This article was published under a different title by Role/Reboot on August 18, 2013. You can view it here.
Every once in a while, I experience a moment of cultural awareness so powerful that I can do nothing else but write about it. My latest epiphany came last week in the form of research from the dating site OKCupid, compiled in a post entitled “The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like'” by Christian Rudder.
Like any dating site, OKCupid is interested in the demographics of its users, and so they took a random sample and divided everyone, by race and gender, according to what words and phrases were most common in user profiles. You can view the groupings of the top 50 things each racial group “likes” here, starting with white people.
The cultural uncertainties I’ve had for years were immediately resolved once I read this post. Why, as a white girl, I’ve rarely been able to identify with other white girls. Why most of my friends, save about a half-dozen close girlfriends, are male. I could easily relate to much of the white male list: Hockey? Go Pens! Robert Heinlein? Amazing sci-fi writer. Van Halen and “Breaking Bad” and The Big Lebowski? Yes, yes, and yes! But when I looked at the female list, the only thing I could really get excited about was…eh? Something about mascara or mom?
I now understand why I feel very out of place when the girl next to me belts out the latest country-pop song or raves about Pinterest. But new questions are raised and worthy of discussion, which, I guess, is why OKCupid published this research in the first place. How do white women market themselves in order to attract a partner? And what do these selections tell us about whiteness and privilege?
In order to better understand the data, I had to group it. Almost every item on the “white girl” list fits nicely into one or more of the following categories:
An overwhelming number of items on this list have to do with what Christian Rudder calls a “pastoral self-mythology,” meaning that white women, often living in urban settings, idolize the calm simplicity of rural life. If you’re looking for a reason why country music is so popular among white women, this is it. “Kenny Chesney,” “Tim McGraw,” “Carrie Underwood,” “a country girl,” and “country music” all appear on this list alongside emblems of the rural pastimes featured in country songs: “horseback riding,” “bonfires,” “summertime,” “flip flops,” and “thunderstorms.”
There’s an idea of escape here: life’s a beach (or a nice piece of farmland); the man of your dreams is going to hold you during romantic thunderstorms and build you bonfires, and you’ll live happily ever after. Flip open any Nicholas Sparks novel or Eat, Pray, Love, and you’ve got a full-blown white pastoral fantasy—or at least a lot of urban white girls pining away for one.
Innocence and Domesticity
I paired these two concepts together because some men desire these two qualities in the same individual—or at least white women seem to think they do. Men crave childlike innocence (think of fashion trends that infantalize women: the babydoll dress; the “sexy schoolgirl”) in order to feel like the “protector,” but they also want to know that dinner will be on the table when they get home.
Many items on this list reflect the cultural push for white women to be both youthful and nurturing. “Toes” are tiny, dainty body parts associated with babies. “Horses” and “horseback riding” are every little girl’s obsession. Domesticated pets are a staple of any “animal lover’s” childhood.
And of course, there’s “mom.” The domestic side of the coin is represented by items like “new recipes,” “cookbooks,” “baking,” “decorating,” and “flea markets.” “Wine,” the only alcoholic beverage on the list, is light, fruity; not rough and masculine like hard liquor. Wine is also associated with affluence, which brings me to…
The white female list reeks of high-cost and/or superficial items, and I wish Robin Leach were still around to narrate this part. There’s “boating,” “skiing,” “baths,” “getting dressed up,” “mascara,” “yoga,” “Pilates,” and “Ireland”—the only item on this list outside of America, most likely there for its pastoral landscape and extremely white population.
Money, decadence, and status bind these items together. Interestingly enough, the only two careers appearing on the list are “nursing school” and “waitress,” which are both working class, service-oriented professions. Filet mignon taste on a hamburger budget? Maybe that’s where the man is supposed to come in.
The only sport appearing on the list is baseball. Though a baseball game is not expensive to attend, the environment is more relaxing than that of harder contact sports, only passive observation is required, and it takes place in the “summertime,” making it perfect for a romantic outing. The only two teams listed are the Yankees and the Red Sox—both bandwagon teams associated with wealth (New York City) and whiteness (New England).
As white girls, we are conditioned to believe that we have no culture, but the collective consciousness revealed in OKCupid’s data indicates otherwise: I’m urban, but I romanticize anything having to do with the country. I’m sweet and youthful, but I’ll pamper you with home-cooked meals. I am high-maintenance and have expensive taste, but at least you won’t have to worry about my career overshadowing yours.
White female culture is a mash-up of privilege, fantasy, and meekness, and furthermore, it’s a culture that deviates from the less self-involved interests of other races. OKCupid’s black female sample focused on religion and prolific black writers like Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison, while the Latino set prized education, independence, and ethnic traditions in cuisine and dance.
Twitter accounts like Common White Girl and First World Pains satirize white privilege and its trivialities, but OKCupid’s findings suggest that white girls themselves aren’t in on the joke. Instead, their marketing strategies are more a reflection of what they think white men desire and less an accurate representation of how life and relationships really work. Unsurprisingly, the Common White Girl avatar is Disney’s Cinderella—a perfect symbol of the starry-eyed perceptions largely unshared by more self-assured women of other races.
At 26, I’m no stranger to the cookie-cutter followers of Generic White Girl Culture, and if I had a dollar for every time I’ve been romantically rejected for one of these girls, I could probably put myself through college again. Interests like hockey and Robert Heinlein haven’t gotten me very many dates, after all.
So maybe these women are on to something. No judgment here if you savor a glass of wine in the bath or enjoy getting lost in the occasional Disney movie, but if you are constructing an entire identity out of satirized stereotypes, you may want to ask yourself: How authentic is this image, and who is it really for?