The girls are having a moment

2023 – The Year of the Girl. From Gerwig’s Barbie, to T Swift’s Era’s tour. From #girldinner, to #girlmath. Young women are embracing a fascinating cultural moment. I asked my own girl, 24 year old Teyah Miller (who also happens to have just completed her Masters in feminist literature and helps me run Enlighten HQ), whether we should view this embracing of the term “girl” as infantilizing, or as perhaps something more interesting and subversive.

Me: Where are all the girlys at?

Teyah: I think the concept of the ‘pandemic pause’ is really interesting. Years of lockdowns and disruptions due to COVID-19 left many young women feeling as if they have missed out on their formative years. We lost many of our rites of passage such as gap years travelling, or embracing O-week at university. We were sold the dream that we would get to explore and play before feeling pressured to settle down and think seriously about perhaps starting a family and pursuing an acceptable career. Instead, young women have emerged on the other side to be faced with a rising mental health crisis, financial precarity, and ever-increasing anxieties surrounding the growing impacts of climate change.

Me: So, you’re trying to recapture some of those lost years perhaps?

Teyah: That’s part of it. I also think girlhood is being reclaimed and established as a state of freedom. To transition from girl to young woman can be internalised as going from being someone, to being someone’s wife, someone’s mother – as a loss of independence and enjoyment. To be ‘just a girl’, then, is to reject the exhausting responsibilities of having to engage in domestic labour and provide for a spouse or a family, to instead seek out the joy of being uninhibited and to revel in all things ‘girl’ that young women are so often ridiculed or dismissed for enjoying. Take T Swift’s Era’s tour… Swifties have been flocking to stadiums, donning their sparkliest dresses and trading friendship bracelets as they experience the magic of a collective gathering of young women. The energy is palpable as entire stadiums sing along loudly and unashamedly to all the Taylor songs they love and have grown up alongside. It’s an unapologetic reveling in delight.

Me: What about the darker side of the online sharing of #girldinners that consist of a plate with an antidepressant, or just a large glass of wine?

Teyah: We shouldn’t miss the irony present in these performances. Young women are representing and embodying both the delight and suffering intrinsic to the experience of being a young woman. On Tik Tok, the trend #girldinner has over 2.2. billion views. It could be argued then that the label #girldinner provides a space for young women to connect and share their own experiences and dissatisfaction with the demands placed on women and fosters solidarity.
Me: Are you reclaiming girlhood too?
Teyah: Yes! I am choosing to, as Taylor Swift says, “make the friendship bracelets, take the moment and taste it.”