Is the ‘pick-me girl’ a catchy pop-culture term that makes for a funny TikTok post, or does it pit women against each other?
The other week I heard a male podcaster patronisingly put down a woman by calling her a ‘pick-me girl’. It turns out that ‘pick-me girl’ isn’t just a term used here and there. In fact, the ‘pick-me girl’ is a social-media punchline. The hashtag #pickmegirl on TikTok has 3.1 billion views, with many videos parodying or impersonating so-called ‘pick-me girls’.
The term originated on Twitter in 2016 with the hashtag #TweetLikeAPickMe, with people mocking girls who called themselves ‘wifey material’, drawing attention to their traditionally ‘feminine’ virtues and habits. But the term has since evolved to mean almost the opposite.
According to Urban Dictionary, a ‘pick-me girl’ is “a girl who seeks male validation by indirectly or directly insinuating that she is ‘not like the other girls’.” Someone who sets themselves apart from and trivialises classically ‘female’ hobbies or behaviours as frivolous or vapid. For instance, they might say to guys that [other] girls are “too much drama”.
As Courtney Young writes in bustle.com puts it, “a ‘pick-me girl’ might say something like, ‘I just don’t get other girls,’ with the ultimate goal (subconsciously or not) being to get attention or male validation. Anyone remember Amanda Bynes movies from the early aughts? Between She’s The Man, Sydney White and What A Girl Wants, Bynes’ characters were the classic ‘cool girls’ of our youth, with their aversion to lip gloss and sundresses, and their ‘I get along better with guys’ energy.” And who remembers Marissa from The O.C saying “yeah, well, I’m not like the other girls” with that undertone of superiority?
The term ‘pick-me girl’ didn’t exist in popular culture then. But come 2023, perhaps the best-known ‘pick-me girl’ is model and TV star Kendall Jenner. Various people have commented on Jenner’s social media, accusing her of being a ‘pick-me girl’. They cited some of her social-media posts – for instance, her tweet that “girls are really really desperate and sad sometimes” – and posted video snippets of things she’s said on Keeping Up with the Kardashians. “Are you not like other girls Kendall?”, @333oliviam asked.
Last year Jenner responded to this criticism indirectly, posting a TikTok video of her crashing her snowboard, with a sound clip of something she’d once said: that “I’m literally built as an athlete”. Her caption was “it’s giving ‘pick-me’ vibes”. Pick-me girl or not, you gotta appreciate someone who can take a joke.
Harmless or harmful?
Being a ‘pick-me girl’ happens in relation to other women, directly or indirectly. A ‘pick-me girl’ wants to be picked over other girls: for instance, being a guy’s best female friend, or being asked to hang with the guys when other girls aren’t. Not only do they want to be ‘picked’, they often want others to see they’re being ‘picked’.
As the bustle.com article says, “videos online share that you can spot a pick-me girl if they’re someone that puts other girls down, especially when in a group setting with a lot of men. By putting others down, ‘pick-me girls’ seek validation and approval from the men of the group and do so in order to get ‘picked’ whether as a romantic interest or as an accepted member of the inner clique.”
Kate*, a 26-year-old from Auckland, dealt with someone like this in her social group at uni. “She’d talk about how she was the closest female friend of each of the guys, how she was so different to other girls, how she could eat pies and drink beer and not gain weight like other girls. She said these things to gain attention from guys and put us other girls down, but with plausible deniability. I really didn’t appreciate it.”
Certainly, such behaviours can be problematic. In a story published in Elle last week, the writer Etka Sinha states, perhaps over-dramatising for effect: “Pick-me girls have traits like letting guys walk all over them because they are ‘carefree’ and ‘drama-free’, tropes they adhere [to] with alarming alacrity, lest the mask slip. They only hang out with males because, according to them, men are unproblematic; they adopt traits or qualities from their male counterparts, imbibing them into personality, propagating the farce that they were always like this… The pick-me girl’s eagerness to flex her male connections with other ladies and her whining about girls in front of guys, can be exhausting for women and endearing for men, making a smoke screen for the misogyny.”
Etka considers this behaviour by ‘pick-me girls’ to be “internalised misogyny. Women hating women is uncool, hating on their traits that imply their femininity, is absolutely brutal.” But – and this is my rhetorical question, not hers – if we hate on ‘pick-me girls’, doesn’t this make us just as bad, in a way?
Etka does say “it’s possible that the [pick-me] girls haven’t thought about how their behaviour and attitudes contribute to sexism, misogyny, and ultimately the continuous subjugation of women. Whether it’s due to the blinkers padded by years of unbridled misogyny or the need to fit into society’s notions of what’s acceptable, these girls often don’t see it as problematic.”
Personally, I think calling someone a ‘pick-me girl’ is problematic. I think the term pits women against each other. I think using it can normalise being dismissive toward, or rude about, women who are – or who we think are – acting a certain way. We don’t want to weaponise the label against women expressing a personal preference.
Also, you could argue that this label positions women not as three-dimensional humans but as objects of the male gaze. And if ‘pick-me girls’ are presenting themselves as the type of woman that they think men want, is that their fault or an understandable response to living in a 21st-century patriarchy? And do we want women – or men – to patronisingly call someone a ‘pick-me girl’ with or without decent grounds?