"toxic" femininity: what's up with girlbloggers, female manipulators, and femcels?
- This video is brought to you by Squarespace, an all-in-one platform for building your brand and growing your business online. (edgy music) Hello, my beautiful doves. My name is Mina. Welcome or welcome back, and today we have a lot to discuss. I'm mainly gonna be talking about teenage girlhood, internet aesthetic trends, and what I call toxic femininity. And if you're a little lost, don't worry.
It's all gonna make sense by the end of this video, but I do wanna start off by talking about this one article that went a little viral. It was published on i-D Magazine. It came out in June and the article is written by Roisin Lanigan. I'm gonna read this very spicy excerpt. "Hey, do you like listening to Lana Del Rey? "What about Fiona Apple, "Mitski, Hole, Melanie Martinez, Marina?" "Can you recite the cool girl speech "from 'Gone Girl' verbatim? "Do you love that one Jacque Louis David piece, "a 'Portrait of a Young Woman in White', "not because you care about art, "but because you like the broken female protagonists "of Otessa Moshfegh's literature? "Do you have a favorite Lisbon sister, and is it Lux? "Are you still mourning the loss of Tumblr? "Do you like to read Vladimir Nabokov's 'Lolita'? "Do you enjoy Catholic iconography? "Pressed to describe yourself "or to have others describe you? "Would you be comfortable with adjectives "like toxic or manipulative? "If the answers (crowd cheers) "to any of these questions is yes, (bell chimes) "then congratulations, "you might be a femcel."
So this article got a lot of heat on TikTok and Twitter mostly for a lot of reasons. Me personally, when I read this article, the first thing that came up into my head was is this not just Tumblr sad girl 2014 culture repackaged? I mean, "Gone Girl" came out in 2012, and I still remember people making GIFs and graphics using that monologue that she says. - [Amy] Cool girl is hot. Cool girl is game, cool girl is fun.
Cool girl never gets angry at her man. - Lana Del Rey and Marina and the Diamonds were the poster girls of the Tumblr sad girl era, and we didn't have "My Year of Rest and Relaxation", but the vibes were the same. So none of this was seriously shocking to me to read about. Other people read this and were understandably upset by the categorization of femcel and the implication that listening to Fiona Apple would bring you anywhere close to that identifier. And for anyone who doesn't know, the term femcel is short for female involuntary celibate, AKA women who cannot get laid not by choice.
And then there are just people who are upset about being categorized at all for having particular interests. Like just because you read this one book and you like it, or just because you like this one female artist, why do you have to be put and shoved into this aesthetic category? This TikTokker posted a video complaining about it with the caption, "I'll never forgive you all "for what you've done to Fiona Apple. "She's not a femcel, that is literally not a thing, "and she's not a part of this stupid niche "'Girl, Interrupted', red scare, coquette, Lana Del Rey, "Diet Coke, Kate Moss shit. "Leave her alone and stop grouping female artists "into a box they never agreed to be in. "She would those people, and I know it."
So I understand these criticisms and complaints, but as someone who's perpetually online, and I mean that in the most derogatory way possible, I understand what Lanigan was getting on about. Because yes, there is this growing subcommunity on the internet, mostly on TikTok and Tumblr and Twitter, who are using femcel as this aesthetic designator, who've become somewhat obsessed with categorizing themselves based on specific niche interests. It reminds me of the Substack essay that my friend Rayne Fisher-Quann wrote a few months ago.
She writes, "It's become very common for women online "to express their identities "through an artfully curated list "of the things they consume or aspire to consume. "And because young women are conditioned to believe "that their identities are defined "almost entirely by their neuroses, "these roundups of cultural trends and authors du jour "often implicitly serve to chicly signal "one's mental illnesses to the public. "One girl on your TikTok feed "might be a self-described Joan Didion/Eve Babitz/ "Marlboro Red/straight-cut Levis/fleabag girl. "This means "she has depression. (bell chimes) "Another will call herself a babydoll dress/ "Sylvia Plath/red scare/Miu Miu/Lana Del Rey girl.
"Eating disorder. "Or a green juice/claw clip/Emma Chamberlain/ "yoga mat/podcast girl. "Different eating disorder. "The aesthetics of consumption have in turn become a conduit "to make the self more easily consumable, "Your existence as a type of girl has almost nothing to do "with whether you actually read Joan Didion or wear Mui Mui, "and everything to do with whether you want to be seen "as the type of person who would." So we're gonna be talking about all this in just a minute, but first a word from our sponsor. On Squarespace, you have lots of templates to choose from.
