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          Should straight women stop saying they have a "girl crush"?

          Is it the female equivalent of 'no homo'?

          Should straight women stop saying 'girl crush'?
          Rochelle Brock / Refinery29 for Getty Images

          In the past month, on three separate occasions, I’ve overheard straight women in my office talking very loudly about their 'girl crush'. As they spoke about spotting a female celebrity crush on the street, and listed which women they’d fancy in our building "if they were lesbians", I nearly projectiled my contact lenses right out in the world's hardest eye-roll. Not only was I genuinely shook that people still use the term, but as a bisexual person in a same-sex relationship I was a bit miffed by their flippant use of it.

          But then I remembered that before I was properly ‘out’ at work, I used to say stuff like that all the time. I'd merrily announce to anyone who’d listen that my fantasy threesome involved Kristen Stewart and Harry Styles (punching, much?!) Looking back, it's clear I was subconsciously using the 'girl crush' invisibility cloak to gauge my colleague’s reactions - to see if it was safe to be honest about who I was. It was a way of testing the water in an undeniably still very homophobic and heteronormative world.

          Cosmopolitan Beauty Writer Kate Pasola, aka my bisexual sounding board, has been through the exact same thought process. She’s open about her sexuality outside of work, but few people in her professional sphere are aware of her attraction to women. “I like to throw curveballs sometimes by saying certain female celebs are hot (Kate McKinnon, lol). But then straight people go, ‘Oh yeah, I have a 'girl crush' on her too.’ And I then give up and pass as hetero again cos I CBA to get into it.”

          Savana Ogburn / Refinery29 for Getty Images

          So is it actually legit for a straight woman to refer to someone as their 'girl crush'? Can them doing so actually harm LGBTQ+ women and invalidate their very real attractions? Or does the 'girl crush' phenomenon allow anyone questioning their sexuality to work it out in their own time?

          Where 'girl crush' came from

          'Girl crush' is most commonly used by straight women to describe their appreciation of or (platonic) obsession with another woman. The term was used a lot in fashion circles back in the earlier 2000s as a way of saying, “I like her aesthetic and general vibe.” It became such a normal part of our language that there was even a Girl Crush Colouring Book which Marie Claire - who said they were "obsessed" with the concept - dedicated an entire article to.

          "It’s the woman equivalent of 'no homo'"

          Definitions of the term started popping up everywhere. “Sometimes, you can't help but be attracted to qualities or characteristics in other women, whether they're qualities you want or not,” The Frisky wrote in 2010. “A 'girl crush' is by no means a physical or sexual attraction. It's part jealousy, part admiration.”

          Why is 'girl crush' problematic?

          No matter where you read an analysis of what girl crush means, all definitions come with one clear qualifier: A 'girl crush' is when you admire someone, but you 100% would not fuck them. It’s the woman equivalent of 'no homo'.

          This brings to mind a recent viral tweet I saw doing the rounds online. Some lad called Kevin posted a picture of a beautiful sunset with the caption “I’m straight but… that’s incredible.”

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          Naturally, he was mocked by queer Twitter and the headline on this PinkNews article summed it up in all its homophobic absurdity: “A straight guy named Kevin had to clarify his sexuality in order to enjoy a sunset. Yes, really.” Kevin may as well have said he had a 'girl crush' on the sunset.

          Back in 2014, a Fashionista piece examined the similarities between these two terms. "It's the same way 'no homo' is used by men to say, 'Oh man, this football player is amazing, but I’m not attracted to him, I can acknowledge that another man is good at something without wanting his dick in my mouth,'” Fashion writer Nicolette Mason told the website. "I don’t think that 'girl crush' is any different from that - wanting to show appreciation for somebody and the bottom line being that you don’t want to be mistaken as actually being interested in that person."

          Rochelle Brock / Refinery29 for Getty Images

          Is 'girl crush' homophobic?

          I think we can all agree that clarifying you absolutely would never in a million years *actually* fancy a woman is kinda homo/biphobic. Dr Meg-John Barker, relationships educator and author of Rewriting the Rules and Gender: A Graphic Guide says the phrase could also ‘other’ queer people.

          “The main thing that strikes me about the term is that we label things this way when they're seen as something less valid or normal in our society: some kind of exception. It reminds me of terms like 'lady doctor', 'businesswoman', or 'actress' - all marking the idea of a woman doing these things as the exception because men are seen as the norm,” they explain.

