-neutral ones like drinking tea or listening to vinyl) are expressed as femininity. Indiepop is different, and I think more interesting, because it de-couples the ideas of gender and activity that the twee marketing reinforces. I’ve also read a couple of interesting articles before about indiepop and masculinity, and the kinds of identities indiepop accommodates for men, as well as women.

    Thanks for this article, I don’t agree with all of it but it certainly made me think.

  25. Dear Vajenda,

    I am in my mid twenties, with a family of my own (two non biological daughters and a fiance), a cake decorating business and investment properties on a holiday island. I don’t cry at the movies. 50 % of bad things that can happen to a woman, has happened to me. I cry maybe once a year. I hate the film ”PS I love you” and others like it. I love DIY. I am skilled at plumbing, plastering, electrics installing and brick laying.

    I can also sew and make sugar flowers.

    I love vintage tea cups,teapots, cake, tea parlours,macaroons,crochet, dresses, shoes, peach sundresses….. I love ”Twee”.

    Its the tiny cakes, the tiny painted flowers on a teapot, the pink sherbet on a vintage saucer that brings a smile to my face. Its a reminder that not everything is absolute pants in this world. There are nice beautiful things worth enjoying.

    I know quite a few 20 something year olds, who as well as being fans of Twee are successful entrepreneurs with savings.

    Its not Twee that’s the problem with today’s society and youth. Not Twee things. And certainly not people who like Twee.

    Its people like you.

    You have have the power to write and reach out to people and what do you do with it? You use it to attack a way a of life, a personal choice,an industry that creates jobs.

    Write about Crime,War,Politics and Poverty.

    Diversity is the food of society and culture. Cynicism isn’t.

    You need to learn to be more tolerant of people who are different from you.

    Its not Twee that got you sick. Its overindulgence.

    Enjoy your week.

  26. Wow, people get really revved about their subcultures.

    I look forward to finding one I don’t find weirdly confining that I can fit into eventually, clearly there is something to this…

    I do own a dress, in a 50′s style, with a cupcake print. I had it made up from a pattern my Grandma designed at that time. I will not apologise for it.

    Most people look at me like I am insane(I don’t live in London), I just wanted to ‘repreeeezent’ for all my home-ladies who like cakes baked in an individual portion size. I was not aware that this was twee, or that twee was a thing.

    I am also 1000% capable of ‘pulling’ in said dress ;) that god-awful song ‘nothing sweet about me’ comes very much to mind.

    But what is a ‘zipless fuck’? Is it similar to a normal fuck?

    ed. I really shouldn’t proof anything tired, oh well.

  27. Correction: Hipsters are usually in their mid to late 20s. And stop with the “OMG I’m 25, I’m fucking old”-shite, it’s depressing! Am I the only one who don’t want to be a clueless teenager?

    muchos love

  28. I really enjoyed that Emma! I’m so twee (and old too, hee hee) that my ex boyfriend said I’m looking Christian. I’m delighted. Imagine what I can get away with now.

  29. Hmmmm…I found this article because someone recently told me I was “twee”. I gave it a look up, and as it turns out, there IS a proper term for girls who wear tea dresses (every Sunday to church since i was little), listen to camera obscura (and other indie pop like Dressy Bessy and Go Sailor), and like cute things. I have always been this way, and in a genuine sense, I have always been a soft hearted, old soul with a penchant for all things feminine and beautiful. Blame it on my mama. But, I am also a college student with a full time business management job, a healthy sex life, and I am a fierce feminist who would prefer beer and hard liquor to fruity pink mixed drinks ANY DAY. I am also very interested in politics, video games, science, and I am a fierce feminist and humanitarian. I don’t like the things I like and bake the cupcakes I bake as a display to an audience of people who’s opinions I don’t give a fuck about (I also have a potty mouth and I have a very strong personality)…I am
    Who I am and I like what I like because I am the way I am, and I choose to be the way I am. The permutation of things I like and the things I am is very complex and cannot be defined by your definition of “twee=sexless immature woman child” and “not twee= smart empowered woman who does what she wants”.