How I learned to love peppermint mochas and stopped worrying
Gwen Pemberton (she/her) // Contributor
Sharleen Ramos // Illustrator
On the surface, “basic,” or “basic bitch” can seem like a harmless word, used to point out predictable buying patterns and an interest in pop culture. Often it feels like you’re making fun of things, not people. And every year, the holiday season brings with it a tide of traditions, mostly involving gingerbread and snowball fights, there is always one tradition that isn’t quite as cheery as the others. As soon as Christmas carols and eggnog lattes make their debut, the backlash begins. Backlash centered around the so-called “basic bitches,” an appropriated and commonly used AAVE term (African-American Vernacular English), and everything they enjoy. But why do so many people feel the need to tear others down for enjoying what’s simply popular? Being predictable doesn’t hurt anybody, and people spending their time “calling out” others often ends up depriving themselves for fear of being called generic as well.
Everyone pictures a certain type of person when they talk about a basic bitch, and more than likely they look something like Cher from Clueless. Women who are unapologetically feminine are prime candidates for the basic badge of honour. The term basic bitch is just another way for society to express its not so thinly veiled contempt for the interests and pastimes of girls, especially adolescent ones. Many people will jump at the chance to denounce pop music, reality TV, rom-coms and, of course, Friends. The trick is, basic is a word that hides its misogyny just enough to fly under the radar. If you react to being called basic, you just can’t take a joke.
Many women fear being shamed for their interests so much that they are willing to make fun of others to save themselves from the spotlight. I’ve been guilty of this many times in my life, and it’s something that I constantly have to self-monitor. Misogyny is not an easy thing to unlearn, for anyone, but what do we lose when we reject what brings us joy, just to prove to others that we are different? Automatically dismissing people for their surface level traits, and refusing to treat them as people with a wide range of interests and experiences flattens them down to superficial stereotypes, and enables patriarchal systems to continue to devalue anything labelled “feminine.”
Basic, like any other stereotype, has become weaponized against others, the majority of them women, in order to reduce them to a label, and elevate the person doing the labelling. Calling someone predictable is a way to signal your own unpredictableness; a way to declare to others that you order black coffee, not peppermint mochas. What we tend to forget, in the race to call out others, is that peppermint mochas actually taste good. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean that it’s bad. If someone likes something that a lot of other people also enjoy, that doesn’t automatically make them a boring, one dimensional person. No one wants to be predictable, but it is possible to swing too far in the other direction and spend more energy tearing down others than we do enjoying ourselves.
In recent years, it seems like the beginning of the end has come for the term “basic bitch.” At least as an insult. Many people are starting to reclaim the term, taking pride in liking what is considered conventional. In reclaiming it, it’s important to note that the word was taken by the masses and is widely appropriated by people outside of the Black community who are asking non-Black people to go beyond being aware of the appropriation of AAVE, something which is deemed “undesirable” when used by Black people, but to simply steer clear from it. Instead non-Black individuals can reclaim being deemed predictable, because calling someone boring has ironically become pretty boring itself.
Happily, a more accepting atmosphere seems to be taking hold. One where people are able to love what they love without fear of being put in a box. Of course “basic” things will always exist. The goalposts move constantly, and what is popular will always be seen as gauche by a certain sector of the population, but that doesn’t have to change how you or anyone else feels about the things that bring you joy. The bottom line is, boring is not a bad word. So, if you find yourself fighting the urge to order an eggnog latte this winter season, remember that there is no shame in enjoying the simple, the pretty, or the popular things in life.