The Vagenda

2014 Was the Year of the Basic Bitch – The Latest Way to Trivialise Women


Image: Angela Campos / Memphis Workshop

Do you drink pumpkin spice lattes? Do you use emoticons when you text? Do you giggle? Do you like music that other people like or wear clothes other people wear? Are you a woman? Unfortunately, any of the above is enough to label you “basic,” the ambiguous insult that made the rounds on the internet all through 2014. You may have seen the term pop up in lists, like 50 signs you’re dating a basic bitch or 15 things basic bitches can’t get enough of, or maybe a friend posted a tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating status: “ugh, just binge-watched ‘Friends’ instead of doing homework—I am SO basic!”

But you would be hard pressed to define what the term means. Maggi Lange, of “The Cut” provides a quick etymology of the term, citing its origins in hip-hop lyrics from 2009-2010. Eventually the term was picked up by indie-rapper Kreayshawn who uses it in her song “Gucci Gucci.” Lange notes the ambiguity of the term, writing:

“The Basic Bitch is “typical” and “normal” but essentially indescribable: Kreayshawn knows her when she sees her. By her circular definition, basic-ness is what makes a Basic Bitch.”

After a College Humor video portraying a young woman being diagnosed as basic went viral, the term grew in popularity, most often being used to describe someone who is extremely average, someone who likes what everyone else likes (A brief aside here is necessary—that is, the acknowledgment that ‘basic’ went from being a term used within the black community to describe “typical” black women, to being appropriated by the white community to describe “typical” white women. Some have argued that the term is not only sexist, but also culturally appropriative -  see here and here.) One of the Urban Dictionary definitions describes the basic bitch as “someone who is unflinchingly upholding of the status quo and stereotypes of their gender without even realizing it. She engages in typical, unoriginal behaviors, modes of dress, speech, and likes. She is tragically/laughably unaware of her utter lack of specialness and intrigue.” Notice that the definition starts off gender neutral, “their gender,” but then immediately falls into using “she.” That is perhaps the most consistent feature across the various definitions—even when “basic” is divorced from its gendered counterpart, “bitch,” it is always used to describe women. Basicness is a female affliction.

Trivializing and mocking “women’s culture” is nothing new. Whether it’s a new vacuum cleaner, or a new purse, the things women want (even when they’re not things women actually want) are portrayed as frivolous. Women’s work is easy and unimportant, women’s magazines are inane, women’s conversation is trite, consisting of nothing but gossip and sentimentalism. The advantage of the term “basic” is that it can suddenly encompass whatever women do currently—whether it’s housework or fashion, the message that woman are dumb and what women do is dumb still applies. By its very definition, “basic” will always apply to most women (because if the majority of women don’t like a thing, it isn’t basic), even when that caricature of women proves inaccurate. Do most women actually like the show “Sex in the City”? Do most women follow astrology? The accusation that women are ‘basic’ is doubly offensive; first, because it assumes a number of purposefully selected frivolous clichés accurately describes ‘most women,’ and second because the term is designed to target the ‘average’ woman, no matter what she’s like. And certainly, plenty of women do like ‘basic’ things. The list of infractions includes often-mocked, stereotypical female fads, like wearing Ugg boots with shorts, or having glittery picture frames with photos of your friends, alongside more ubiquitous practices like wearing scarves, drinking pumpkin flavored drinks in the fall (do guys not do that?), or even, and this is for real, liking bagels.

Are men ‘basic’ when they drink beer? Or when they wear hooded sweatshirts? Or when they watch football? As Lange points out, the closest equivalent term for men is probably “bro,” but in most cases being a ‘bro’ is a good thing. Certainly there are those who use the term critically, to mock mainstream male culture—but the men who self-identify as bros are able to do so with pride. Lange writes, “the true bro…is obsessed with bro-dom and with embracing a prototypical bro life alongside his brethren.” Meanwhile, even women who self-identify as ‘basic,’ have mostly done so apologetically, self-deprecatingly. There has been a push, toward the end of 2014, to reclaim the term as something positive, like in this article by Daisy Buchanan at The Guardian, or in this “faux gift guide” which was created by conceptual artist Angela Campos and  is “meant as a celebration, proof that basic can be beautiful, interesting and worthy of admiration.” Seeing some backlash against “basic bitch” as an insult has been refreshing. Nevertheless, the general connotation of the term still remains overwhelmingly negative. As the “50 signs you’re dating a basic bitch” list reminds us, men don’t like or value basic girls. You better be something special, something better than the average, dumb woman if you’re going to win a man’s interest, or respect.

There is, I think, room to make a valid critique of the standardized consumer culture that drives everyone to follow the same trends. Too many people do seem to simply like whatever they’re told to like, at the expense of developing their own personalities and interests. But why is it specifically women being targeted? Why is women’s autonomy always suspect, women’s individuality always questioned, women’s culture, whatever it happens to be, always invalid?

In using the term ‘basic,’ we are continuing a long-standing tradition of caricaturing and mocking women. I sometimes wear leggings as pants. I like bagels. I have watched romantic comedies with my friends. And I refuse to accept that the interests that women share and bond over, whatever they are, are somehow shameful. So please, let’s stop throwing the term ‘basic’ around as if it actually means something, and let’s finally stop treating the idea of the ‘typical woman’ as if it’s an insult.

- Maia Dendinger


29 thoughts on “2014 Was the Year of the Basic Bitch – The Latest Way to Trivialise Women

  1. More of an Americanism isn’t it? I’ve never heard anyone be described as ‘basic’ in Britain (I even read it in my head in an American accent). Likewise I would say our equivalent of ‘bro’ is ‘lad’ and that has a mixed reception – though it is true that being a ‘lad’ is desired for many people and in many circumstances.

    I know that isn’t really relevant, though – you’re right in that it’s another stupid piece of sexism widespread by social media and Internet rubbish. Very good and interesting article.

    • Please don’t say ‘It must be an American thing’, not because your wrong, but because your wrong. The US (assuming you mean that), is large, very large. I live in the states, and I’ve never heard anyone call someone basic, or say basic bitch.
      But then again, what are you supposed to say when addressing something that is in the western culture.

      And wouldn’t your equivalent to bro be mate? Or is that a different areas ‘thing’.

      And to the blog, these are just playful stereotypes. I never hear anyone complain about someone saying that African Americans love watermelon, KFC, and grape soda, instead they put up with it and even make jokes out of it. You are over analyzing something that doesn’t need to be analyzed. There is no secret, sexist meaning to the word basic bitch.

      • I’m not entirely sure what your first point is. It’s common in the north of England to call what I’d call a roll a ‘cob’, but I would never deny it is an English thing, simply because I don’t hear it used in my area of England. If the word originated in England, was popularised in English media and genuinely seemed to be used only by English people, I’d probably say it’s an ‘Englishism’ or whatever the equivalent is.

        This is a British blog aimed at a British audience (hence why there are articles about the John Lewis advert and not, say, the new Walmart product line), so I think it’s fairly reasonable for me to make a point about an article written about a term that I don’t genuinely think is used very often in Britain.

        I mean, you could be right in that basic bitch might have originated from somewhere else altogether, but in that case just say I’ve made a badly-researched comment. I still think of it as an Americanism.

        The British equivalent to ‘bro’ in this context is not ‘mate’. The writer here describes a ‘bro’ having a certain set of qualities – the word ‘mate’ is used informally to refer to someone else, or to refer to a friend (‘how are you, mate?’) (‘He’s a mate of mine’). You would never describe someone as a ‘mate’ because of the way they acted. You would, however, describe someone as a ‘lad’, and they tend to fit that kind of ‘bro’ pseudo-masculine show-offy description.

        I know your last point wasn’t directed at me, but I find it odd that no one complains about your stereotypes of African Americans. I would have thought that would be exactly the kind of thing people would be complaining about.

        • Americanisms have a horrible way of being exported to other places that think the USA is some fantastic arbiter of all that’s good and right. Nowhere is this more incorrect than with language. The rise of “bitch” as a seemingly acceptable alternative for “woman” is one of those “Americanisms” I believe everyone could do without.

  2. I don’t think this is particularly en pointe – being basic is a funny/apt concept and I for one apply it to a lot of men I meet/date too.

    • I agree with you. To me it’s always been used to describe someone with no discernible personality, rather than the specific interests someone has (as if their aggregation adds up to make someones personality).

      Obviously it’s used in a gendered way, but there’s no need for it to be. I know loads of basic men. As with most derogatory words, we will have to learn to own it.

  3. This article sums up perfectly how I feel about modern day stereotypes about women. My head of sixth form always made jokes about girls wearing the same things like parkas. On non-uniform day, he said ‘look out for all the girls in hotpants and tights’. No one cares if all the boys have henschel rucksacks and the the same Nike trainers. If boys all wear the same thing it’s fine, because obviously it shows they’ve got better things to think about than clothes, but if girls do, it’s because they’re supposedly vacuous. The whole concept of ‘basic bitches’ suggests that girls can’t enjoy generic trends but also have individual tastes, which obviously isn’t true.

  4. Not sure about this – generally I’ve only seen it used to snark at people who try to portray their lives as being super different and original, when actually they’re nothing of the sort – those people who #brunch with their #girls on the #weekend, #blessed. Surely it’s a term aimed at people who are already offering all of their life up for public approval and consumption.

