“Are we having a fight?”
That’s the latest tweet from a Twitter feed devised in April by Toronto filmmaker Graydon Sheppard and his partner graphic designer Kyle Humphrey, which has since morphed into a video that went viral this week.
The tweets include short remarks such as, “You know what? That’s not okay.” Or, “I can’t even.” Or, “Gay guys love me.” In other words, eerily accurate dispatches from the world of girl talk.
And when the video – which features Sheppard in drag and movie actress Juliette Lewis ( Conviction), a fan of the Twitter feed – was released, women reacted with slightly embarrassed enjoyment, as if busted for having just said “I know, right?” or “I hate trying on clothes.”
The Twitter feed called Shit Girls Say now has almost a quarter of a million followers (and counting), and the video has become a meme inspiring its own parodies, such as the version newly at large for black girls (are black girls not girls?) by African-American comic Billy Sorrells.
There is also a version on what gay guys say, in addition to multiple attempts to start hilarious Twitter threads about what guys in general say.
For their Twitter photo identity on the feed, Sheppard and Humphrey blithely use the iconic photograph of Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl with the striking blue eyes made famous by a 1985 National Geographic cover.
Despite that, it seems clear Sheppard and Humphrey are referencing straight, white, middle-class women in the 20-to-40 age range. Fair targets: So why is every women I know who falls, more or less, in this category both amused and deeply irritated by both the Twitter feed and the video?
Both are funny: Sheppard’s drag is retro and absurd (pure Kids in the Hall), and almost every comment lands on target.
But laughing at the idea, essentially, that women are consumerist and crazy is humour along the lines of Jerry Seinfeld’s now-ancient bit dividing the sexes by their approach to channel surfing.
Further, laughing at ourselves is uncomfortable: See Dave Chappelle or Eddie Murphy doing “white folks be crazy” stand-up routines about monotonous white hicks before largely white, doubled-over audiences.
Alternatively, consider Chris Rock’s scorching indictment, in Bring the Pain, of “ignorant,” “low-expectation-having” African-Americans: In this 1996 HBO special, a largely black audience laughs, but their discomfort is palpable.
The Girls Twitter feed and video ask girls to look at themselves as risibly absent-minded, controlling, insecure, boring, shrill and loud. Especially in the context of relationships: The video’s heroine is always talking to an unseen boyfriend or female friends (and once, to herself).
This is the irritant: Private talk is just that – private.
This meme exposes things generally said anxiously, in confidence, in trust and exploits the unspoken covenant between speaker and listener (the gay friends who love them?).
Who among us has not heard men, gay and straight, say things, again and again, that are completely vulnerable, raw and stupid?
But repeating remarks like, “It’s not really a bald spot, is it?” or “My father doesn’t respect me” or “Can you cut/clean/wash/sew/make this?” is a cold betrayal of someone who has found, in you, someone who will not laugh at his weakness.
In any event, a feed on what men say is not plausible, since it is hard to imagine summarizing male discourse so easily, so uncannily.
Is the video uncanny? Yes. It is like being lightly slapped, over and over again. That starts to sting, then infuriate.
And it is so easy to look forward to a time when a girl or woman will express one of the banalities in the video and be mocked for it. Mocked for saying, “Did you miss me?” or “Be nice.” Are women not scrutinized enough?
Girls, or young women, who already speak largely in the interrogative and treat the world of men as another, completely inscrutable species, have enough on their minds already. They are already sexualized to the maximum. Must their every word be a potential joke?
Girls speak casually about inane things. Girls speak, too, about sexual violence and quantum physics. They talk about fear and art, children, murder and opera; philosophy, blood, sex and mathematics.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing is also some stuff a girl said.
The book suggests that we stop compartmentalizing ourselves, that our formerly protected private sphere is but one piece of a neatly interlocking puzzle that parody will never solve.