Main image: Judy Chicago's Through the Flower 2, 1973
I like to pretend that I’m a pretty cool and detached social media user, but the truth is, I’m not. I spend an uncomfortable amount of time on it (Instagram, Twitter and TikTok are my poisons), and every so often a social media trend comes along that completely undermines my removed social persona (posting photos of my cats probably does too).
And, as the world becomes ever increasingly #ExtremelyOnline, these seemingly silly innocuous trends can often represent more than many think while also reflecting wider - and IRL - societal shifts. I also think that much like fashion and “women’s interest” media, aka the industries I’ve chosen as my career path, it’s too easy for people to dismiss it as unimportant and frivolous. (But yes sure, sometimes these things are just extremely silly and you know what? That’s also okay.)
The latest that combines my love of shifting language and light-hearted social trends that represent something more? The feminine urge...
Huh? I’ve been living on a very peaceful social media free planet, please explain.
The feminine urge is a meme that appears across Twitter, TikTok, Tumblr (and sometimes Instagram) - a phrase that has been picked up as the starting point for often ironic or darkly funny commentary on stereotypical feminine traits.
It’s lovingly mocking toxic behaviour that others might identify with, to the most detailed, niche degree.
I’m constantly being served ‘the feminine urge’ videos on TikTok (thanks algorithm), but it was this tweet that really made me sit up and take notice - hitting a little too close to home as a reminder of my ambitious and quite unfair on myself early 20s.
Where did this come from?
One of the first posts was on Twitter way back in 2009, an absolute classic of the genre - though it positions the ‘urge’ as something to apologise for rather than take ownership of, a key difference in the trend of today.
It’s 2021, don’t fight the feminine urge: indulge it, revel in it, feed it, celebrate it.
So what is the feminine urge?
It’s whatever you want it to be, by whoever chooses to identify as feminine.
That’s the simple answer. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
These memes use ‘the feminine urge’ as a vehicle to acknowledge that aforementioned toxic behaviour and explain it by relating it to feminine traits or identity. I like to think that the dark premise behind it is a knowing humour in its ridiculousness.
But some posts are just dark, no humour; using the trend as a way to reveal the sometimes dark reality of womanhood. “The feminine urge to tell a bad hook up story then realizing it was actually assault,” wrote @HarperRoseD.
This is where it starts to feel a little icky. What does it actually mean to be ‘feminine’? It’s just a societal construct after all, and ideas of femininity are not universal; it’s mostly, wrongly, associated with a vision of white women. For some, particularly trans women, societal ideas of femininity can be both an affirming identity, and potentially dangerous (“As a trans person, how I dress dictates my safety,” explains Shaneel Lal. “Very often, I cannot wear what I want to because to do so would have severe consequences”.)
By embracing this trend, are we simply brushing aside the strides forward of recent years and embracing old gender roles? Are we reducing it to a ‘vibe’ rather than the complicated chaos that femininity actually is?
Aren’t you overthinking this?
Um yes: let me introduce you to the feminine urge to overthink and over analyse.
I don’t have the answers here, but these are questions I ask when I find myself giggling at yet another feminine urge TikTok meme. The layers are why I find it so fascinating.
‘Hyper femininity' has long been demonised as ‘bad’ or frivolous. The patriarchy has established feminine traits as relating to weakness or submissiveness rather than as something to cherish within all gender binaries. I like to think that this silly meme/trend is both knowingly poking fun at all of that and celebrating it at the same time.
It all reminds me a little of the ‘lower case girl’ (...”lowercase girls have been there forever, in the back rows of classrooms and the corners of parties, daydreaming, doodling, stockpiling vivid details and observations in the marble notebooks of their minds — waiting for the precise moment to launch them like a carefully crafted dart that punctures everybody else's apathy and proves just how sharply she has been paying attention”) - or my ongoing promise to eventually write a story about reclaiming cute (both the word, and the style of dress). Why should we apologise for these things? It also relates to the current climate for things to be neatly explained i.e. TikTok’s obsession with explaining certain behaviours as symptoms of ADHD.
The meme has also evolved to include notes on the ‘masculine urge’, and the ‘non binary urge’. Because, the internet.
That’s all wonderful but just show me some funny memes please.
Sure! Enjoy a few that I’ve seen, shared and screenshotted: