“Girlism” makes about as much sense as “funism”

by Yule Heibel on July 17, 2003

For more background, see Burning Bird and Halley’s Comment. Halley doesn’t have a comment box, Shelley (Burning Bird) Powers’s box is overflowing. My thoughts here: Do we really need another “ism,” robed in the language of marketing, and peddling a conventional adherence to conformity, flogged our way? A queen of lethal “girlism,” the Patsy Stone character on the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous illustrates just how manipulative you have to be to buy into this ideology. Admittedly, her version has no pretensions to the sweet or romantic, but might reveal more of its true nature. Yet even she calls thongs “dental floss wedged up your chocolate starfish.” In so many words, fuck fashion fascism, including “girlism.” Remember that song by Cyndi Lauper, Girls just want to have fun? That had a subversive moment, at least it did when seen together with the video: Cyndi, in a get-up that a “real” man would have found ugly (but which since has been manufactured to be bought off the rack, such is the way of co-optation), has liberatory fun, including getting her big-guy hairy dad to loosen up. It was a great “moment”: girl has fun throwing off shackles of oppression & authority (job & dad). And it was immediately frozen, merchandised, and sold. That Lauper was singing about working girls looking for release, and that her Fun Girl had a revolutionary core, was lost as soon as it was marketed. Today, the flamboyant anti-fashion that Lauper’s music video wage-slave character wore is peddled to 8-year-olds who shouldn’t have to wear a bloody uniform to HAVE FUN because they shouldn’t yet be working, either. But that’s the reality of conformism, and “girlism” smells suspiciously like another marketing ploy to conform conform conform to the powers that be. Hey, any girl could imagine being Cyndi Lauper in a goofball outfit for the nanosecond that her video lasted, and find it freeing. But imagining being a Charlie’s Angel or a Legally Blonde or whatever it is the Culture Industry is spewing out these days? That sounds like work galore. It’s regimental, it’s oppressive, it’s authoritarian: the diets, the workouts, the hair, the skin, ugh! So much for having fun. Feminism enabled women to make demands for personal & collective liberation in an organized way. Its limit might well be that fun is a kind of antipode to any “ism.” Fun is anarchy, it’s revolutionary, and it’s not on the rack of some store: it’s not an “ism.” “Girlism” is just another form of drudgery where, maybe, you get the guy. At least with feminism, maybe you get the well-deserved raise, too.


Wendy July 18, 2003 at 10:37 am

Right on, Yule.

Yule Heibel July 18, 2003 at 11:28 am

Thanks, Wendy. You had a post about sexism the other day, it was a little cryptic because I had no idea who/what/where/when was at issue, but it prodded me to think about this (it had been bugging me) and finally put my own response down.

Betsy Burke July 19, 2003 at 5:39 am

Lauper borrowed the song from her friend Steve (who appears in the original video) which was originally “Boys just want to have fun” An equal opportunity sentiment?

Betsy Burke July 19, 2003 at 5:49 am

Sorry, made a mistake on the name there. The song was written by Robert Hazard.

Joel July 19, 2003 at 7:01 am

I loved that song when it came out.

I’ve been afraid (male that I am) to say anything about “grrls” until Shelley came out with her comments on Halley’s endorsement of those two films. The best damnation I have been able to come up with is “materialism”, though I would add that “grrls” resemble the factory workers who whined about unions, never appreciating that much of what they took for granted — overtime pay, forty hour work weeks, minimum wage, health care benefits, paid vacations, etc. — had been secured for them by strikers who put their lives on the line. And in America today we’re seeing these things being taken away from the American workforce. What will the grrls allow to be taken from them, I wonder?

Yule Heibel July 19, 2003 at 1:32 pm

Betsy, trust you (music expert!) to know that the song was originally written with boys in mind! Did Robert Hazard record anything else? I wonder how Lauper’s calypso backbeat, which was a big part of what made her song fun to hear, would have worked for boys…

Joel, I just visited your blog for the first time and read your July 17 entry. It is materialism (& marketing), and it’s weird how quickly people forget material underpinnings and construct a “new” idealism. PS: I’m a bit confused by the girls=grrls thing, because I equate that term with the extremely cool and courageous guerrilla grrls, and they weren’t / aren’t girlists. Elaborate, please, if you come back to view the comments box?

Joel July 20, 2003 at 7:04 am

The word has been expropriated by the materialists, like all good things, alas. There was a time when “hip” meant that you weren’t a slug wallowing in mainstream culture. Girlists is a new term for me and if you think it’s not the same as grrls, I’ll be happy to modify my usage accordingly.

Perhaps when I first saw it used I ran into poseurs.

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