Gynaeopticon girlies: In defense of the ‘pick-me girl’

Gynaeoptican girlies is a collaboration between Marie-Chantal Hamrock and Sarah Long. The ‘gynaeoptican’ is a term coined by theorist Alison Winch, it is a gendered, neo-liberal version of Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican. The panoptican is a type of institutional building and a system of control designed to police the behaviours of its subjects. In a panoptican, the subject does not know when or if they are being watched and so adjusts their behaviour accordingly. These two texts, ‘In defense of the ‘pick-me girl” and ‘The Spectatrix’ were produced from conversations around these ideas.

In defense of the ‘pick-me girl’

Pick me girl : A woman who claims or acts as if she is unlike most other women, in order to gain attention from men

We’re not friends. Nor will we ever be. We can be friendly, cordial, polite. We can have the chats–god, I love the chats–and this may even be meaningful and maybe we’ll even share a laugh, a drink and a warm moment but we’re not fucking friends.

The ‘pick-me girl’ isn’t likeable, she doesn’t want to be your friend. No one asks a man to be friends with everyone he interacts with, but for some reason the highest compliment you can give a female with whom you do not have an intimate relationship, a celebrity, the girl-next-door or an Instagram girl crush, is ‘ugh, I want to be her friend’.

In 2023 you cannot say ‘I want to be her’, this is desperately immature–cringe even–you have to say ‘I want to be her friend.’ But what does ‘I want to be her friend’ really translate to? Well, it pretty much translates to you spending your days in determined attempts at obtaining her lifestyle and her social status. Don’t worry though, social media is here to show you exactly how to do this and all through a sickly sweet, false intimacy. It’s ok to be aspirational, the little feminist says inside your heart; this is so much better than trying to be someone. Aspiration over emulation. Ambition over imitation. Do you understand the difference? No, me neither.

Well, not at first because it’s very slippery you see. It’s a secret. Don’t tell. Promise? Pinky promise. Imitation at its best can be fun, playful and conspicuous. You’re dressing up, you’re nailing your colours to the wall–you’re earnest, enthusiastic and childlike. Aspiration is a little more covert. Here, the big, big suckling desires of your animal heart are nourished by committing yourself to the act of becoming. ‘I want to be her friend’ is so much more than the relatively harmless act of buying a dress and pretending to be glamorous. ‘I want to be her friend’ is the life-long endeavour to have it and all of its fandangled, capitalist, ideological lifestyle. I wonder who is afforded the joy of fancy dress and make-believe sans secrecy?

I remember when I saw the last James Bond film in the cinema. I left the theatre and I noticed how the men were walking a little taller, with their chests just a little bit more pushed out. Giddy, they were saying how fucking cool Daniel Craig looked and how much they love James Bond. Grinning from ear-to-ear like delighted big kids, they displayed their interests earnestly. I, on the other hand, would have rather face death than admit I thought the Bond girl was cool and that I was making a mental note to go buy a dark maroon nail varnish. I would spend the rest of the week wearing a slight hint of red lipstick and trying to be a bit sexy. I wasn’t going to tell anyone, I would have died if someone accused me of trying to emulate the Bond girl because then I would be admitting how silly I am. In fact, while writing this article I felt like Carrie from Sex and The City–putting these thoughts together on the page, asking my girlfriends what they thought of the ‘pick-me’ phenomenon–and this was immediately followed by a rush of embarrassment at my flight of fancy. Why so much shame?