They've got a design for just about everyone, and even then you can still customize your page with backgrounds, colors, and/or fonts like I did here. And of course, Squarespace has powerful built-in analytics so you can see who's visiting your site and more with page views, traffic sources, time on site, most read content, audience geography, et cetera. You can also use Squarespace to set up a store if you have things to sell. They also let you put in subscription plans if you want to sell a service. Check out squarespace.com for free trial,
and when you're ready to launch, go to squarespace.com/minale to save 10% off your first purchase of a website or domain. (edgy music) So the term that Lanigan uses to describe this niche set of interests or describe this new aesthetic is femcel-core. But before we can talk about what femcel-core is, we gotta start with the roots, which are unfortunately incels. The word incel, by the way, stands for involuntary celibate, AKA someone who cannot get laid not by choice. So in 1997, a Canadian woman who goes by Alana and nothing else, she has kept her identity mostly anonymous, she had started dating and was having trouble with relationships, so she started this website called Alana's Involuntary Celibate Project for anyone else who was also struggling with the romance department.
It was a simple website where she posted articles, ran a mailing list, and then evolved into a forum where people would talk about being lonely. Alana says, "There was probably a bit of anger "and some men were a bit clueless "about how women are unique individual humans, "but in general it was a supportive place. "The word incel used to mean anybody of any gender "who was lonely, had never had sex, "or who hadn't had a relationship in a long time."
Fast forward to 2014, a 22-year-old man named Elliot Rodger went on a shooting and stabbing spree in Isla Vista, California, killing six people and injuring 14 before offing himself. It was revealed that before his death he had distributed a 141 page document about his hatred towards women that was caused by his intense frustration of being a virgin. And then in 2018, 25-year-old Alec Minassian drove his van into a crowded sidewalk in Toronto, killing 10 people and injuring 16.
After the attack, he told investigators that he was an incel and that his actions were a revenge plot over him not being able to get laid. The incel community has thus developed in the worst way possible from being a fringe internet group to a recognized terrorist threat. So we compare them to femcels. The only real shared thing is their belief that they cannot have sex or cannot get into romantic relationships because of their looks or personality. And even though a lot of people feel this type of way, at least during one point in their lives, femcels believe there's something significantly wrong with them that makes them different from other women. According to the now defunct Reddit thread, trufemcels, "to be a femcel, "you have to have defects that must exceed "those of normal women "and exist in a much more severe form."
As MEL Magazine puts it, "Femcels were dealt a shitty hand, the sentiment goes, "and the only way out of the lonely hellscapes they live in "is to ascend, femcel speak for get hotter." Since the Reddit thread has been banned, it's difficult to mine it for content unless you know how to use internet archive tools, but from articles that I've read, it sounds like unlike incel forms, femcels are nonviolent for the most part. Like there might be some fringe person who's writing something truly disturbing, but for the most part, most of the content was focused on the women's unhappiness with themselves. And unfortunately this rhetoric is actually how most women tend to feel when navigating romantic spheres. Tracy Moore did an investigation on nice girls and found that women, most women who blame their lack of sex or relationships on their appearance actually feel embarrassed or sorry for inconveniencing the people that they find attractive.
That's not to say that there are absolutely no problems in the femcel community, though. Lorelei Alverson researched femcel forums and found that, "Despite several members "identifying as people of color, "the vast majority of users across femcel forums "are white and leveraged this whiteness in disputes." There are also a lot of transphobic femcels who express anger towards trans women who are able to get facial feminization surgery covered by their health insurance. And I think even people who are not outwardly transphobic, the lingo that's used among femcels, like femcels speak and the assumptions that they have about women tend to fall into this gender essentialist, like there are only two genders mindset, which ends up becoming a breeding ground for transphobic trains of thought.
So what I just described to you all is what I consider to be traditional femcels, traditional in the sense that in the past couple years or so, there's been a different community of women who identify themselves as femcels, but are so far removed from all the lore that I just talked about. And these femcels, which I'll call modern femcels to be less confusing, is what that i-D article was talking about. The article even clarifies, "The social media femcels of today "use the term less as an indicator "of how much sex they're unable to have "and more as a way to express their personality traits "that are perceived as pathetic or manipulative "or toxic in some way. "They do so unapologetically, "romanticizing these stereotypical femcel traits "in the process."
