Does the “shit girls say” meme perpetuate sexism?

I have been living under a rock (OK, I was traveling in India and not keeping up with the latest internet memes) and I missed the series of videos that actually prompted the “shit so and so says” meme. The one that I had seen was Franchesca Ramsey’s “Shit white girls say to black girls,” and I thought it was a pretty smart, effective and funny look at some of the things white women say to black women (Jos posted it last week). It resonated with a lot of people, it pissed some people off, it was a nuanced take on a difficult to discuss issue and it provided comedic relief. Check out Tami’s take on why it is an important piece of race talk.

However, in watching this video get so much attention, I was suspect. Did I come back to a dream world where people care about interpersonal racism? I have trouble believing that this many people are interested in seeing racism outed in nuanced ways. My gut feeling was that people on the internet like to watch women make fun of each other (the same way they like to watch people of color) or they just like to make fun of women. My suspicions were confirmed when I watched the original series of videos.

and

While, I usually applaud men in drag, I can’t help but be critical of these characterizations of women. Are some of these stereotypes uncannily true? I’m sure they can be. But that’s the problem with stereotypes, it’s not about whether they are true or not, it’s that they are used to disempower people or deny them certain privileges. And I get that it is comedy, but it’s like the most boring and lazy comedy possible. You know, let’s make fun of girls cuz we already know everyone thinks they are dumb and annoying tee hee. These videos might as well be beer ads.

Naima Ramos-Chapman agrees. She writes at Huffpo,

I arrived late to the new meme ”Shit Girls Say,” but my family members were quick to fill me in over the holidays. They showed me nearly every iteration of the original video series, hoping I would laugh wholeheartedly at the absurdity of watching men in drag speaking a nonsensical “girlish” language that irks, who else, but the men who have to put up with it.

I laughed — but only with half my heart.

When the meme got a racialized twist with Billy Sorrell’s “Shit Black Girls Say” version, I choked mid-chuckle. Both videos refer to adult women as “girls,” and portray them as weak, stupid, silly, bad with technology, and helpless. And in Sorrell’s version, a part about black women being stuck in abusive relationships is too disturbing given that they are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than white women.

Yes, why are we calling women “girls?”

So, while some of the spin-off videos have been smart reinterpretations of the original videos that lack any real edge or critical thinking–I am not ready to cheer at how many views these videos have gotten. And I’m not saying I haven’t LOL’d at some of them or that I am not thinking about making my own “shit people say to South Asians,” or that I don’t appreciate good comedy or the opportunity to use comedy to bring awareness to difficult issues. I’m just really suspect of why they are so hugely popular.

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19 Comments

  1. Posted January 11, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been going back and forth on this. I laughed at the “Shit Girls Say,” I was amused. Admittedly, I’m guilty of several of those phrases. I didn’t really see it as anything other than observational humor, although I did wonder if people would find it as funny if it were a woman instead of a man in drag. I am annoyed by the girls vs. women thing. I think that it’s due to a lack of female equivalent to “guys,” but I still don’t like it. Better than “chicks,” I guess.

    “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls” cleverly brought an important social issue to the forefront in a humorous way, but I didn’t relate to it as much (being a white girl who doesn’t actually know very many black girls). I don’t think the original video was supposed to make An Important Point like this one, though.

    • Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:13 am | Permalink

      Actually, there is a female equivalent of “guys.” It’s “gals,” but it never caught on. I firmly believe that the only reason it didn’t is because of the pervasive sexism that pressures women to always perceive themselves and be perceived by others as being perpetually young. It’s not because there is no equivalent for females; it’s that we won’t allow there to be an equivalent.

  2. Posted January 11, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Nice article, Samhita. Sh*t white girls say is effective because it demonstrates interpersonal racism which, being made up of fleeting personal interactions, can be so hard to pinpoint and write about! This article captures perfectly what is so (potentially) problematic about this meme (and why I instantly felt slightly uncomfortable about it) – the fact that the success of some of these videos is due to people watching women snipe at each other.

