The "basic" problem with labels

Graphic by Mackenzie McCreary. Images via Creative Commons. Graphic by Mackenzie McCreary. Images via Creative Commons.

Nursing senior Paige Ramirez doesn’t have time for labels.

“If I am a ‘basic bitch’ because I love Pumpkin Spice Lattes, then I guess I really don’t care,” she says. “I’ll just sit here with my basic coffee and be basic and let the negative people talk.”

The term “basic” has made a quick ascent in our society’s lexicon effectively stereotyping young women who enjoy wearing UGG boots with leggings, drinking Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes or using Instagram hashtags such as #blessed.

Yet, these are only a small sampling of characteristics that define a “basic” girl. It certainly is easy to poke fun at the term, but the reality is that this potentially creates negativity between women and our instinct to label each other.

And yes, the term is always in reference to a woman.

In an essay, author Rhiannon Wadsworth explains that the process of labeling is much like what sociologists refer to as the social learning theory. “The social learning theory states that we learn as society through observing others,” Wadsworth claims. By doing so, “they fit into the definition of a “basic bitch” just by observing others and doing as they do.”

It’s quite the never-ending cycle.

Journalism junior Michaela Donlan, is well aware of the dangers of labeling. “I think the greatest threat when it comes to labeling another girl is the effect it might have on the way she views herself,” Donlan says. “When girls are labeled a certain way [basic, unintelligent, easy], they might start to view themselves as such, in turn ruining their self-image.”

Galvanizing a stereotype often forces the matter to swell and using labels against one another can expose our own insecurities.

In a separate essay for New York Magazine, Noreen Malone notes the term basic “derives its power from the knowledge that if you can recognize someone or something as basic, you probably, yourself, aren’t it.”

Without the “basic” girl, consumerism could potentially have a vastly different landscape.

True, a “basic” girl divulges in anything popular, including products specifically marketed toward women. In turn, women are shamed for buying in to the very product that gains their attention.

What the “basic” label criticizes, Malone adds, is “unoriginality of thought and action, [but] most of what basic actually seeks to dismiss is consumption patterns — what you watch, what you drink, what you wear, and what you buy.”

Labels, much like all misinformation, can be dangerous. Being pegged a “basic” girl equates to boring, predictable and a follower.

Broadcast journalism junior Graeme Flynn says every guy has a different definition of basic.

“To me, it’s when a woman looks disengaged when she’s out and about,” he says. “Meaning, if she looks like she doesn’t care about being there, to me, she’s basic.”

But in this modern day, these descriptions have created ways to mock women in a manner less likely to affect one’s conscience. Malone muses that by using the term “basic”, “You don’t quite have to stoop to calling someone a slut or a halfwit or anything truly cruel.”

In a similar way, “basic” is running an almost parallel rise in popular culture as “hipster” in the early 2000s. The disparity between the two is hipsters are not sex-exclusive. Conversely, both labels are ill-defined and based on outward appearances and likes rather than moral characteristics that truly make up a person.

Some fail to see the negative connotations attached to “basic,” or rather, don’t care enough to be bothered by such a grouping, like Ramirez. Others, like public relations junior Jessica Herbert recognize the inevitable classification. “When all is said and done, you’re still categorized,” she says.

Whether or not a woman feels the effect of being branded “basic”, referring to a girl as “basic” is the equivalent of judging a book by its cover. The “basic” label creates a basis on a woman’s material possessions rather than her personality, intellect or moral compass.

In her essay, Malone links this to the “male hierarchy of culture, and the belief that the self is an essentially surface-level formation.”

Is it okay to embrace “basicness”? It is mostly enjoying the simple pleasures in life, like a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

And let’s face it, they are delicious.

Reach the writer at or via Twitter @rallykate. 

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