In Defense of the Pick Me Girl
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
Written by Emi Grant
Edited by Eliana Horning
Artwork by Megan May Walsh
POV: A 14-year-old girl makes fun of you in front of your crush in math class, and your brain's chemistry is altered forever. Patiently, you wait ten years until an app called TikTok is invented and you can finally exact revenge by posting dozens of videos about her remarks. A wave of negative comments rush in about the 14-year-old harlot and you take your rightful seat on the throne of best girl ever. You have conquered the Pick Me girl.
The Pick Me girl is not a new archetype. As early as the 2000s, we labeled her as the “not like other girls'' girl. Either way, she is attention-seeking, boy obsessed, and constantly putting down other women. The Pick Me girl’s primary habitat is the hallways of high school, but she occasionally makes her way into workplace happy hours and recreation league soccer games. Originally, this character was used to showcase internalized misogyny but with the birth of TikTok and a greedy algorithm, the Pick Me girl has become a oversimplified dumping ground of chauvinism and hatred of annoying girls.
Pick Me girl resentment didn’t come out of nowhere, though. In 2016, Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign ushered in a movement of “supporting all women.” Despite Clinton’s many political flaws, female voters were instructed to overlook these shortcomings in the name of gender solidarity. Madeline Albright even delivered the divisive line “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women '' in Clinton’s defense.
The movement was obsessed. From politicians to celebrities, the battle cry became “support ALL women!”. Despite its good intentions, this mantra was severally limiting to the critically inclined woman. Dislike a Taylor Swift song? Bad feminist. Not interested in Greta Gerwig’s newest movie? Bad feminist. The phrase held women hostage to their gender. You like everything a woman makes or nothing.
Woefully problematic, the idea of “support all women” has been used to uplift the voices of white women, often at the expense of women of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and working-class people. Like many online conversations, the slogan had been warped into a buzz word with very little nuance.
In 2020, the pendulum took a hard swing in the other direction. Thousands of Tiktokers rushed to criticize Pick Me girls and other women who enforced patriarchy––whether intentionally or not. Earlier videos included women sharing their experiences with bullying, internalized misogyny, and slut shaming. It reminded us that women have the capacity to be cruel and systematically oppressive and rightfully started a discussion about intersectionality. However, TikTok’s short form content spiraled into a less complex dialogue in the months that followed.
By 2022, the Pick Me girl is an amalgam of every annoying quality a woman could have. She is loud, rude, attention seeking, and overly self deprecating. Her attempts at flirtatiousness are obvious and she is incredibly dramatic (while claiming she is not). The Pick Me girl is no longer a criticism of society, it’s an attack on young women and girls.
The Pick Me girl hashtag has amassed 3.6 billion views with thousands of videos. Several creators have entire platforms dedicated to the trope. One user has a 24-video playlist labeled the “chill girl” that depicts the same boundary-free “friend” that tries to get a little too close to your boyfriend. While the chill girl is grating and maybe even familiar, she’s certainly not worse than the boyfriend who refuses to set boundaries––where’s the POV of that guy?
TikTok’s algorithm has allowed this creator and many like her to gain a huge following on a singular identity like the chill girl. Rather than encouraging influencers to dive into the nuances of subjects, it's common and effective to reproduce popular videos from the past. The problem is, the Pick Me girl is far more complicated than the POVs lead you to believe.
All women have known the isolation of being ridiculed by other women. It’s a strange and lonely feeling to realize that even people who share your identity aren’t on your side. But most women can also admit that, at one point or another, their behavior has reflected internalized misogyny. With a system that’s as old as our society, it’s hard not to fall victim to these tendencies.
It’s time to realize that women don’t develop these behaviors out of nowhere. The Pick Me girl archetype is rooted in people pleasing tendencies. At the heart of it, the Pick Me girl is trying to appeal to the dominant group (men) out of an instinctual need to fit in. Though it’s not ideal to do this at the expense of other women, it is a defense mechanism. USA Today explains that a person who tries “not have any needs” has often been told they are “too much” or “their needs have been silenced”.
It’s not a bad thing entirely to call out this behavior. Pick Me girls are depicted as high school aged girls who often hurt their classmates with their actions. Young women on TikTok can and should express how we can be kinder to one another and strive for a more accepting generation. It’s important for girls to see female role models with female friends and a healthy view of women. However, the TikTok fad is filled with creators (both women and men) in their mid 20s mercilessly making fun of the “annoying” Pick Me girl traits with no analysis of the problem or compassion for the young target.
In this top rated video, a male creator and a female friend demonstrate the quintessential Pick Me girl. The girl asserts that she is one of the boys and her two male friends look at eachother, irritated. She whines out the Pick Me girl official tagline, “stoppp”. She then says that she was blocked by one of the boys because his girlfriend made him. Someone off camera asks “didn’t you send him nudes?” and the video ends.
Other than a quick “boys are less drama” comment, it’s hard to find a critique of internalized misogyny. Instead, this video calls out girls for being annoying, slutty, and desperate. It’s a teenage boy fantasy––a girl’s obsessed with his approval that he simply refuses to give. The male creator holds the power, suggesting that boys don’t like it when girls try too hard and that male approval is the ultimate goal. Though the boys in the video appear annoyed, it reinforces that they have the ability to pick and choose which girls are worthy. And why are men weighing in on the conversation in the first place?
The wave of Pick Me hate has created a dissonance between the phenomenon and the people who hold the power. This creator and many like him fail to recognize the source of the problem: men. In this video (and several others on his channel), Pick Me is used as a dog whistle for desperate slut. The comment section is indeed filled with users laughing and naming women and girls who fulfill this trope from their personal lives.
What was once used as a general critique of misogyny has become a specific attack on annoying women.
It’s unfair and incomplete to criticize Pick Me’s without challenging the generation of men who force this competition to begin with. While some creators have used the space to critique patriarchy and its flaws, far more choose to attack feminine traits and belittle other women. Even this video constructs a hierarchy with Pick Me girls at the very bottom. It makes space for men to look down on women (even the ones they date) and validates women who see themselves as above Pick Me’s.
With the same catchy phrases making their rotation on Tiktok, this conversation deserves multiple dimensions. Indeed, women in power should be held equally responsible for the harm they do to oppressed classes. Gender does not erase racism, ableism, or homophobia. But where the conversation stands, Pick Me is just another way to put teenage girls down. It places them in boxes and all of them are unacceptable.
The pick me conversation doesn’t have to be over, we just need to add layers to our discussions. Female creators can start by acknowledging their own flaws rather than pointing the finger at their teenage bullies. We can create open dialogue about how we have hurt one another as women and how we can grow in the future. The real world is unfortunately filled with internalized misogyny and not a single one of us is free from it. Certainly, we don’t have to accept cruel treatment from other women, but we can offer helpful, compassionate reflection instead.
Emi Grant is a writing MFA student at the New School for Social Research in New York. She is passionate about social justice, horror movies, and all tings pop culture. Check out her other article with the Madwoman Collective "Horror Movies and America's Sex Problem."