    For this last reason, I don’t dare watch the videos on youtube lest I see the comments :-p

  3. Posted January 11, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    As for the girls vs women thing, I understand (brought up by a woman who found it very offensive, and also offensive to say “hey guys” when there were men and women being addressed) that it feels infantilizing to some women. I respect that. But I think that to many women in the 20something age range, “girls” is just the antonym to “guys” or, occasionally, “boys,” both of which I’ve heard used quite regularly by women to refer to adults of my gender. I think that the word girl has expanded in meaning for most people (and has mostly replaced the word “gal”). I’m not suggesting that criticizing that word when it’s applied to you should stop; by all means, demand people call you what you want to be called. But my observation is that many (perhaps most) women in my age group don’t really find it offensive or problematic.

  4. Posted January 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    I think the use of the term “girls” till age 26 or so parallels the use of the term “guys” till about that same age and nobody becomes definitively “women” or “men” until age 30.

    It has to do with the retreat of adulthood until later in life – perhaps the idea that adulthood is achieved for both women and men at marriage, which is happening later.

    That’s not to say none of that is problematic. Where I see the double standard occurring is this: males are “boys” from birth till puberty, when they become “guys,” and sometime between the ages of 26-30 they become “men,” but females are “girls” from birth until 30 without any intermediate designation. There is no grown-yet-still-single terminology for women which makes me think even more that the terms have roots in marital status, though they are growing separate from that now.

  5. Posted January 11, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    While I do complain about my feet hurting, and I frequently request blanket, I say a lot of other shit as well. Women are not this one-dimensional. We say some pretty important, insightful and meaningful stuff as well, based on knowledge and well-informed opinions. So yes, it’s totally fine to acknowledge that women often get excited (and possibly squeal) when they see those people they love, it’s also important to acknowledge that women say other shit too. Good shit.

    Some other shit women say:
    “I will not have my life narrowed down. I will not bow down to somebody else’s whim or to someone else’s ignorance.” – Bell Hooks

    “Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

    “Instead of being presented with stereotypes by age, sex, color, class, or religion, children must have the opportunity to learn that within each range, some people are loathsome and some are delightful.” – Margaret Mead

    • Posted January 12, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      I think loads of this is shit everyone says. Everyone says “can you turn it up please” if someone else has control of the remote, for instance.

  6. Posted January 11, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Personally I despise all stereotypes. No matter what they are. I firmly believe they are not true, because it doesn’t matter what a person looks like or what “group” they belong to, because no matter what, in EVERY group people are diverse in their personality and many don’t act like how they are “suppose” to as a group. Like when people say ridiculous things like “black people are lazy”, or “redheads are crazy”; it’s incredibly stupid to think that way because there are lazy and crazy and dumb and weird people EVERYWHERE and in every group. Just like there are smart and compassionate and totally awesome people everywhere and in every group.

    And in my opinion, the ONLY way a stereotype can be true, is if EVERY SINGLE person in a specific group acted the exact same way. Well, I’m sure people are smart enough to realize that’s not true, and not everybody acts the same or has the same exact personality as the people in their group, therefore, isn’t it safe to say that stereotypes actually don’t exist at all?
    And of course that’s why I think “shit girls say” etc. Is such an incredibly ridiculous premise, and to me it is very sexist, because women are as diverse as any other group, we don’t all “act the same”. To me it is offensive. And even if it is just comedy it’s done in poor taste.

  7. Posted January 11, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    what kills me about memes like this is that if you argue that jokes like this perpetuate sexism (by portraying women, as you said, as “weak, stupid, silly, bad with technology, and helpless”) then you’re immediately placed into other fun female stereotypes such as, “overly sensitive” and “having no sense of humor”.
    it’s really terrible. basically, if you don’t care for these videos everyone already has you categorized and therefore has no interest in listening to what you have to say.

    i’m continually surprised that i have to explain to people why i’m offended by jokes that insinuate women are stupid and shallow. here’s a hint, when someone makes a joke implying that women are stupid you are calling me stupid. get it?

  8. Posted January 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    if this meme were titled, “what ditzy girls say” i wouldn’t be nearly as offended, because then the portrayal would at least be saying, “this is the way that some women can be” instead of, “this is what all women are”.

  9. Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I thought the “Shit Girls Say” video was sexist because it perpetuated sterotypes that women are silly, stupid, annoying, etc. and “girls”. I didn’t laugh at any of those things – they were all normal human things that people say every day and are in no way weird or annoying. But the fact that the video’s creator was playing a “girl” with a whiny annoying voice perpetuated annoying stereotypes.