  5. But its caricature….

    I don’t do ANY of the 50 things, apart from use Mac cosmetics, not bought from the shop. They’re all niche activities that send up the average Hollywood/TV portrayal of throwaway “girl” characters. Mostly the things on the list are the pointless pap (Keep Calm posters, crappy jewellery, Katherine Heigel movies, eating only chicken) that most of us just skip over. We all know this girl doesn’t exist but she is portrayed by the media as being everywhere.

    I’m not offended, I actually appreciate the send up of the culture… (I guess there are some women, apparently mostly in American colleges, who fit this list. Well why not? Its probably quite a lot of fun going to vegas and whooping and eating cupcakes…)

    Isn’t this the same meme that gave us the Basic Baby?

    I always assumed Basic Bitch was tongue in cheek. It’s not like Wes Anderson movies are that hard to find….

  6. I’d love there to be a day when being a woman and doing typically feminine things doesn’t have to be the opposition of a feminist. Quote my brother “how can you be so basic and call your self a feminist”

  7. I’m just reading the 50 signs you’re dating a basic bitch article and saw THIS: 19. Her sense of humor is almost nonexistent. Jokes about suicide, rape, bullying — “It’s never funny, you guys.”

    A basic bitch is so P.C, you guys.

  8. While I have not heard this term used negatively; this article was an excellent read. Sounds like “basic” is covering way too much. Something like when a person says you’re eating “girl food.” (Meaning a salad) Umm, it’s just food. Love the idea of changing back the meaning of “basic” to something positive –just something essential, simple and good. Thanks, well done.

  9. Great read. I’m a youth worker and the term “basic bitch” is being thrown about constantly by young men and young women. As are the words slut, slag and whore to describe friends and enemies. I’m in the middle of developing a project for female empowerment for young women to run in the new year and this article will definitely be in it!

  10. Literally never seen or heard this used outside the College Humour video. Is it really that widespread, or is this a classic case of mistaking a handful of websites for society at large?

  11. I think the writer makes it clear that the widespread issue is the trivialization of women rather than the use of the term ‘basic’.
    The use of tentative language in the intro such as ‘you might have seen…’ shows that the writer acknowledges that ‘basic’ is a term that some readers may be unfamiliar with.

  12. I’m so,so glad you’ve addressed this issue. The term basic bitch really gets to me. I am currently a work-from-home mom who enjoys cooking, baking and food writing- so that makes me “basic,” uninteresting/less of a feminist/the polar opposite of a Lean In-woman? I feel we can be free-thinking, independent feminists even if we are cake-baking moms who enjoy a PSL. We should be allowed to like what we like, for heaven’s sake, without judgement!

  13. This website could write so much about intersectional feminism – and how white feminism still isn’t focusing on women of colour and minorities in feminism but instead you’re getting hot under the collar about the term “basic”
    You’re taking issue with “basic” and other terms that are affecting white women who, yes, are not equal to men. However, women of colour aren’t equal to white women. You haven’t addressed racially gendered terms e.g. thot, ghetto etc
    It’s time this website stopped focusing on seemingly petty issues and addressed massively significant issues affecting us – i’d like to start with cultural appropriation, pay gap, dehumanisation of particularly women within black communities by white men, racism within the feminism movement, the fact that Emma Watson is hailed as a feminist hero but her feminism includes men more than it does trans women and people still deny Beyonce the status etc
    Get some diverse writers in because you’re majorly lacking

    • Hi Sarah – thanks for taking the time to comment. The Vagenda is a blog run by two friends who set up the site together and who like to give a platform to other women. As such, we personally only write about things that affect us, and we take pitches whenever we receive them that talk about the life experiences of others . We are proud that people from many different countries and backgrounds have written in the past for the Vagenda and continue to do so (sometimes they are regular writers about news-related stories who just never mention their cultural or racial background because that’s not relevant to what they want to write) – for instance, the article above this one is written by a woman of colour discussing her experiences in academia.

      We would love more than anything to hear from you on the issues that you’ve described, as we agree that there all sorts of things we still need to cover, ideally written by a diversity of women from all walks of life, so please do share the Vagenda with people who you think would be best placed to educate others on the blog about racially gendered terms, trans women, cultural appropriation, etc. These are issues that we have covered in the past on the blog but probably don’t do enough.

    • One website can’t be everything to everyone.
      If Vagenda isn’t fulfilling your intersectional feminist dreams, there are plenty of places out there that will.
      Or YOU could write something.

  14. And here lies the problem with this particular brand of feminism ‘we personally only write about things that affect us’ ….

    Thank you Sarah.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>