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Girl Dinner has become a part of something bigger: a meta-narrative of niche TikTok microtrends that all seem to me to be sinister prophecies of the failure of feminism. There’s Girl Dinner, Girl Math, Coquette trends, all lead by Your Honour She Is Literally Just A Girl. Feminism has deceived us. Nobody takes its emancipatory promise seriously anymore. writes Julie Uszpolewicz.

Image courtesy of Theo Wenner for Vogue August 2017

What do you cook when you don’t really know what to cook? When you are not in the mood for elaborate culinary adventures or when your mind is too busy with more urgent matters? I think cooking is a beautiful thing — culturally, socially, and anthropologically. But as our health- and wellness-obsessed Internet discourse keeps reminding us it is mostly a matter of nourishing your body. So, I’ll throw in some grains, whatever vegetables I have in the fridge, a wide range of herbs and spices, mixed seeds or nuts and anything with protein I can find, followed by a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil. I have listened to enough wellbeing podcasts to know that eating 30 different plants a week does wonders for gut health. But I came to that conclusion long ago when I was first introduced to a tabbouleh salad and followed the principle of grains-vegetables-herbs depending on what was available to me. 

Last summer I was informed that my grains-vegetables-herbs bowl was, apparently, a Girl Dinner. I don’t remember what lead to the conversation, but over supper on one very hot July day my friend introduced me to the concept: “It’s just when girls cook, on a normal day, you know, when you cook for yourself after a long day… it will always be just something pretty healthy, mostly plant-based with loads of vegetables,” she told me. “But it will still taste good! I’d add tons of herbs and spices and it will be nice... Maybe a tahini-lemon drizzle, maybe a vinaigrette...” I got the idea.

Images courtesy of Julie Uszpolewicz

I immediately loved Girl Dinner. It seemed like such a beautiful way to reframe healthy and sustainable foods as something delicious and affordable. But even then I wondered about the terminology. Why girl dinner? So I did a small sample size research and started asking my girlfriends what they cooked; the definition I had been given was accurate. Most girls I talked to followed a similar line of thinking. They would throw in whatever they had in a fridge in a loose or cooked salad form making sure it has some protein and fibre. A year ago, this was Girl Dinner

A year ago, I cherished the idea. I thought it was a way to liberate us from the oppressive narratives surrounding food that have followed us for decades. And yet, we were still being encouraged to spend money on tablespoons of seamoss and heaped spoonfuls of protein powders with milled chia seeds. Whenever influencers tried to reframe the narrative they would usually do more harm than good: Gigi Hadid openly claimed that she does not restrain herself with food and sometimes even allows herself a slice of a cheesy pizza (or two, but shush!). Gwyneth Paltrow encouraged all of us to find a balance between tofu and cigarettes. And yet, eating a beef burger was a pick me move (because all girls now are vegetarians!). Girl Dinner, I thought, was the solution. Girl Dinner was what we all were secretly doing — a realistic way to join health and pleasure. 

It was a particular becoming universal. Raised on the obsession with food and wellness, women became more conscious of forming healthy eating habits. But instead of perpetuating this obsession in a pathological way, we found a way to create realistic self-care routines. Girl Dinner was just a mode of healthy eating, which, I genuinely hoped, could have become a genderless trend. 

Recently, however, at a house party, I watched a girl put on her plate gherkins, a piece of stale re-toasted bread and a martini onion. “Girl dinner!” she laughed. I looked at her solemnly: this was not the girl dinner I knew, but, unfortunately, I realised this is what it had become. I started seeing girl dinners consisting of coffee and cigarettes or diet cokes and antidepressants. It lost all of its meaning. It now seems to perpetuate the stereotype that girls are incompetent at looking after themselves and obsessed with food. Even worse, it romanticises eating disorders. Girl Dinner was my short lived dream of liberation.  

Girl Dinner had become a part of something else. A metanarrative of niche tiktok micro trends that all seem to me to be sinister prophecies of the failure of feminism. There’s Girl Dinner, Girl Math and Coquette trends, all lead by Your Honour She Is Literally Just A Girl. Feminism has deceived us. Nobody takes its emancipatory promise seriously anymore. 

We grew up with the hopes of our mothers that their daughters will be brought up in a better world. We were gifted President Barbies, a reminder that girls can truly be anything they want. After all, apparently, girls ruled the world. So as we entered our adulthood, we slowly began to realise that it is not so simple. That now we well-educated will never stop others from mansplaining things to us. The hopes turned to ashes everywhere we looked — the #MeToo movement victims are still finding a hard time having their stories gain recognition and it definitely has not put sexual violence to a halt. If anything, the fourth wave of feminism has brought the struggles of liberation to the public eye: now we are more than ever aware of how long we still have to go. 

Yet, we have incredulity towards the promise of agency. It seems that we have tried so hard and yet there is still so much more to be done. But what is a girl to do? In many Western countries, women rights are granted by constitution. We can no longer go on the streets and urge our governments to enable women to do something previously restricted to the male gender. Emancipation has created an illusion of feminism achieved and so the fight for gender equality is now a cultural fight. But who will listen to us? After all, aren’t our demands a femi-nazism of a bygone era? 

Via Bimbo University on TikTok

Disheartened, we turned to another weapon: irony. We started reclaiming the stereotypes about women. Instead of Women in STEM, we found Girl Math, a claim that female calculating abilities are a form of fallacious logic centred around clothes and makeup. The internet sphere has became proliferated with trad-wife content and stay-at-home-girlfriend lore. We put silly little pink ribbons on cookies and home products, withdrawing to the hyper feminine aesthetic (whose dubious origins are either forgotten or ironically recalled - let us not forget what Nabovok's Lolita is really about). We got bored of effortless makeup that neatly fit within our five minute morning routines. The individualistic, wellness-orientated clean girl aesthetic has being replaced with the mob wife aesthetic, shamelessly crafted for the male gaze. Combined with Your Honour My Client Is Literally Just A Girl, the situation is summed it up neatly. 

via @nepobrunette on Twitter

All of those trends, not unlike Girl Dinner, started with something genuine, something I think could have be a beautiful way towards liberation. In a reversal of the 2010-era Girl Boss Feminism,  it championed the idea that feminism is not about trying to become more masculine, but that embracing qualities that are traditionally understood as exclusively female can be just as good for us. It originally showed that feminine qualities have something beautiful and that perhaps there are things that men could envy could learn from us, a claim that Simone de Beauvoir was making decades ago. But no-one listened, and so we withdrew to the idea that no-one will ever understand what it's to be a girl unless we conform to all the old stereotypes. If that is the cold and harsh reality, why shouldn’t we just stay in our pink-ribbons adorned bedrooms, malnourished and naive?

Cover image courtesy of Jessica Craig-Martin


Julie Uszpolewicz is a London-based philosopher and editor-in-chief of Phi Magazine.


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