Recently, singer Billie Eilish was a guest on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and the teenager was quizzed on a number of cultural points that are perhaps more relevant to an older crowd than Generation Z. Kimmel asked Eilish to “name a Van Halen” and when the singer did not know the band Kimmel was referring to, Kimmel lamented, “I’m going to start crying.” The late-night show host seemed stunned that a girl born in 2001 had no clue about a band Kimmel obviously cherishes (the band’s only number 1 hit song was released in 1984). Eilish was not ignorant of artists Madonna or Cyndi Lauper, who have enjoyed a higher popularity and more cultural longevity than Van Halen. Eilish did not know some of Kimmel’s other references, to which she responded, “You’re making me look so dumb,” and whether or not Kimmel intended it, the singer was the butt of his “jokes.”
This is not a new issue. Teenage girls are often a punchline to jokes about what they do not know and, in some cases, the joke is what they find interesting. How often this year did we hear about the VSCO girl, with her scrunchies and Hydroflask water bottle and interest in saving sea turtles? How many other teenage girls have been mocked for their love of boy bands, pop poetry, or Frappuccinos? And whether or not these girls enjoy things of actual substance, they set what the culture is interested in: the point is not if One Direction, poet Rupi Kaur, or the Starbucks unicorn Frappuccino is actually good, the point is that we are all talking about these things. People relentlessly mock girls for their “trivial” interests but many trends have their origins in teenage girls.
It’s no accident that apps like TikTok and singers like Billie Eilish are so popular right now: the apps are outlets that allow for self-expression and the artists reflect many of the thoughts that teen girls have. Eilish herself is featured in article after article for her opinions on how she chooses to dress in baggy clothes because of her relationship with her body, something that many girls can relate to. If girls aren’t being told their interests are too trivial or are too advanced for people of their age, people are policing their relationships with themselves. Then we all wonder why many girls are insecure in themselves or seemingly fragile. It is because we tell them who they can or cannot be and what they can or cannot like. And when these girls grow up to become women, many are still being told what to do. Women are constantly being pulled back and forth in a tug of war by societal and personal pressures.
And when teenage girls do care about something of more substance than the latest cultural craze – take for example teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg – they are often relentlessly mocked anyway. Many older people ask how someone as Thunberg could understand a topic such as climate change and some have even told her to let go of her passion for saving the planet and “go to a good old fashioned movie” instead. There seems to be no room for a girl to be herself in this world that is dictating her every move. Thunberg is thoughtful, passionate, and knowledgeable about the issue of climate change is constantly berated because she dares to take a stand on something that matters.
Instead of criticizing girls and women for their interests, hobbies, and passions, we need to lift them up, and if we can’t do that, then we need to let them exist without our own opinions about who they should be. Girls are allowed to be flawed, multifaceted human beings just as much as boys are.