Modern femcels mostly exist on Twitter, TikTok, Tumblr, and they make sad aesthetic Spotify playlists titled Female Manipulator Anthems and Songs for your Fleabag Era. By the way, I've like referenced fleabag eras in previous videos, but not yet in this video, and basically "Fleabag" is a TV show that centers around this pretty problematic female protagonist, and the term fleabag era refers to anyone who is essentially embracing chaos and mess to deal with trauma rather than seeking help. (operatic music) (car horn honks) Lanigan writes, "New femcels have flourished "on popular social media platforms, "where it can be communicated not through tortured posts "about being overlooked by men and self-hatred, "but rather through a post-ironic, "self-conscious embrace of aesthetic feminine toxicity.
"It's not femcel for these women, it's femcel-core." For example, one 19-year-old Tumblr user named Hannah who regularly uses the hashtag #femcel said, "I just thought the word was funny "and maybe even a little shocking. "I knew it would get people's attention. "Most of my posts are ironic. "I've been in a relationship "with my boyfriend for two years."
Similarly, a 22-year-old TikTokker named Alexandra Carmona admitted her female manipulator content is ironic. She told Insider that, "It's not about promoting actual manipulation. "It's about calling ourselves out "and coping with her own issues by making a joke out of it." So aesthetically I've noticed a lot of overlap and a lot of lime blurring between these femcels, these modern femcels, the coquette girls, and ballet-core. I've done a whole video on ballet-core, but for coquette, girls who partake in it flock to frilly slip dresses, hair ribbons, thigh-high socks, Mary Janes, tight fitting tank tops, cropped cardigans, cheeky slogans on baby tees, and overall pastel colors and lace trimmings. Popular aesthetic icons shared by all three subgroups include Lana Del Rey, particularly at the beginning of her career, Nina Sayers from "Black Swan", Angelina Jolie's character in "Girl, Interrupted", Jennifer from "Jennifer's Body", "Gone Girl", and of course models and actresses that have heroin chic or waif-like body types, including Lily Rose-Depp, young Kate Moss, Bella Hadid, and Mia Goth.
A lot of these girls also refer to themselves as girlbloggers, AKA girly girls who blog about being a girl's girl who have usernames like @diorwaif or @cocainebambi, who post grainy GIFs of blonde '90s models, Mui Mui ballet flats, young Natalie Portman, Lana Del Rey lyrics, Patrick Bateman, and memes that hint out or explicitly state mental illness. There's a lot of romanticization about being pretty and mentally unstable, but that being okay because you're still pretty. And terminology like pilled, maxxing, being in your whatever, whatever era, and esoteric get tossed around.
There's also very unique turn of phrasing that these girls use. Biz Sherbert describes it in their article on girlblogging. "I'm unstable in a 'Black Swan', 'The Virgin Suicides', "nepotism baby, cool girl monologue, "Sylvia Plath, Brittany Murphy, "'Fatal Attraction' kind of way. "A girlblogger's frequent lines of texts "rub together into an inner monologue "that looms over all her posts. "This diary voice, psychologically charged "and often bitchy like the writing on a bathroom stall, "is what separates the girlblogger "from an impersonal moodboarder "with a similar taste for girly things."
(edgy music) - [Man] You Can't keep getting away with this. - So just to recap on what was happening on Tumblr around 2012 to 2015, a popular subculture on Tumblr revolved heavily around Lana Del Rey GIFs and lyrics, black and white photos with sad captions overlaid on them. and cigarette self-harm and drug motifs. And who can forget the hashtag #prettywhenyou cry selfies.
This was all part of a movement now known as the sad girl era. Rosemary Kirton defined a sad girl for i-D "as one who listens to better music than you "and might spend her alone time "watching French films from the '60s "or angsty TV shows from the '90s." But even before the 2010s, the sad girl was not a new phenomenon. Like think of "Romeo + Juliet", think of Ophelia from "Hamlet", think of "Jane Eyre". And yes, there were always shared aesthetics and films and songs that sad girls leaned onto as Rayne puts it, "To chicly signal one's mental illness," but I will say it wasn't as self-aware or self-commodifying as the girlbloggers are today. Sad girls mostly posted stream of conscious thoughts into the void on Tumblr, and our collective interest in Arctic Monkeys and Marina and the Diamonds music felt more like coincidence than a calculated attempt to aestheticize our own identities.
