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How The Pick-Me Girl Trope From Fiction Affects Us

Pick-me girl is a character archetype, where a girl looks for male validation by insisting that she is “not like the other girls” through her actions and words.

Now what is a pick-me girl? If you have run into this term on your social media, you are not alone.

Pick-me girl is a character archetype, where a girl looks for male validation by insisting and expressing that she is “not like the other girls” through her actions and words.

For every time a parent has said “What would people think?” a young mind has contemplated upon the metrics of judgement in society.

I have come to accept that this metric is calibrated by how we speak of people, i.e., in hushed tones or with pride, with popular music in the background or with a graphic on the screen and alarming sounds. Literature contributes to creating ideals more than we realise and ultimately, we choose our tone based on how close or far an individual seems from this ideal.

Recently, the definition of literature has come to include the top-seeded player: social media. The form and nature of this literature have still not been dissected in classrooms, but I would argue that with ‘artistic elements’, social media content has made its way into the larger set of literature.

Especially if we were to define literature through its impact on the consumer/spectator, then it would be easier to convince those who might disagree with my categorization of social media.

As a woman, all this is of great intrigue to me, especially since literature has played a great role in my oppression and in my emancipation.

Often it has made me an object of desires, a silent listener or ‘the perfect companion’, while also allowing me to identify with emotions of rebellion and letting me be the protagonist, a role that the world attempts to deny me.

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I am unsure of what comes first, the agenda or the medium.

Ideally, it would be the medium that exists, of which propagandists realize the potency and then push agendas. I am not sure whether I was purposefully put on pedestals to be torn down in literature, but I do know writers and intellectuals did realize how they could use this mechanism.

Patriarchal narratives existed in stories as they were reflective of society, but also were regularly purposefully introduced or emphasized to push forward patriarchal narratives.

the trope of pick me girl

Almost every ‘female lead’, a term which automatically implies the character is second to the main lead. She is supposed to get along with women, but at the same time is not supposed to be like other women simultaneously must not be a woman who hates on women but must also be a woman who is not always siding with women.

How to identify a pick-me girl character in fiction?

From amongst the many tropes that have been created for women, a recently popularized trope is that of the ‘pick-me girl’. This character is insecure and feels empowered by putting down other women. Their method of putting other women down is:

  • Step 1: Differentiate yourself from other women.
  • Step 2: Show how they are truly authentic.
  • Step 3: Gain the approval of men or get a seat at their table.
  • Step 4: Still manage to excel carelessly at everything that a woman is expected to do.

Interestingly, for those persons it is not already obvious, this is how literature books, and romance spent a long time defining as characters of the ‘true love’, the ‘right woman’ for the male character.

  • She is not like the other women this man sees.
  • She is unafraid to have interests that are not identifiable with women.
  • Likewise, she is one of the boys, strong, playful, and conversationalist (sometimes quite often a woman dressed as a man, fitting right in)
  • But in the end, with the man of her dreams, she softens, wears that dress or saree, and does all the things that allow a home to function in the patriarchal society, i.e., cooks, cleans, likes children, and takes care of the man.

Pick-me girl is a confusing ideal to live up to

pick me. choose me. love.

Meredith Grey

We spent a good part of a century creating this confusing ideal for the woman to live up to. We even called it empowerment, till some saw it as forcing a woman to become a man or pressurising a woman to be a certain way. This girl was the ‘It’ girl for the longest time.

But now has come the fall of the pick-me woman, with social media making parodies of such women and calling them internally misogynistic (perhaps, sometimes rightly so). Now the trope of women, who are unapologetically feminine, are ideal.

The women who wear make-up don’t care about the opinion of a man. Since the male gaze is phasing out and the female gaze is phasing in, we find ourselves in a strange confluence where again we should be doing it all.

This pick-me girl would be shamed out of the ‘top’ for someone else to become the ideal character in the story of this world.

Why has this change in the ideal been ‘confusing’ and not a straight path out of oppression? I believe that no matter how hard we try, we haven’t healed some of the toxic cycles governing our relationships and identities. It is obvious that no matter what we define as the ‘ideal woman’ we are still creating a standard for some women to fulfil and some to fail.

Unfortunately, this ideal is not just a combination of universal categories of good; for women, these categories have always been more personal, more along the lines of who wears make-up and who doesn’t, who plays sports and who doesn’t.

There is no ideal woman

It was bell hooks who brought about the awakening amongst women regarding the falsity of an ‘ideal’. An ideal woman is not ‘white’, ‘caring’, ‘working’ ‘homemaker’, or a ‘feminist’.

There is no ideal woman, there is intersectionality of women with different desires, wants, character traits, and needs. The purpose of feminism, she argued, was not to give women another identity to take up, but was a political movement aimed at removing the structure of dominance.

With the advent of social media and its potency for advertisement, identities or ideals are no longer perpetuated for ‘culture’s’ sake, but these identities have found a more sinister sponsor: money. The identity politics that had made its way onto social media initially was only the reflection of what society was, then like literature, it started dealing with ‘ought’, and all that ‘could be’.

But this ‘ought’ also became the perfect business model

Instead of some abstract society and a distant man benefiting from women shaping themselves a certain way, companies started to benefit from women glorifying femininity through make-up. Or women attempting to be a certain way by buying their product which promised them a certain shape, a certain standing in society.

I find myself often referring back to Gerda Lerner, who very aptly identified the rudimentary method of perpetuating a power structure. Her theory wasn’t considered applicable as a political philosophy and was pigeonholed in the university course to the ‘feminism’ section, because of that very power structure.

She noted that to ensure dominance over a group, one must divide it. On dividing the group and creating an identity vacuum, mass mobilization is prevented. She identified this with the help of the distinction of ‘good woman’ and ‘bad woman’. From time immemorial, there has been an ideal woman P and then there has been a woman ‘not P’.

In being P, the woman benefits from protection, approval, and social status, and by virtue of being ‘not P’, the woman suffers scorn and is pushed to fend for herself and may even have to deal with threats to her life.

This prevents women from identifying with each other, disabling an entire group from mobilization. The reason why this distinction has affected women more than say perhaps any other oppressed groups is perhaps a matter for a different essay, as one can argue the convenience of isolating women because of their child-bearing abilities and child-rearing responsibilities.

Should the rise of pick-me girl worry us?

pick-me girl

However, in the rise and fall of the ‘pick-me girl’, all I see again, is women being compared to each other, pitted against each other (sometimes by women on their own accord, by virtue of the power structure they too have lived their entire lives in.)

But fear not women, as has always been the case, there have been enough of us conforming and enough of us not conforming. There are enough of us engaged in political decoding of these random obstacles thrown our way.

Years of oppression wouldn’t disappear overnight, but our activism was also not born last night.  I don’t believe that we should care if some of us are feminine and some of us are not.

We should refuse to participate even in the distinction of a misogynist woman and a feminist one, it is our job to engage in conversation and educate each other for our collective benefit, not tear each other down for doing things differently.

A man reading this can perhaps identify the universal political message but since I have mentioned women as the main consumers of this piece, it would be difficult for this piece to make it out of the women’s section to the political essay section. But we march on, no matter how narrow the path!

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