By Bianca Guzzo
When the news broke that Ariana Grande had an alleged affair with her married Wicked co-star Ethan Slater over the summer, the internet was rampant with hot takes and extensive research into the pop-singer’s dating history. From her 2014 relationship with Big Sean (who was in a serious relationship with Glee actress Naya Rivera at the time), to her rebound with Pete Davidson shortly after his split with Cazzie David, to the public, it looked like this wasn’t Ariana’s first time in this particular sticky situation. Then, Slater’s ex-wife broke her silence on the topic and called Ariana Grande one of the worst things one woman can call another woman in the year 2023. She said “she isn’t a girl’s girl”, which in the summer of female-centric media like the Barbie movie and Taylor Swift’s Eras tour, burns worse than the glare of one thousand suns. According to the internet, being a girl’s girl is essentially a trendy way to say that you’re a modern feminist. But what does it really mean to be a girl’s girl?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the term “girl’s girl” was coined, but it rose to prominence on social media platforms like X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok in the last couple of years. As it’s used now, it describes anyone who identifies as a woman being fully supportive of the actions of fellow women, hyping them up, and uplifting them instead of viewing them as constant competition and tearing them down. Medium.com simply describes being a girl’s girl as “someone who values their female relationships over their male relationships”. It’s become the antithesis of the “pick-me girl” that seemed to plague the internet in the 2010s. A girl’s girl doesn’t think she has to market herself as “different from other girls” because they know it’s empowering to like things that all the other girls do. In a YouTube video, The Take describes it as being “a modern feminist”, but unlike the wave of “internet feminism” that became popular a decade ago, this time around they’re more aware of systems of oppression, the cycle of toxic masculinity, and the importance of intersectionality within the feminist movement. A girl’s girl tries her best to put her strong female friendships first and always abides by the unspoken and ever-changing girl code. On paper it sounds like an improvement of the superficial “boss babe” feminism of the 2010s which was mainly centered around white cis-gender women.
This brand of modern gen Z feminists have their role models to look up to as well. Influencer Drew Afualo uses her platform to routinely call out the men that leave horrible comments on her content mainly about her physical appearance. Afualo has built an entire career out of her response videos and she’s seen as one of the internet’s biggest girl’s girls. Afualo’s spunky and unapologetic attitude in her content has empowered other women to stand up for themselves in their own lives (when it’s safe to do so). Another popular internet celebrity Brittany Broski has spoken numerous times about how she chooses to cater her content to her primarily female audience. She has even been brought to tears on an episode of her own podcast talking about how different life would be if women could simply exist in a world where their first priority didn’t have to be performing femininity for the male gaze. This type of content is more interactive and informative than the exclusionary “internet feminism” that came before it, and their followers view them as their social media big sisters. They help other women navigate the world in a way that can make them feel seen and empowered, and they’re often viewed as being good examples of what it is to be a girl’s girl.
In a way, identifying as a girl’s girl can feel like it’s healing the parts of girlhood that we were made to feel embarrassed and ashamed about in the past. In the 2010s you were perceived as “uncool” for liking things that were “basic”. Now dressing up in all pink to see the Barbie movie or going all out with your outfit and friendship bracelets to go to a Taylor Swift concert is not only encouraged, but it also signifies to other attendees that you stand in solidarity with them that you’re there to unashamedly have a good time. At its surface this new phase of acceptance and celebration of girlhood is really really cool. At its core, it begins with unwavering support, but it can quickly turn into an “all or nothing” mentality that can get a girl’s girl into some hot water. In some instances being a girl’s girl can go so far as to automatically taking the side of a woman in any situation by default. Nobody wants to be called out online by social commentators for going against the majority, so when someone brings attention to the problematic behaviour of a popular female influencer or celebrity they’re met with pushback for not being “for the girls” or voicing an opinion that might allude to still having internalized misogyny. It can also start feeding into the cycle of cancel culture that’s problematic in its own various ways. At some point it can begin to sound like a jumble of trending words instead of nuanced and constructive arguments that complex issues deserve to have.
It might sound easy to think of the “girl’s girl movement” as feminism that’s not serious because of its origins and the thousands of young people who identify with its ethos. Instead of villainizing it, maybe we shouldn’t view someone dipping their toes into their first bit of feminist information as a bad thing. It can open doors for curious young people to discover even more extraordinary resources when we need them the most. At a time where women’s bodies and transgender rights are currently under attack, it’s never a bad thing to have more people informed, and fired up to fight to protect basic human rights. But the expectations that we need to be supportive of every woman all of the time just isn’t realistic, and though it’s great to take a more supportive approach instead of automatically wanting to tear other women down, people still need to be held accountable when something is wrong. At its core I think being a girl’s girl is about being part of a sisterhood, and how that sisterhood can evolve through different seasons of life. If anything it has reinforced the idea that sometimes our girlfriends can be our soulmates, and I for one, think those relationships deserve to be prioritized from time-to-time and cherished always.