Abi Balingit is well aware of her maturity. She works as the manager of advertising operations for a record label by day and writes cookbooks on the side. She is always on time with the monthly rent and annual tax payments at her Brooklyn flat. In addition, she is 28 years old. But on X, previously known as Twitter, she and all the other women she communicates with adopt a feminine or “girlie” persona.
She notices that the “Depop girlies,” users of the fashion resale app, are driving up the price of the Sandy Liang for Baggu collab. Brunch, tea, or a spaghetti night with “the girls” is on the agenda for today. When Ms. Balingit writes online, she writes “for the girls.”
Where did all these young women come from, and who are they? Often, but not always, Ms. Balingit says she is speaking to women of Generation Z or the millennial generation. The term “girl” might refer to “anyone who doesn’t fall into the gendered idea of the word,” she said, or “anyone on the internet.”
You could be a female if you can hear the term “girl” often enough online. And as a woman, you may take credit for nearly any action or attitude. Take a cue from Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer” and put together a “girl dinner” of munchies to enjoy while watching “Barbie,” a movie “for girls,” or “Oppenheimer,” another movie “for girls,” as per Ms. Balingit.
Rhetoric scholars refer to this kind of expression as a “vocative,” which is used to “call someone in,” according to Nicole Holliday, an assistant professor in the department of linguistics and cognitive science at Pomona College. It’s important to specify your intended audience while communicating online, when thousands of total strangers might potentially read your words.
If someone posted on X asking for suggestions from “scent girlies,” for example, they were actually saying, “People who identify as not-male or as not-a-straight-male and have this interest, give me information,” as Dr. Holliday put it. “It’s much easier to do it that way” (with “girlies”), the speaker explains, “than it is to say what I just said.”
The term “girl” has a long history in the Black, transgender, and LGBT communities, where it is often used to signify a sort of solidarity that is only understood by those in the know.
Joanna Walsh, author of “Girl Online,” contends that when one uses the internet, they take on a more feminine identity because of the prevalence of confessional writing and the fluidity with which they may switch between “cute” and “smart.” At one minute, they’ll be posting memes and sardonic insights, and the next, they’ll be making serious criticisms of politics or culture. When people write online, it may be difficult to tell if they are kidding or being serious.
Ms. Walsh said in an interview that this style is helpful because it allows one to rapidly turn the tables on any debate.
Both in and out of cyberspace, “girls” often parody negative portrayals of females in the media and popular culture. Some people may welcome such labels with open arms, not because they find it flattering to be put down, but because they provide an opening to utilise others’ insecurities to their own advantage.
Taking on a “girl” persona might be done to prove sceptics wrong about how smart ladies are, or to make males see how silly the things they take so seriously. Men’s self-esteem deflates like a balloon when it hears the accusation that anything traditionally considered “for boys” (such as baseball, the Grateful Dead, or Karl Ove Knausgaard) is instead “for girls.”
Ms. Balingit said that making light of issues that others would take more seriously was a key aspect of the strategy. She referenced Allison Picurro’s Substack newsletter, Boy Movies. Ms. Picurro referred to Daniel Craig in her email as “a girl actor trapped within the boy movie industrial complex.”
These young women may also represent a backlash against the “girl bosses” of yesteryear, the successful young women whose mission it was to “get their asses in gear” in the workplace and be treated with the same respect as their male colleagues. Although some women wholeheartedly embraced the title, others said it devalued their ambition. Further, many people pointed out that aspiring female business leaders appeared to utilise their positions to reinforce entrenched patriarchal values. The value of the company led by the woman started to decline as that criticism gained traction.
And thus although “girl” may fill a specific gap at the present — providing a roomy container for almost every sentiment one would have about gender, maturity, feminism, and more — it will likely be employed in a slightly different manner or replaced completely in the not-too-distant future.