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My Problem With WhiteGrlProblems

2011 April 7
by Katy Kelleher

The Twitter account @WhiteGrlProblem has become something of A Thing recently, thanks first to re-tweets by actress Emma Roberts and later to Time Magazine, who named it number three on their list of 140 Best Twitter Feeds. For those who have resisted the (negligible) allure of having a continual stream of endless (useless) information fed right onto your smart phone, White Girl Problems is another one of the satirical twitter accounts, in which someone takes on a pseudonym to issue 140-character jokes and/or oddly out-of-context statements. While there are several satirical feeds I love and adore (Voldemort, you do it the best, though Feminist Hulk is pretty clutch, too) White Girl Problems isn’t one of them. And that’s not just because I’m a white girl.

Okay: I will admit that it is partly because I’m a 23-year-old white female who went to a private liberal arts college. Some of the tweets, though nothing like my own (which tend to go more along the lines of “please, please read this thing I wrote”), do remind me of a certain type of person, someone who is into yoga and calling their friends fat, someone whose major concerns include the circumference of their thighs and their position in the social hierarchy. Someone who views their disposable income as a god-given right and enjoys flaunting it at every possible moment.

These people do exist. But they’re not necessarily white, and they’re not necessarily women.

Let’s break it down by order of the words. First, we have the “White” bit, which isn’t, according to popular opinion, offensive because it’s making fun of the group in power for their own unfortunate myopic vision and obnoxious life choices. Some might think WhiteGirlProblems is like “Stuff White People Like,” but sadly, it’s not nearly as good. And not just because it exists on a presupposition that women of other races or ethnicities can’t have the privilege required to tweet daily about yoga and shoe shopping, but also because it contains very little actual critique. It creates a type, and mocks it mercilessly, but crucial to the idea of this faux-person is the idea that she, this wealthy, privileged, arrogant and snobbish she, must be white. Assuming that this coveted lifestyle is the sole domain of caucasians also reinforces the myth that minorities are always poor, don’t worry about buying organic food, and don’t feel a continual pressure to fit the cultural ideal of pretty (“Thanks for giving me my first eating disorder, Barbie,” is a bitter, bitter tweet to stomach).

As commenters on Jezebel pointed out, they pinpoint certain issues as “white girl problems,” including eating disorders. WhiteGrlProblem tweets continuously about being hungry, being on a diet, suffering from and ED and avoiding carbs, as though these were all hilarious non-problems that never point to something much deeper and more damaging than simply wanting to “look hot.” It also seems to suggest that eating disorders afflict white girls exclusively (though really, what’s the big deal? Starving yourself is sooo indulgent). Studies have shown that black and latina girls suffering from EDs get far less attention, and are often overlooked, due in part to this peculiar belief about race and beauty. Far from busting open stereotypes and exposing the truth, White Girl Problems is simply perpetuating them. It’s satire, sure, but the joke is on all women.

Which brings me to the second issue I have with this, the “Girl” part. The first time I saw this feed was a few weeks back, and after a brief read-through, I clicked out of the screen without hitting “Follow,” or even scrolling down for more. I left with a bad taste in my mouth and a smear on my browser’s history. Why? Because White Girl Problems reads like yet another misogynistic rant, poorly concealed behind a veil of “humor.” Women, in this feed, are bitches. We’re cunty jerks who care about our bodies more than our friends, our clothes more than our lovers. We’re nasty and catty and mean. We’re blind to the problems of others and obsessed with our own looks.

But I was actually open to the possibility that they were making fun of this idea, not completely buying into it. That maybe the joke went deeper than it appeared on the surface—that maybe they were just bad at satire. However, a recent interview with The Daily destroyed any hope I had. “Everyone has seen that girl on TV like the Kardashians or Carrie Bradshaw, who has all this drama,” said one of the creators of the feed. “Everyone’s like, ‘These’s nothing to be complaining about, your life is amazing.'” Yeah, someone should tell those stupid bitches to shut it!

But here’s the thing: the Kardashian sisters don’t need to be taken down another peg. People do it all the time. And hating Carrie Bradshaw is not actually a radical act—it’s really quite overdone, to the point where much of the language isn’t indicative of “critique” but rather “latent hatred of all things deemed feminine.” And, just as importantly, it points toward a certain need we have in this culture to rip women down and tear them apart (check out this amazing New Yorker piece on Anna Ferris if you need more examples). It is certainly possible to use satire to critique culture, race relations, and conspicuous consumption, but this requires a certain richness. In order for this to go from “mocking young women” to “pointing out the flaws in our society that pressure girls to act like this” you need a point of entry, a place where the joke gains relevancy and depth.

This is where WhiteGrlProblems fails: it doesn’t even try to expose something deeper and more insidious about the relationship between class, gender, and race. I realize this is a huge, hairy beast to tackle, but if you’re going to create an avatar who exists solely to make fun of women, and then claim you’re doing something clever and subversive, I expect it to actually be subversive. There is nothing interesting about reaffirming the status-quo and there is nothing subversive about parodying (or, more accurately, parroting) a beaten-to-death stereotype.

7 Responses
  1. April 7, 2011

    Well said. I don’t use Twitter, but even if I did I wouldn’t be following WhiteGrlProblem. I am saddened that our society has moved no further into treating individuals as individuals and cannot move beyond ridiculous stereotypes.

  2. Jane Doe permalink
    April 7, 2011

    Believe it or not, you have nailed it. I know the identity of the person behind the account – she is vain, silly, and indeed privileged because she is the trophy wife of a minor celebrity musician. But it is well known that she has been desperately looking to have her own career and that she’s not the brightest bulb and a downright nasty narcissist. It will be a slap in the face to writers everywhere if this poor copycat imitation gets any more attention than it already has.

    • April 7, 2011

      You’re talking about Gilbert Godfried, right?

      Anyway, amazing piece, Katy. In terms of race based humor, though, Stuff White People Like is probably the acceptable amount of joking about one specific demo, especially because, at least originally, it was written well, and had almost no malice in it. And in terms of twitter, #firstworldproblems and @humblebrag accomplish this sort of humor, but without being horrible and wrongheaded about it. Let’s just hope this hack doesn’t get a book deal.

    • April 7, 2011

      That is fascinating! I heard that the writers already have a book deal, which is majorly disappointing. It is also really depressing that if you want to launch a career, the default path is through gimmicky humor.

      • Freaky Freddy permalink
        April 8, 2011

        majorly disappointing that some dumbass has a book deal? there are like 13 lolcats books…i wouldn’t worry too much about the significance of getting published…

  3. Katie Luscombe permalink
    April 8, 2011

    Plus, I would not necessarily classify the oldest Kardashian sisters as “white girls” in the first place. They often reference their Armenian heritage.

    • Katie Luscombe permalink
      April 8, 2011

      And by “oldest Kardashian sisters” I meant Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney. The younger ones aren’t actually Kardashians so I guess I didn’t need to specify.

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