          "It's up there with 'gal pal'"

          The phrase 'girl crush' reminds us that the 'normal' way to have a crush - as a woman - is on a man. For that we'd only have to use the word 'crush'. In that way it has heteronormativity built in: to be a 'girl crush' is already to be something lesser or abnormal.”

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          'Gal pal' was (and still is, occasionally) a term used by many a tabloid newspaper to repeatedly erase queer female celebrities' relationships. My favourite (and by favourite I mean most rage-inducing) example being: After Kristen Stewart moved in with her girlfriend Alicia Cargile in 2015, The Daily Mail referred to Alicia as Kristen's "live in gal pal".

          Oop, there go my contacts again.

          Jena Ardell

          Does 'girl crush' push stereotypes about bisexuals?

          Some of the most harmful stereotypes and myths about bisexual people are that they are either promiscuous (aka will shag anyone in sight) or just plain confused and going through a phase on their way to Gay Town. So it's possible a straight woman using the phrase paints female same-sex attraction as a fleeting thing, not to be taken seriously. Dr Barker adds, “This risks doing a disservice to those who are openly LGBTQ+ - treating it as something fun to be played with rather than something that has massive implications for people's lives - hate crimes, discrimination, loss of friends and family, etc.”

          The fact the term involves the use of ‘girl’ is infantilising in itself, and suggest female same-sex attraction is something childish or immature, Dr Barker says. “These are all stereotypes of bisexuality of course: suggesting that it's not really valid for a woman to be attracted to other women as well as men. It's probably something she'll grow out of, certainly not something to be taken seriously.”

          Does 'girl crush' play into the fetishisation of queer women?

          Dr Barker points out the similarities in tone to Katy Perry’s song ‘I Kissed A Girl’. “The song also puts across a 'girl crush' as something experimental, adolescent, sweet and sexy but not serious. You've got to wonder what the kiss meant to the girl in the song. Did she know she was just somebody's fun experiment? She's not treated like a full human being, just an object to be played with.” They add, “Politically we also do something pretty dodgy by repeating the idea that women's desires for women - and bisexuality - are something immature, silly, and girlish.”

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          Speaking about her song ‘Girl Crush’, queer musician Rebecca Lucy Taylor of the band Self Esteem told Dork, “Women aren’t a fun new cool thing for straight women to try - and in an age of pop songs about ‘kissing girls’ and ‘trying it on for size’, I felt like saying, ‘well you know, that’s not much fun for the person you’re experimenting on?’"

          Is 'girl crush' ever OK to use if you're not LGBTQ+?

          In mine and Kate’s experiences, the term has allowed us to almost half come out to the people around us in a way that feels safe. I told Dr Barker this, and they said, “I agree with you though that these kinds of 'safe' terms like 'girl crush' 'bi-curious' and 'go gay for' can enable people to be in the questioning and uncertain territory which everybody probably needs if they're exploring same-sex desires in such a heteronormative and homophobic culture.”

          mediaphotos

          Sara, a 34-year-old bisexual woman, also found it comforting to use the term when she was younger. “Before I was properly out I used the term to validate my infatuations with friends or celebrities,” she says. “A 'girl crush' was the best thing I could attain to when I was still living that hetero life and no one would judge me. I think if straight people use the term that's fine - because that straight person was me once.”

          For Charlie, a 23-year-old, bisexual and genderqueer person, straight women using the term doesn’t bother her. “It also allows for some fluidity of sexuality/self discovery,” they explain. “I don't mind people using it and living their straight lives and having the occasional girl crush, as long as it doesn't diminish lesbian/bi identities.”

          "That straight person was me once"

          Bisexual illustrator and author of ‘How To Have Feminist Sex’ Flo Perry, 27, doesn't find it useful to police terms in this way. “Generally, I don't like to be too picky on how others use language, and I don't find ‘girl crush’ offensive,” she explains. “I suppose the danger would be that people who say it aren't taking their own sexuality seriously. They are dismissing genuine lust as just admiration.”

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          It’s a complex issue, and one that doesn’t offer a simple answer. If you’re someone who is questioning their sexuality and using 'girl crush' to test the waters, do whatever you need to to feel safe. And to any straight women making jokes about their celeb 'girl crushes', please just consider queer women and the effect your seemingly harmless words might have on them.

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