With over 3 billion views on TikTok, the term “bimbo”—formerly used to derogatorily describe an attractive but air–headed woman—has been recently reclaimed as a positive expression of unapologetic femininity among Gen Z. The idea of reclaiming the term has been in the discourse for a while, but the concept of a “bimbo feminism” exploded in popularity in 2022.
In February of that year, Vice writer Arielle Richards declared that bimbofication was “a fresh approach to intersectional feminism” and a “way to reach true liberation.” The worldwide popularity of Barbie this summer—following the doll previously criticized as regressive to women for decades, but now reclaimed as a feminist icon—only increased bimbo feminism’s appeal to the masses. One could say a bimbo feminist sentiment emerged as far back as 2001’s Legally Blonde, or even 1995’s Clueless.
The bimbo feminist is hyper–feminine. She wears what she wants, no matter how revealing it is, because she knows her clothes do not define her intelligence or her worth. She might have an anti–establishment, leftist position on social issues, but she also recognizes the importance of directing her energy towards fun, girly activities. In contrast to the now–maligned girlboss feminist, who prioritized corporate success and fighting for space in a man’s world above all else, the bimbo feminist is content to just exist with her girls. After all, the point of feminism is for women to have personal autonomy and free choices. That’s not a bad thing, right?
Though the trend may have started with encouraging women to embrace stereotypically feminine interests and wear revealing clothes without fear, bimbo feminism has implicitly made pillars of the bimbo doctrine, like the “head empty” and "I'm–just–a–girl” sentiments, into feminist arguments. It’s one thing to poke fun at the very things men have always mocked women for, but it’s another to unironically welcome these stereotypes, and end up reproducing the very regressive notions of womanhood that feminism aims to knock down.
Take the “head empty” aspect of bimbo feminism, for example. Harbingers’ Magazine’s Sophie Elliott argued that bimbo feminism is an attempt to renegotiate the monopoly men have on what and who is deemed intelligent. Similarly, Richards' writing for Vice used the term “weaponized unintelligence,” meaning a performance of unintelligence either to disarm men or to protect oneself from anxiety about the world. She states, “A large part of bimboism’s appeal is in its potential to shield oneself from harm—smooth–brain style.”
It makes sense why we’d want to protect our mental energy and only deal with the things that make us happy. Learning more about the many ways patriarchy, or other intersecting forms of oppression, impact our lives can make one feel jaded and helpless. But in reality, the ability to be ignorant, the ability to actively not think about or research structures of inequality, is only a reflection of privilege.
Take this now–deleted, mildly internet infamous TikTok captioned “Israel and Palestine Explained: For the Girls,” where creator @nikitadumptruck uses the metaphor of two girls—“Izzy” and “Patty”—who want to have a birthday party at the same club to describe the decades–long Israel–Palestine conflict. The United Nations becomes the club’s bouncer, and Hamas is equated to a rogue group chat orchestrating a confrontation on Patty’s behalf.
Nikita, a bimbo feminist comedian, is known for her “explained for the girls” videos that touch on topics like inflation, but this one received immense backlash across TikTok and X, (formerly known as Twitter). She released an apology video a few days later, where she emphasized that hours of research go into all of her bimbo comedy explainer videos. On allegations of bias in her initial TikTok, she said “This is not the time to pit groups against each other. Simply put, we were all placed on this earth to vibe and not be caught in the middle of political crossfire.”
The backlash to Nikita’s video has extended beyond her content, into the nature of bimbo feminism itself. Some creators have taken to TikTok to celebrate others finally waking up to the inherent harm of bimbo feminism. We’ve seen this pattern before—girlboss feminist discourse just arrived at the realization that capitalism isn’t feminist just because a woman’s doing it, and now, bimbo feminist discourse is reckoning with the fact that infantilization isn't feminist just because a woman’s doing it.
Patriarchy exists not only through the actions of men but through the internalized actions of women. When we equate explaining something “for the girls” with using silly metaphors to describe topics like war, terrorism, and genocide, for example, we insinuate that the “the girls” are unable or unwilling to engage in informed research and critical thinking.
One can be unapologetically feminine and be intelligent—the two are not in opposition to each other. Presenting it as such only furthers the idea that women need to be talked down to and that femininity and airheadedness are interchangeable. These are the stereotypes feminists fight against, not embrace. Adhering to patriarchal norms such as these is not pushing back or reclaiming power from men, it’s playing right into the patriarchy’s hands.
Feminism, at its core, is a movement for women and gender minorities’ social and political rights, not a descriptor for everything women say or think. Bimbo feminism is just the 2020s rebrand of choice feminism, a popular stance in the 2010s, which stated that any choice a woman makes is inherently feminist. Women used choice feminism to argue that even adhering to sexist beauty standards could be feminist because women finally had the opportunity to choose what they did with their bodies.
However, choice feminism, like bimbo feminism, is over–individualized. When we look at feminism as a series of individual actions, we ignore the broader impact of patriarchy on every aspect of women’s lives. Choosing to infantilize oneself, and encouraging that for other women through promoting bimbo feminism, ultimately cannot be divorced from the patriarchal context in which women exist.
Let women embrace fun and femininity. Let women wear whatever they want or look however they want without being deemed stupid. Women deserve respect no matter how they look or act. But telling women it’s good—even empowering—to essentially say “girls just want to have fun” in the face of serious discourses about inequality or injustice is not a feminist stance, it is a regressive one. When women demean their own intelligence, the patriarchy thrives.
Each time that feminism becomes attached to a new, commodified “aesthetic,” we lose sight of what feminism is actually about in the first place. Feminism, or activism more generally, cannot always be easy or sexy. Oftentimes, it needs to be radical, to be difficult, because that’s how change happens. Unless bimbo feminism evolves to actually interrogate the patriarchy, instead of perpetuating it, it will join choice feminism and girlboss feminism as a footnote in the story of shallow, problematic, and ultimately unsuccessful feminist waves.