I hear it all the time amongst my gay friends, “She’s a basic bitch,” or just, “Basic.” The use of the insult has become borderline epidemic, and I am not really sure why. First of all, it’s not really our word to use, and second, it’s a pretty lazy insult to throw around, and you guys are way more creative than that.
It’s doubtful that you are unfamiliar with that all this noise about ‘basic’ is about, but just in case… New York Magazine’s Noreen Malone summarized the root of the insult pretty well, coming to the conclusion that women calling each other basic is the result of, “…a male hierarchy of culture, and the belief that the self is an essentially surface-level formation.”
Malone, summarizing countless posts defining the term, says “basic” is, “…someone who owns things like Uggs and North Face and leggings…likes yogurt and fears carbs (there is an exception for brunch), and loves her friends, unless and until she secretly hates them….She bought the Us Weekly with Lauren Conrad’s wedding on the cover. She Pins…She doesn’t, apparently, long for more.”
Notice how each and every one of those things is an item or ephemeral, or just stuff that can be thrown away? It’s because it’s a way for someone to say, “You don’t matter, and therefore you are disposable.”
So why do we keep using that word even though it feels kind of icky? And why are my fellow gay brothers so into it?
Gay men have a history of appropriating culture from other communities. The recent uproar of gay men appropriating black female culture is a great example of this (full disclosure: I laid into that debate, resulting in CNN’s Don Lemon saying, “… H. Alan Scott, you can act all gay and whatever.”). Obviously there’s debate over whether this is offensive or a means of promoting greater awareness, but regardless, the gay men I know often adopt sayings and mannerisms as a means to assimilate and gain confidence.
Take me, for example. I’m a gay man that likes Barbra Streisand (“like” is an understatement). It’s not, nor has it ever been, “cool” to like Barbra Streisand. I fit the stereotype of “the gay queen that likes Babs.” Yes, I genuinely like her, but part of my interest in her is probably because I embraced the stereotype so I could make some friends. If being gay meant liking Streisand, well then I’d rather be a stereotype then alone. Based on Malone’s summary above, for the gay community, this makes me basic. And in a lot of ways, I am totally okay with that.
It’s this obsession with categories, putting people into boxes, that has pits people against each other. Our patriarchal society has forced us to adopt labels, and because we’ve drank the patriarchal Kool-Aid, we can’t get beyond this. And there is something about calling someone “basic” that just makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s a way to disregard them, to say they are unworthy, to “other” them that is the signature move of a mean girl. Even though we say we are in this together, we are still, more often than not, clawing our way to the top, and ultimately, leaving each other behind.
But here’s the thing, people need to look around and realize that we are all into pretty basic stuff. Very few of us are so creative, or out-of-the-box, or geez, confident enough, to really experiment with non-basic forms of expression, mainly because humans, at our core, are all just trying to fit in and belong.
But I don’t think we need another word that strips people of their uniqueness and tosses them aside. What we need is a word for people who totally surprise the shit out of us.
Like instead of calling my love of Babs “basic,” why not call it “courageous?” Or that girl who is obsessed with Pinterest, can’t she just be a woman that likes to be inspired? The aesthetic of non-important things people are interested in shouldn’t define them — their actions and how they treat others should. Empowering one another through mutual respect and kindness, regardless of our differences or interests (no matter how mainstream they may be), is essential to the growth of all communities.
Basic is not a description of a type of person, but rather a reflection on the person using the term. By calling someone, “Basic,” you’re basically saying, “I am not good at understanding the depths of the human spirit.” Which is basically just like saying you don’t know why people like puppies, which is a whooole other problem, my friend.