Commentary

What’s So Bad about Pumpkin Spice?

COURTESY OF SOLAR LU

“That’s so basic.” We’ve all heard it before, and probably have uttered some iteration of it ourselves. Usually accompanied by an eye-roll and snickers, we throw around the term “basic” as an insult to make fun of others—almost always teenage girls—for their seemingly unoriginal tastes, be it Olivia Rodrigo, Lululemon, or fairy lights and photo walls. What we don’t stop to think about is the implications of this word, and the fact that it’s managed to morph into a derogatory term lobbed at young women—often by other young women. Let’s pause and ask ourselves: why is it such a tragedy to like what others like? Why can’t you be like everyone else? And most importantly, why do these standards only appear when it comes to girls when we are far from the only population that is greatly affected by the latest trends?

Although the word’s popularity seems to have declined since hitting its peak a few years ago, “basic” is still everywhere. I, for one, am guilty of laughing and saying, “Gosh, she’s so basic,” while scrolling through an Instagram feed, or shaking my head at a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte because ordering the drink was behavior that was “too much like other girls.” We use the term as a weapon against young women who choose to follow the wave (as all humans do), and with its potential for ridicule comes enormous pressure to stand up and declare that one is, for lack of a better word, “quirky.”

I recognize that wanting to be special is part of our nature. However, there are strong, suspicious ties between this definition of “basic” and misogyny that make it dangerous. The traits of a basic girl are overwhelmingly traits traditionally perceived as feminine. Pink. Rom-coms. Frills and flowers. At some point, conventional femininity became synonymous with drab and predictable. Typical girl behavior, the crowd would boo. Bo-ring. Liking what everyone else liked meant you were unintelligent and tasteless—if you were a girl, that is. We didn’t call men who roared at football games or embarked on fishing trips “basic.”

This phenomenon has started to trivialize the artistic quality of items that are widely adored by young girls. A prime example of this is in the music industry, where boy bands often lament the hordes of girls screaming in their audience, and say that they want to see more guys at their shows. Five Seconds of Summer drummer Ashton Irwin once said in an interview with “Rolling Stone” that they spend so much time “proving [they’re] a real band” and that they don’t want to “just be, like, for girls.” This clearly insinuates that the kind of bands that girls like should not be considered “real.” As review editor Alexandra Pollard writes in her piece in “The Guardian,” “Bands who bemoan their ‘teenage girl’ fans are missing the point of music”: “Older men are [seen as] the bastions of good taste… while young women’s enthusiasm is dismissed as a sort of mass hysteria.” Again: what would we call these girls, whose love for the music is just as valid as anyone else’s? Basic.

This overused word pops up over and over again and is now also used to describe products and interests that are not gendered as well. “Grey’s Anatomy” is just a show about doctors with a lot of seasons, TikTok is just a social media app, and Nike Air Force Ones are just shoes—but as soon as young girls started liking them, they were deemed basic, and thus, stupid.

We must recognize that society propagated such arguments to chip away at women’s self-worth and keep them under control. By repeatedly telling them that ordinary hobbies were dumb to pursue and forcing them to deviate from trends to gain recognition, people were able to further diminish the command young women had over their identities. Girls became torn between enjoying what they truly liked and risking an overlap with mainstream culture, or hiding their interests to avoid mockery.

Furthermore, many girls who desired to feel special then adopted tactics like the “I’m not like other girls” trope, in which one uses their eccentricity as a means of looking down upon more “ordinary” girls. This has left many women uncomfortable fully expressing some aspects of themselves out of fear of being lumped into the majority. Tropes like this further pressure girls to deviate from normalcy and femininity, because they knew that so much of the young female demographic already was dismissed for sticking to such ideas. That’s what it meant to be a girl.

I enjoy re-watching really bad teen dramas on Netflix. I spend time curating my VSCO feed, and I’m a proud owner of a pair of Uggs (I’d highly recommend them). But I’d vehemently deny that I was basic if anyone called me out for any of those traits, because that would make me doubt my individuality. Was I really myself, or just a byproduct of the latest trends?

I’ve learned that these doubts are unreasonable. Liking something that many of your friends and peers do does not diminish your value, nor does it detract from the incredibly original person you are. And if you feel otherwise, you should remember that calling young girls “basic” is nothing but a cheap tactic to make them doubt their unique tastes and self-worth.

So go out and buy that pumpkin spice latte, if that’s what you want​​—it’s the season for it, after all.