    Ramsey’s video, on the other hand, was a brilliant take on the way we all can be extremely culturally insensitive. She claimed that she saw the original video, and laughed, but felt she could not relate to it. So she wanted to make something people could relate to, laugh with, and use to reflect on their own actions.

  10. Posted January 11, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    Personally I would like to see a “S*** Men Say.” That might help level the playing field in making fun of people.

  11. Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    I do think that this YouTube series can be seen as sexist and indeed portrays women as rather vapid. Like others, though, I cannot help but laugh. And maybe that’s the 90′s girl-power in me; I don’t see these videos as a threat. I see them more as playful satire–though I definitely can identify with those who are offended by it.

    The “Shit Girls say to Gay Guys” video should be looked at. I kind of liked the message behind this one a little more than the others. Hear me out…

    With the “Gay Guys” video, the stereotypes of woman-gay man relationships are parodied. The kind of interactions shown in this video are ones echoed by the mainstream media (assuming all gay men are “like girls,” assuming all are into fashion, all gay men want to date any other man who is also gay, etc…). Making fun of the way the female character talks to her gay male friend calls out the ideas the media has instilled in us about how to have “normal” relationships with gay men. Catch my drift? A video like this makes me think twice about the assumptions I’ve made–and that friends make–about “gay best friends”….and that could be a good thing.

  12. Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:34 am | Permalink

    I am so glad to see someone calling this out. A few weeks ago, I became aware of this meme through Twitter after Juliette Lewis re-tweeted a post and I was horrified to see they were using the iconic National Geographic photograph of the 12-year old refugee girl. This photograph was taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan after the girl in the image had been orphaned during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. You know the image, it is possibly the most famous photograph of our time, or at least to run on a cover of National Geographic. But that’s not the point, it is a photo of an ORPHAN and her face was being used as the avatar for this meme that, as you so aptly described as a boring and lazy means of mocking women.

    All the connotations behind the use of this image to represent this meme is another topic entirely, but I was so angered by its use that I tweeted a message describing the girl’s story and how it was, at the very least, inappropriate to use for a Twitter account of this purpose. My initial messages were ignored, but as I saw their web presence grow to Funny or Die and (disappointingly) Hello Giggles, I HAD to reiterate the point. I now see they are using a screenshot of the actor in drag as their avatar. I hope that other people were moved to express their disdain in the use of this image, but I fear with the meme’s growing popularity, it was that old curmudgeon called “Copyright Infringement” that truly moved them to change their avatar.

    But I couldn’t agree more with your assessment that this meme is just plain boring, lazy and more appropriate for a beer commercial or perhaps a promo on FX or Spike TV. The only thing I chuckled at was, “twinsies!,” otherwise these videos just left me sitting there waiting for any sort of witty commentary on the goofy things both girls and women say. “Pass me a blanket,” and, “did I lock the door,”? Please. I’m sure no man has ever uttered those statements. Which brings up another thought; if there were a “Shit Men Say” meme, what would that entail? Or even “Shit People Say”? Would either of those receive half as much attention as “Shit Girls Say”?

  13. Posted January 12, 2012 at 4:20 am | Permalink

    I don’t have a problem with the term ‘girls,’ but I don’t get the ‘funny’ of the video. A lot of the supposedly dumb/funny stuff was not dumb (‘How’s your mom?’), and what was, wasn’t specific to women. Chewing chips loudly during a movie? Which gender has the ‘bad table manners’ stereotype, again (or maybe this was actually an attempt at subversion?)?
    otoh, I liked ‘shit white girls say to black girls.’

  14. Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised you “usually applaud men in drag,” Samhita.
    I wonder what you think about this article, (which no doubt has come across this site before?): http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/151/doing_women_wrong/

  15. Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    What I don’t understand about the premise of your argument is that it only makes sense if people never make fun of men and never make fun of “male stereotypes” but in fact people make fun of men and male stereotypes, in exactly the same type of way, all the time.

    The fact that this plays of stereotypes is exactly why it’s funny – on many different levels at once. That not everyone says these things is part of what makes it funny.

  16. Posted January 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    This would be better if they did a “Shit Boys Say” videos. Then I’d watch all these videos. I just deal with people that act very stupidly and need a laugh

  17. Posted January 18, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m still waiting for “Shit Misogynists Put on YouTube”. Oh wait…

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