Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Girlcrush: It's the Little Things

I don't want to pick on Hugo Schwyzer - he gets picked on a lot already (although there are good reasons for that so I'm not going to get all het up about it). I'm highly suspicious of Schwyzer but I haven't written him off as the enemy, mostly because there's little point in doing so. Thus I do follow him on Twitter, in part to keep an eye on what he promotes of his own work, and in part because he often links to some really interesting things around the web. Sometimes, however, he just tweets about what he's up to - often which coffee shop he's in, for some reason - and what his family are doing. Here's this mornings:

I really dislike the phrase "girlcrush" (or, as I've also heard, "ladycrush"). If little Heloise had a crush on a male teacher's aide, would she have a boycrush? Almost certainly not. She'd just have a crush. Because that would be normal. The phrase "girlcrush" seems specifically engineered to minimise the gayness of having a crush on someone of one's own gender, particularly when the person doing the crushing is a child. It's a way of diminishing the importance of a crush; a way of announcing that it's different from a real crush, so there's no need to worry about it being all gay and stuff.

It's also sexist. Boys don't have boycrushes. I'm sure little boys of all sexualities have crushes on people of all genders when they're growing up, just as little girls* do. Yet I've not once heard the phrase "boycrush", and I think that's because boys of any age are not allowed even the hint of homosexuality anywhere near them, in case it stains. In girls it's cute, and it might even be part of that renowned "phase" that we've heard so much about. Boys, however, don't get phases. They don't get to be young and experimental and titillating. Boys are supposed to be ruggedly heterosexual from the get-go. That's why, when they pull girls' hair in the playground, it's a crush. You think they don't pull little boys' hair too? Who knows why, but as adults we are fixated to the point of obsession on coding this behaviour as evidence of an always-already present heterosexuality. Because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about.

As well, then, as being sexist and heterosexist, it's also just boringly minimising. A crush is brilliant! It is fun and flirty and energising, no matter who the recipient is. School or work or a party or a hobby shines like a jewel when you know there is a certain person there, someone who presses your buttons or floats your boat, whose voice makes you a little weak or whose eyes make you blush when they settle on you. That's the same whether you're 6 or 60. Why do we have to make some crushes crushier than others by splitting them down the gender line? A little girl has a crush on her teacher's aide. That's life. Let her enjoy it, and maybe don't get all panicky and make sure that everyone understands that it's just a girlcrush, not a real crush.

(Equally, how about we stop diminishing basic admiration in this way? Just as I don't want to minimise crushes, no matter what gender the participants are, I also don't want us to assume that all crush-like behaviour means we have crushes, especially children. Why teach kids that any level of interest and absorption is a crush at all? Why not let kids admire, emulate, love, respect, or simply desire the company of people of any gender without making it all about romantic interest? This is why people get confused about who fancies them and who they themselves fancy: because we devalue platonic feelings in order to shore up romantic feelings.)

This, in a nutshell, is my problem with Schwyzer. He talks the talk - and what fine talk it is - but I'm not sure his heart is always in it. It's the tiny phrases that give him away. In an article written for Scarleteen in 2009, entitled 'Boys Do Cry: How To Deal With a Breakup Like a Man', Schwyzer makes lots of reasonable points about how much breakups hurt, and how to deal with them, and how not to be horrible while you're doing it. And then he gives himself away with one little phrase, buried deep in paragraph 8:
Most of us have seen something like this unfold in opposite-sex relationships: guy and girl break up. Girl initially seems far more devastated. She talks to her friends, mourns publicly, seems genuinely distraught. Guy seems, by comparison, to hardly be in pain at all. Weeks go by, then months. Because she’s dealt with the hurt immediately, girlfriend is getting over things, moving on, ready for what comes next. Boyfriend, meanwhile, has fallen into a delayed depression. He may suddenly start calling, frantic to get her back, having suddenly realized breaking up was a “huge mistake.” He may even progress to what seems like stalking, begging and pleading for “another try.” And while that might have worked on girlfriend six days after the break up, it comes far too late when it comes, as it not infrequently does, six months down the line! This delayed reaction is an obvious consequence of the fact that so many young men lack strong emotional support networks (other, perhaps, than that provided by the women whom they are involved with romantically or sexually) and are far more likely to adopt distraction or denial as initial coping strategies.
I'm not arguing with the overarching theme of this at all, but that little phrase "what seems like stalking" really throws up red flags for me. Seems like stalking? That is stalking! You don't get to say it's not stalking because the poor guy is just distraught that his ex-girlfriend isn't his girlfriend anymore. Intent is not magic, my friend. I'm also suspicious of his claim that it "might have worked on girlfriend six days after the break up". I'm not doubting its veracity, but it seems a little like Schwyzer is condoning that behaviour if it happens at the right time. After all, he's arguing that boys have a delayed reaction to break-ups due to a lack of strong emotional support networks, and that it would be better if they dealt with it right away rather than "adopt[ing] distraction or denial as initial coping strategies".

I'm getting away from my point, which is this: Schwyzer, I'm sure, would profess to be unconcerned if one of his children was gay or bisexual, as would a lot of adults. But words mean things, and it's the little things that give us away. Your girl child has a crush. It's not somehow magically unreal because it's on a woman rather than a man. And labelling it a girlcrush rather than just a crush is belittling, sexist, heterosexist and wrong.


*and little queers and non-binaries and agenders ...


  1. To be fair....

    1. Ah well, I stand corrected. Shows how much research (as opposed to anecdotal evidence) I put into my posts! I still maintain that Schwyzer's example there does little to negate the way that those phrases both erase the possibility of same-sex desire.

  2. I tend to use "girlcrush" to mean feelings that are proto-romantic, probably pretty immature. (And Hugo's daughter is quite young herself.) I don't mind having a crush on a girl, but girlcrushes are different than regular ol' crushes (This reminds me of a song I heard in high school that had lyrics that said "By definition a crush must hurt, and they do..." That song convinced me to break up the moribund relationship with my first real boyfriend, since I didn't feel crushy about him any more.)

    1. Hmm. I see what you mean, and perhaps this fits with Schwyzer's thing about the opposite of man being not woman, but boy (as in, girlcrush is a childish crush rather than an adult one).

      I think we're heading towards dangerous territory, though, if we start defining phrases with "girl" in them as lesser (immature) versions of real things. In fact I think that's what I was arguing against! Perhaps we could have a word for that which didn't have gendered implications? Or do you use "girlcrush" regardless of the gender of the person you're crushing on?

      I'm also interested in the significance of the age. Are we taking a 'real' crush and making it palatable for children to have, by calling it "girlcrush" or indeed "boycrush", in order to differentiate it from grownup stuff? We're pretty uncomfortable with childhood sexuality as a rule, so I think there's some potential for that argument.

  3. I thought it was a variation on Mancrush (which is a term I've heard bandied about).

  4. Hi Ollie!

    (followed from Feministe)

    A story I share:

    Last week at work I was going on-and-on about a movie I'd seen (Peacock) with Cillian Murphy, and in the midst of my frothing over him, a co-worker said that I have a "man-crush".

    I paused, tried not to jump down any throats, and calmly told her that I find that term distasteful because though I present as het, I'm completely comfortable owning a Regular-Crush on men. That the reason the term Man-Crush and Lady-Crush exist, is simply to give a "wink-wink, don't worry I'm not gay" It doesn't do anyone any favors, and it to acknowledge that whether you identify as het or not, you're still capable of feeling arousal for someone of the opposite sex, would probably be good for all of us.

    So, yeah--i'm with you.

  5. I've heard "man-crush" or "boy-crush" used, but usually in my own group of friends so I've no idea how widespread it is. And regardless, that doesn't alter the "IT'S OKAY I'M NOT GAYYYY" message implicit in the phrase.