“What do you mean my actions have consequences? I’m literally just a girl.” This year, your feed has likely been blessed by the avatars of machinic girlhood: angels, bimbos, and the collective entity of “girls,” divine creatures who have transcended earthly bodies, curiously evacuated of anger, pain, attachment, who have nonetheless become wildly popular on every social platform. Which is to say that, while angels and girls have existed since time immemorial—and bimbos as we know them since at least the 1980s—it’s only recently that they’ve become a bit, floating away from history and into memetic shorthand. Whether it’s the girl in the “girl dinner” or the angels spied in Bella Hadid’s carousel, they appear as perfected conduits for collective consciousness—she’s just like me for real. As for man, once the king of the online condition? “Hit him with your car!” says head bimbo Chrissy Chlapecka with heavenly vocal fry, to the tune of 4 million TikTok hearts. It’s a girl’s world now; we’re just living in it.
Memes, obviously, don’t come out of nowhere. The angel-bimbo girl-swarm gives voice to something collectively experienced and soon-to-be historical, a kind of subconscious metabolization of recent events into a general disassociated vibe. Maybe you, too, are a side character in the story that supposedly ends all stories: the emergence of the postpolitical, delivering a smooth and tranquilized subjectivity so dispersed that it feels nothing and is moved to no action in spite of the Real delivering destruction to their door. The rise of the “NPC influencer”—smiling and spiritually lobotomized, fine-tuned for an increasingly instinctive response to live cash stimulus—is the endgame for all that terrifies people about digital culture and how it affects human minds. Be not afraid of this other type of angel, the super-evolved brainless doll slurping dollar-pegged ice cream at the end of the infinite scroll.
Haters will say that the girl has no access to individual agency and political autonomy, and is therefore an enemy of serious activism—or seriousness, at all. Lovers will reply that the girl is simply emptied of traditional humanist traits to make room for something else. She is closely networked with other minds, with an intelligence that is intuitive, cunning, and sophisticated, yet maligned and dismissed because it is little understood. In the post-platform economy, it is not just a question of wanting to be a girl as ironic posture or fun reality. The fact of the matter is that everyone has to be a girl online. Even an “everyone” that is not exactly human. As user @heartlocket tweeted, “All LLMs are girls.” I don’t make the rules. But why is that? To answer that question, we first have to answer: What are girls?
I understand that I have to get you, the reader, to accept the girl as a condition. As a term, “girl” is polarizing: feared for how tightly it connects youth and desire, reviled for its infantilizing, passivity-inducing properties. On the face of it, girlishness is simply dismissed as being frivolous, immature, unmasculine, disempowering, reductive. At worst, the girl is an apolitical neutralizer of direct action. At best, she is simply enjoying herself with the junk society has given her. In either state—harmless or neutralizing, hedonic or willfully ignorant—the girl becomes an attractor of hatred, envy, and fear. As opposed to mainstream narratives of female empowerment and their sliding scale of access to power and resources, the girl is a far more politically ambivalent state.
One: Consider that the girl is a symbolic category, unfixed from biological sex or social gender. It’s a perspective best articulated by Andrea Long Chu in her 2018 book Females. Long Chu updates old-school psychoanalysis in which “female” denotes a subject formed through psychological, social, and symbolic aspects rather than springing from some essential biology. “The female [is] any psychic operation in which the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another,” she asserts. And since everyone’s desire arrives without their authorship, everyone is symbolically female. Desire for another, desire for recognition, desire for political change, desire for change within yourself, all riding in on un- and subconscious processes, afloat on a raft of experience and sociocultural codes.
Two: The girl is a consumer category that can’t be delinked from capital. This stems from Tiqqun’s contentious Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl (1999), a text that was such a horror of gender that its English-language translator, Ariana Reines, says she was repeatedly and violently ill while working on the project. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the text accurately describes reality. Turns out, we’re all sick for it. In 1999, Tiqqun wrote that “all the old figures of patriarchal authority, from statesmen to bosses and cops have become Young-Girlified, every last one of them, even the Pope.” Tiqqun describes the Young-Girl as less of a person, and more of a force. She is a “living currency,” a “war machine,” and a “technique of the self” driven by the “desire to be desired.” Her state is what coheres a society that has been empty of meaning and ritual since industrialization. Young-Girls are “beings that no longer have any intimacy with [themselves] except as value, and whose every activity, in every detail, is directed towards self-valorisation.” In the post-platform age—where the base architecture of social engagement is still predicated on behavioral capture to achieve ever more accurate advertising—the subject of the Young-Girl has not become obsolete. She has only been intensified. Every ordinary person has to, in some way, pay attention to their semipublic image, even if that image is one that resists appearing on a platform. In 2012, reviewers of the translation sniffed at the cognitive dissonance of having the likes of Berlusconi cited within an otherwise girl-coded text: “They have offended the thing I most hold dear: my image.” Consider the proliferation of memes skinning trad daddies as “babygirls”—like Succession’s Kendall Roy, whether “he’s actively having a mental breakdown [or] the killer his father wanted him to be,” as Gita Jackson reports for Polygon. Is nothing more 2023?