At this time, journalists were releasing think pieces about how the sad girl aesthetic movement romanticized clinical depression and eating disorders, which I definitely agree that it was. I don't think it was intentional. Like I don't think any movie director or any songwriter was explicitly trying to de-legitimize mental illness with their music, but that's just what happened. And it definitely didn't help that being sad was considered cool, and so a lot of teenage girls who probably weren't actually battling with serious mental illnesses kind of induced traits of those mental illnesses within themselves as an attempt to fit in. The sad girl movement wasn't just pervasive on Tumblr, though. They were brands that were selling pins, tote bags, and necklaces with phrases like Sad Girl Club and other slogans on them.
Hannah May wrote for HelloGiggles, "Even more disturbing than teens using depression to be cool "is the possibility of companies marketing depression "to those teens to make a quick buck." Granted, I think one of the main issues these days is how out of hand consumerism has gotten, and consumerism is unfortunately a byproduct of making everything into different aesthetics. I asked what people thought about this topic on my Instagram Stories a couple days ago, and one person said, "I feel like now more than ever, "these aesthetics are so intertwined with consumerism/trend cycles."
Similarly, another person said, "We can let women be angry "without attaching an aesthetic/a title to it." And yet another person said, "I think it's really fun to be in a community "with lots of other girls who like the same things as me, "but it can also be really exclusionary "and breed a pick me-esque mindset "if you aren't as indie/enjoy too many mainstream things "or even dress somewhat basic." I think these are all very valid points. I also think that they are points that were valid back in the 2010s.
If anyone remembers, like, the whole hipster trend-- - Just so you know, a macchiato is a shot of espresso with a little foam on top. It's not a giant latte slathered in whipped cream with caramel squeezed all over it. - Hey, what band is this? - You've never heard of it. - To really qualify as a hipster, it wasn't enough to just like the same things as everyone else or have the same kind of ideology.
Like, you had to get the square glasses, you had to wear the infinity scarves, you had to have some mustache motifs somewhere on your body or else your friends were probably like, are you really a hipster? And God forbid if you wanna listen to Justin Bieber every once in a while. The difference between then and now is obviously social media, because rather than just having to gain approval from your local group of friends, the internet is so global and now there's so many people who belong to this community who you are connected with and who you are constantly seeking approval from, not to mention the endless content-focused moodboards that give you new consumers' ideas of how to gain people's approval. But the biggest problem I have with commodifying sadness, even back in like the 2010s, is that it made wallowing in sadness cool and getting help uncool.
Similarly, in the femcel girlblogger subculture, by making female hysteria and mental illness aesthetic, it discourages young women from wanting to get help. 22-year-old TikTokker Jules Johnson told Insider that she finds the trend nihilistic and hollow. She said, "In the female manipulator space, "there's a lot of focus on getting back at men "when you could direct that energy "towards loving other women." But anyways, I think the Tumblr girl ideology redux was kind of inevitable, considering the style itself is getting a renewed appreciation with the tag #2014tumblr having over 215 million views on TikTok.
Femcel-core also champions the thin body type, which is being echoed in the mainstream with low rise pants and skirts coming back in full force, and even Kim Kardashians slimming down her booty in the past several months. - I think some of you guys are forgetting what Kim K used to look like. Look at the, look at the mass, okay? This about 40 pounds ass gone.
- Because of how influential the Kardashians are, and because they were kind of the ones to popularize BBLs in the past 10 years to begin with, a lot of people feel like them shrinking their asses is a sign that the BBL era is over. BBL, by the way, stands for Brazilian butt lift, which is a very dangerous procedure that shifts the fat in your stomach into your booty to give you a more curvaceous figure. Even without the Kardashians' involvement, it might just be the natural course of body of type trends that's dictating this shift in silhouette, because as we all know, very unfortunately throughout the course of history, women's silhouettes have been trends. It's dipped from curvy to skinny, to curvy to skinny, and we've just been curvy in the last 10 years and I guess it's time to go back to skinny.
Obviously I think BBLs and kind of escaping that phase is a good thing, because BBLs are incredibly dangerous. Like you can literally die on the operating table for getting one, but I don't think going the other end of the spectrum is better, because I grew up in the '90s and 2000s. Like, everyone had an eating disorder because of how skinny everyone in the media was. - Do you know what really just kills me about this whole thing is the clothes that you are gonna get? I mean, you don't deserve them. You eat carbs, for Christ's sake.
(edgy music) - Even though I think it's somewhat natural for girls to feel very angsty or to feel a certain way about their place in society, I also think that there have been movements and trends that have occurred in the past five years or so that has also contributed to the rise of femcel-core. For example, during the first two years of the pandemic, there was a major societal trend towards self-improvement. A lot of people felt pressured to utilize their time in isolation productively, either by reading as many books as possible, listening to as many podcasts as possible, watching as many movies as possible, learning new skills, getting fit, dieting, you name it. The desire for self-improvement gave rise to the that girl trend, which was a major trend on TikTok and Instagram and revolved around girls who essentially had their lives together, or at least looked like they had their lives together.
These girls would film themselves waking up at 5:00 AM, going on runs, doing Pilates in the morning, drinking green smoothies, wearing beige athleisure sets, and meditating and journaling, gratitude journaling regularly, just doing everything that we feel we are supposed to do for our mental and physical health, all while looking absolutely amazing. While some people were inspired by the whole that girl trend to get their life together, a lot of people also felt very uninspired because they felt like the trend was inaccessible for people who were not white, skinny, or at least upper middle class. Laura Pitcher wrote an article on that girl for I-D last year, noting that it was a rebranding of girl boss culture.
"Similar to other fitness videos on social media, "being 'that girl' means encompassing a life "based on mainstream notions of wellness. "However, there's bizarrely no end goal. "No marathon you train up to, "no reason to wake up at 5:00 AM, "other than that it seems more efficient."
And this is just a general thing with our society, like a general problem, where a lot of our health goals are focused on aesthetic motivations rather than scientific ones. For example, a lot of dieting books talk about how to lose weight, but not why you should want to lose weight because our dieting culture revolves around looking thin, not being healthier for whatever your body type allows. It actually is a healthy thing for their body to do, but just because they feel like it's more aesthetically productive.
So because there's a lot of pressure to constantly be improving yourself, it makes sense that there would inevitably be a movement that pushes back against that kind of rhetoric. Jia Tolentino wrote in her book "Trick Mirror", "The ideal woman has always been conceptually overworked, "an inorganic thing engineered to look natural. "Figuring out how to 'get better' at being a woman "is a ridiculous and often amoral project." A lot of girls have taken this desire to not be perfect to the extreme, though.
Lanigan also wrote another article earlier this year talking about feral girl summer, which explored the part satirical but part very true desire to just be imperfect. The ultimate power of being in your fleabag era or being a femcel or embracing a feral girl summer is that you're allegedly self-aware. You're aware that womanhood is oppressive, and rather than trying to lean in and hustle 'til you die, you've just decided to give up, sit back, and be cynical. It's ironically kind of I'm not like the other girls ideology, despite its heavy reliance on feminine aesthetics. I don't think having a little nihilistic era every so often in your life is a bad thing inherently, but I think it can be dangerous if it goes to extreme or if it becomes so mainstream that it takes up valuable conversation space for actually productive feminist action. As Hailey McNiff writes, "If women are drolly accepting their pain "as inborn and inevitable, "there may be an empowering sense of numbness "in fully embracing that pain, "in running headlong into it yourself "and even bringing others down with you if you so choose."
It's definitely frustrating, and one of the number one complaints I got from my Instagram Stories were women saying that the movement is just not reasonable for a woman of color or a girl of color to partake in. Aurora Muir wrote a great article on this and how disassociating to the world's problems keeps oppressors comfortably empowered. She writes, "These white dissociating feminists "are holding up their hands and saying, "'There is nothing I can do about it. "The world is just too fucked up for me to help. "I'm gonna have to lie down.'" She also offers the alternative of community care and love.
"Being a person is fucking hard "and it's fucking horrible sometimes. "But I'd like to give our daughters and sisters "a world they want to be a part of, "where they can laugh and love as opposed to one so bitter "they must wither themselves away "in an effort to spare themselves from it." I don't think all modern femcels are bitter, by the way. I think some of them have derived some kind of sick pleasure in being stuck in the system, kind of like a Stockholm syndrome, but I do agree with Muir overall. I think a lot can be said about how nihilism can numb us from making any progress.
And rather than just flipping the script on girl bosses and being like, girls don't actually have to lean in and work super hard and be the best, it's worth just having more productive conversations on how we can make girlhood and womanhood more bearable and even enjoyable without being self-destructive. But you know, what do I know? I was a teenage girl once, too. Okay, everyone, that's all I have for today. Thank you so much for tuning in.
Please let me know in the comments what you think about toxic femininity and all the things that I've discussed today. I would love to hear your input. I feel like it's one of those topics that has become way more in vogue to discuss about, and therefore has piqued my interest because I keep seeing new and interesting takes about it.
And I'm just like very interested, I guess, in women's studies because I am one. (laughs) Thank you for sticking around. I hope you have a lovely rest of your day and I'll see you next time. Bye. (blows kiss)