Well, because everything about female behaviour is critiqued. Which is why it is so depressing to see these Tiktoks (ok I confess, I’m old, I’m watching these on Instagram reels weeks later) parodying ‘pick-me girl’ that are created by other women. The core trait of this moniker is the act of putting down other women in order to befriend guys. Typically ‘the pick-me girl’ is depicted judging girls for wearing a lot of makeup or saying lads are ‘just less drama’. This is behaviour that obviously we should not advocate for but perhaps kids should not be villianised for trying to navigate the very tricky time of growing up, fitting in and creating an identity. We’ve all said any old malarachy to be seen as cool or in an attempt at establishing a self as a teenager. This is not a crime. What is bizzare about ‘pick-me girl’ videos is it’s not just teenagers embroiled in all the tender and sore moments of being a teen speaking to their peers, it’s grownass women. It’s women telling other women ‘you should not act like this’ this behaviour is unacceptable, we won’t be your friend if you fall into this archetype. Friendship as a weapon of control.These ‘parodies’ are often unfunny. It is hard to imagine anyone actually lolling at them. They instead function as a way of policing each other’s behaviour. We’re living and participating in a gynaeopticon.

The fact that this habit is deemed ‘pick-me girl’ is the most revealing part about the whole craze. If it was referred to as the ‘not like other girls girl’ it would perhaps not carry the same patriarchal offence. ‘Pick-me’ is viewing women as being in competition with each other for male attention. ‘Pick-me’ views this behaviour exclusively through the male gaze. The reality that women have a variety of different motives for acting in this way is excluded from the narrative created by this name. A lot of these behaviours can be caused by the desire to form friendships, to navigate social cues, to be ‘cool’ or are survival instincts in this patriarchal world (with the blame for this ironically put back on women). The only possible explanation for their actions is their all consuming desire for male attention. The name suggests that this is the sole interest of women and unfortunately, for these women the jig is up, their little trick has been found out. How embarrassing. How shameful. You should not behave like this and if you want to compete, you had better get more covert. Disturbingly, these videos suggest that any ‘flaunting’ of an interest not deemed to be traditionally female is in fact ‘pick-me’ behaviour. Control is exercised over the acceptable interests and behaviours of women and men. Pick-me’ views women as consumer products and your unique selling point just went out of fashion.

Interestingly, a lot of the behaviours that the ‘pick-me girl’ parodies attack are actually quite dated. The ‘cool girl’ who doesn’t give af and hangs out with the lads, with no make-up and is ‘too-cool-for-school’ has not been the queen bee for a long time. Dare I say, it stinks of the late nineties or noughties, a time when apathy was cultural. Apathy is so not 2023. It’s olde worlde–and with good reason.To put it simply, you can sell more things to people who can care about bettering themselves openly, namely makeup and skincare. Infact, in many ways the ‘pick-me girl’ can be viewed as the antithesis to the very much celebrated ‘doing the grind’ girl. This WOMAN (ah, but we live in the age of the great infantilisation) is hard working. She goes to the gym. She is becoming. Now you’re beginning to wonder if the little feminist in your heart is actually just an internalised capitalist aren’t you? Silvia Federici declared that females became imprisoned in their bodies in the same way men began their wage slavery in factories with the introduction of capitalism. The female body became the factory in how it functioned as a means for reproduction and the accumulation of labour. Now the female body appears to function as the site of the rat race as we scramble to self-improve and participate in the never-ending capitalist zeitgeist of ‘productivity’.

So, look, maybe as a small act of resistance we can cut each other some slack. If we stop policing behaviours, we immediately release ourselves from social pressure of conforming and when we don’t have to conform, we free ourselves from the cycle of oppression. Ooh that sounds fun, doesn’t it? 

Really, at the end of the day, I think the ‘pick-me girl’ is just another female trope to hang ourselves with… But then again I guess I’m just not like the other girls xoxo 


‘Trolly Gogs’, The Blindboy Podcast (Acast, 2020)

Lauren Berlant & Kathleen Stewart, ‘Friendhating’, The Hundreds (USA: Duke University Press, 2019)

Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (USA: Autonomedia, 2004)Alison Winch, ‘Brand Intimacy, Female Friendship and Digital Surveillance Networks’, New Formations, Vol. 84 (UK: Lawrence and Wishart, 2015)

Sarah Long

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