Design by Shannon Boland
Image Description: A girl sitting on her chair with her hand raised and a shirt that reads “Pick Me.”
“Pick me, choose me, love me!” This infamous phrase said by Meredith Grey from ABC’s hit network show “Grey’s Anatomy” is the epitome of pick me culture. Grey’s desperate pleas to be chosen by her lover was a defining moment in the show and caused quite the stir on social media. Meredith Grey is a prime example of what pop-culture defines as a “pick me”. Urban Dictionary, the ultimate guide for all things pop culture, defines a pick me as “an individual who begs for the attention, acceptance, and approval of a certain group in different things. In most cases, it’s to attain the attention, acceptance and approval of the opposite sex.”
Pick me culture is problematic because it creates a dynamic of superiority between women. It shames young women for their interests and rewards those who adhere to an invisible norm. The sentiment “I’m not like other girls” of pick me culture continues to perpetuate harmful gender roles. Not to mention, it makes young girls whose interests, such as cooking, which align with traditional gender roles feel guilty about having those interests in the first place.
Pick me culture’s sole existence is based on internalized misogyny. It is rooted in the patriarchal compulsion to appease men and their desires. It rewards women based on how they can conform to the patriarchy’s idea of what the ideal woman should be, how she should act, what she should wear, her political beliefs and so forth. Pick me’s operate under the assumption that men and society as a whole will be more accepting of them compared to women who choose to defy patriarchal standards. As a result, pick me’s adhere to the patriarchy with the perception that they are more likely to gain favor. Pick me culture is yet another agent that serves the patriarchy and perpetuates misogyny.
Merideth Grey has had tremendous character development. In season 2 episode 5 Meredith is pleading for her partner’s love and admiration. Grey, who approaches Derek, breathless, anxious as ever, and on the brink of tears, proceeds to have a minute monologue professing just how committed she is to their (potential) relationship. At the end of her fervent speech, she tells him to either sign the divorce papers and meet her for dinner or stay in his marriage. As a viewer watching this scene decades later, I could not help but cringe. While her passionate display of love was meant to be seen as empowering, it came across as embarrassing and tone deaf. Thankfully as the show has progressed with time and 16 seasons later, Merideth’s pick me tendencies are more subtle and viewers get to witness Merideth prioritizing herself and her needs over that of her partners. Meredith Grey, through several more heartbreaks and painfully cringeworthy moments, gets her redemption arc. Indeed, Shonda Rhimes recognizes the significance of Merideth Grey as a strong female character and successfully turns her into a woman that many people can relate to.
Another example of a pick me is Andy, the lead protagonist from “The Devil Wears Prada”. A timeless classic and a staple of 2000’s rom-com culture, this movie shows how deeply normalized internalized misogyny is in our culture. Andy feels special and “seen” because she does not subscribe to traditional gender norms. She has greasy hair, horrible fashion sense, drinks beers with the guys, and has little to no female friendships. But in this state, she’s happy and in a “loving” relationship. As the movie progresses we see that as Andy becomes more stereotypically feminine she also becomes more self-absorbed, conceited, arrogant and never has time for her old friends — essentially nailing the bitchy archetype. Andy completely changes the way she dresses and wears the latest designer clothes, works more hours so she can become the head assistant, and becomes obsessed with remaining on trend and looking put together. Through this fantastical transition, we see that as Andy breaks away from the typical pick me archetype she becomes depressed and loses her sense of self. This movie perpetuates the narrative that if you deviate from patriarchal norms, as a woman you will become miserable and lose everything and everyone you love. Furthermore, it affirms as a young woman you cannot put your needs first, your role is to be subservient to those around you and play a secondary role in your own life in order to keep those you love satisfied.
Pick me culture is not limited to early 2000’s movies or TV shows. From the 2000’s and on, there are countless examples of pick me culture. From Taylor Swift’s hit song “You Belong with Me” to “Him and I” by Halsey, there are thousands of examples of internalized misogyny in the media being perpetrated by women. And while there is nothing wrong with making art that declares your love for someone else, if your art only has value by demoralizing or demeaning others (specifically other women), I recommend keeping it in the drafts.
Another prime example of pick me culture is the phrase “I’m not like other girls”. This phrase validates the idea that women need to seek the approval of men at all costs. When I was in middle school I used to say “I’m not like other girls” because I thought differentiating myself from other girls would make me more acceptable and make it easier to belong. Validation from my male peers was more important to me than sisterhood. I didn’t know it then, but that was just another way the patriarchy was able to influence me and pit me against my fellow sisters.
My story is not unique. The need to feel different and stand out is common for young girls and women alike. Still, this mindset was incredibly toxic and difficult to adhere to. Attempting to conform to egregious standards that wanted me to shrink myself and deny my core values was difficult. I loved wearing dresses and keeping up with the latest makeup or fashion trends, however I thought suppressing what I liked would make me seem more mature and “cool”. Thankfully I got over that phase, and rather quickly I might add. I was able to recognize that I was in fact like other girls. In fact, I was considered a “basic” girl. I loved getting frappuccinos in the mornings, wearing oversized hoodies with leggings, making peace signs in pictures and following the corniest/most relatable Instagram accounts; and I was okay with that. Liking “girly things” and “being like other girls” was more enjoyable and rewarding than trying to adhere to a meaningless social construct. Keeping up with the latest trends or listening to popular music on the radio did not make me less worthy.
Despite the narrative that misogynists try to perpetuate, liking things that other women like does not make you less of a person. Enjoying fashion, wearing makeup, putting effort into your appearance, listening to popular music or anything else associated with femininity does not make your existence less valid. Your passions are yours and yours alone. Yet time and time again women’s passions and interests are criticized and ridiculed if they do not align with what society wants or thinks they should be.
Unfortunately, women have always been in a competition with one another, a competition where there is no real prize. Instead, women conform to misogynistic ideals in hopes that one day the patriarchy will reward us. Newsflash: it has not and it never will. We should not need to deflate our worth or other women’s worth in order to have value in society. Alas, as long as misogyny and the patriarchy are the dominant forces in society, pick me culture is not going anywhere anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything to stop it from spreading.
As young girls, we are indoctrinated and forced to assimilate in a patriarchal misogynistic society. Internalized misogyny is often passed down to women by women. Our mothers or other female figures in our lives are often the first to introduce us to misogynistic rhetoric. Young women are often told to hate themselves, to shrink themselves because women are not meant to take up space. Therefore, to counteract what we have been taught, we must be conscientious of the language we use to speak about ourselves and other women. Misogyny manifests in a multitude of ways, however being more conscientious of the rhetoric we use can ensure that we address our internalized misogyny and implicit biases.