The first of two videos circulating on the internet, “Girls Who Read” by UK poet and “Rogue Teacher” Mark Grist (above) hits back at the lad culture that objectifies women according to certain “bits” named above in some mildly NSFW language. In his video performance piece above, Grist, asked which bits he prefers by a lad in a pub, and faced with a looming cadre of both male and female peers putting on the pressure, answers haltingly, “I like a girl… who … reads.” Then, his confidence up, he elaborates:
I like a girl who reads,
Who needs the written word
And who uses the added vocabulary
She gleans from novels and poetry
To hold lively conversation
In a range of social situations
The ideal girl close to Grist’s heart “ties back her hair as she’s reading Jane Eyre” and “feeds her addiction for fiction with unusual poems and plays.” In his infectious slam cadences, Grist’s impassioned paean to female readers offers a charming alternative to the ladmag gaze, though one might argue that he still does a little bit of projecting his fantasies onto an unsuspecting lone female at the bar (who turns out to be not so alone). Maybe “Girl Who Reads” is a trope, like “Manic Pixie Dream Girl,” an idealization that says more about Grist’s desires than about any particular, actual girl, but it’s still a refreshing challenge to the leering of his pubmates, one that communicates to girls that there are men out there, even in the pubs, who value women for their minds.
The video above, for a new line of toys called GoldiBlox, designed by Stanford-educated engineer Debbie Sterling, upends another adolescent male cultural touchstone—this time a by-now classic American one—the Beastie Boys gleefully misogynistic anthem “Girls.” While the original still likely scores many a frat party, it now must compete with the rewrite performed by “Raven.” The re-appropriated “Girls” plays over video of a trio of young girls, bored to death with stereotypical pink tea sets and the like, who build a complicated Rube Goldberg machine from Goldiblox, which resemble plastic tinker toys. I foresee snippets of the updated lyrics (below) making their way onto playgrounds around the country. Hear the original Beastie Boys song, with lyrics, below.
You think you know what we want, girls.
Pink and pretty it’s girls.
Just like the 50’s it’s girls.
You like to buy us pink toys
and everything else is for boys
and you can always get us dolls
and we’ll grow up like them… false.
It’s time to change.
We deserve to see a range.
‘Cause all our toys look just the same
and we would like to use our brains.
We are all more than princess maids.
Girls to build the spaceship,
Girls to code the new app,
Girls to grow up knowing
they can engineer that.
That’s all we really need is Girls.
To bring us up to speed it’s Girls.
Our opportunity is Girls.
Don’t underestimate Girls.
As with all kids advertising, this is aimed as much at parents—who remember the Beastie Boys’ song—as their kids, who couldn’t possibly. And unlike Grist’s video, which only sells, perhaps, himself, the Goldiblox video aims to get kids hooked on plastic toys as much as any of the ads for products it displaces. Nonetheless, I’ll play it for my daughter in a few years, because lines like “we are all more than princess maids” constitute the perfect retort to the seemingly endless cultural slotting of girls into ridiculously subservient and fantasy roles.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
My criticism is a general one and not just about the first video: “Girls who read,” “boys who read,” these two common talk give a very specific and unfair description of “intelligent/interesting (or alike) person.” Especially when you also limit it even more like, “Girls/boys who read *books*.” In the old times, before we had technology, reading was one of the couple sources for information and to improve yourself. It’s not like that anymore. We have museums, we travel and do research, we watch documentaries, science programs, the news…etc I know plenty of very intelligent people who don’t read a lot. It’s just a ridiculous argument to say someone who reads books is better, more intelligent, more interesting than a person who doesn’t.
How many intelligent people do you know who don’t read at all? All of those intellectual pursuits you rattled off require reading for comprehension- you read bios and guides when you go to a museum, you read travelogues when you travel, you read a lot in most documentaries, science programs tend to have explanatory interstitials, as do the news. The original video stated that he likes a woman who “reads,” and then provided a long list of things that she could potentially be reading. Maybe *you* don’t like to read and you felt criticized?
Did I write, “…who don’t read AT ALL,” or did I write, “…who don’t read A LOT.”? It’s the latter. And I know quite a few intelligent people who barely ever read books if ever. I also specifically said that my criticism wasn’t just about or related to the first video but was a response to the general saying/belief that people who read books are more intelligent than the people who don’t. The rest of your comment doesn’t even make any sense, reading two sentences while watching a science program is not the reading we are—or the man in the video—talking about here. (I don’t even know what kind of documentaries you watch that you do “A LOT of reading” while watching them.)nnI happen to love reading actually. I always have. I don’t think it necessarily makes me more intelligent than everyone or most people who don’t.
I think it’s valid. I think we can consider “a girl who reads” to be one of several kinds of auto didact, both male or female. It’s rather obtuse to take it literally, though even if you did, a girl who reads will often be more interesting than one who doesn’t.
While I agree with the value of intelligence (or rather being smart and able to communicate well; aptly put by “Sherlock”‘s “Smart is the new sexy.”), it would be nice if the conversation would not be so one sided. After all, there are plenty of smart guys around who are, e.g., more introverted, and who don’t get videos to celebrate them (or are recognized for being smart). And in contrast to women, when men complain about these issues they usually get negative reactions. After all, men and boy’s don’t complain.nnAnother aspect — while important, being smart is apparently not the only thing (here “a girl who reads” — hopefully something better than “Twilight” or “50 shades”). It’s ironic that the girl in the video is (also) strikingly beautiful. On the one hand it improves the message — it’s not a case of “well, there’s nothing else to like, so I go with the brain”. On the other hand it is perhaps admitting that yes, physical attraction does play a role. And I wouldn’t call recognizing this as “leering” — I’d call it sexual attraction, and that’s a good thing. As Michael Marshall Smith put it nicely:nn”Men of all shapes and sizes, ages and creeds, and states of marital or relationship bliss enjoy, every now and then, the sight of a woman with no clothes on. It’s just as well we do, you know, otherwise there’d be no new little earthlings, would there? If you want to call that oppression or sexism or the commodification of the female body then go right ahead, but don’t expect me to talk to you at dinner parties. I prefer to call it sexual attraction, but then I’m a sad fuck who spends half his life in front of computer, so what the hell do I know?”nMichael Marshall Smith, “More Tomorrow”nnBut yup, although reading is neither the only way nor a guaranteed way, being smart is important. And if you exclude basic hygiene, it is more important (for me) than physical characteristics.nnnAnd perhaps one day we see some smart women making a video in the same vein — preferring character and smarts, not only over his appearance, but also over his resources like money and other possession, and over his status and prestige.nnnThat would be nice.