“Being a woman is the saddest thing,” I said in a recent therapy session. I felt overwhelmed by daily experiences that are felt by many women, like: having a body that is treated as public property, legal and professional injustices, the price of tampons, article after article preaching how not to get raped, how to make him fall in love with you (in only seven easy steps! Step one: change everything about yourself), a constant fear of attack, seeing little to no representation of oneself in movies and television, online hate. The list goes on.
These things make me angry. They make me want to shout and protest, but I also feel saddened by them. Usually, I keep those feelings hidden. Sadness is often viewed, socially, as a passing emotion that can and should be overcome; an unproductive state that should be actively avoided.
Today, young female artists, part of an emerging “sad girls” trend, are using the Internet as the outlet for performing their heartache, sorrow and despair, creating complex work on the web that deals with the double-binds women today face.
The traditional patriarchal narrative portrays women as weak creatures, in need of male support. This role is complicated by the fact that women must try not to seem too needy. Women are supposed to be givers, nourishing others before themselves. It seems that there’s a narrow spectrum of emotions women are allowed to express. We can experience unhappiness, as long as it can be cured by a man, shopping, or chocolate; we can be sad, but never sorrowful. Thus, there exists a gap between the emotions we experience and how much can be revealed. As a result, sadness often gets stored away, and, like shitting or masturbating, isn’t really a part of our cultural conversation.
On the other hand, contemporary feminism is often associated with the idea of the strong woman who rejects vulnerability in the fight for parity. Perhaps this equation of empowered womanhood with hard-shelled strength stems from feminism’s legacy of protesting and hunger-striking, among other radical forms of resistance. This depiction of superhuman strength, while seemingly empowering, is not a complete reflection of the female experience. Vulnerability becomes conflated with weakness, resulting in women feeling guilt for not being strong enough, for having needs that we cannot take care of alone. I recently had a conversation with a friend about whether we were “feminist enough” because we occasionally prefer to play a subordinate role in our relationships. If I’m not enacting the brash, outspoken feminist, I fear that I’ll be perceived as a regressive 1950s housewife holding the symbolic martini of servitude for my husband.
There is, admittedly, a vast space in between these two caricatures of ultra-weak and super-strong womanhood. The “sad girl” movement on the web explores the complicated territory in between these archetypal boxes. Neither leaves much room for the vulnerability that many “sad girls” are now using as source material for their work. We have a window into the lives of the “sad girls” in this growing movement through their online presences, where they frequently post poetry, videos, and collages.
Artists like Molly Soda, diesunshine, miseryclit, and sosadtoday, are regular contributors on NewHive, a platform for creating multimedia experiences with minimal distractions. NewHive offers artists creative control with simple tools enabling them to break genre barriers in the creation of deeply felt, confessional works. They create pseudonyms and anonymous personas to explore personalities beyond their everyday identities. The Internet becomes a communal space in which they can perform all the sadness they experience, without the consequences of expressing it IRL.
no one’s crush by adumbgirl newhive.com/adumbgirl/no-one
The “sad girl” aesthetic varies in style and tone but can generally be defined as a celebration of the burdens of womanhood, an exposition of everyday anguish, a shimmery jumble of daddy issues and internet-age references, a subversion of both traditional feminine and feminist narratives, and a blurring of the divide between public and private lives. Much of the “sad girl”s’ work deals with yearning, loneliness, and emotional hunger. This aesthetic represents a new kind of courage in which young women expose the everyday anguishes of womanhood in a deeply intimate and self-consciously ironic way. These women—though commonly referred to as ‘girls’—make use of stereotypical femininity and slumber party girliness, often incorporating hot pink, animated GIFs, and sparkly text into their work.
The artist creepyennui often uses these ultra-girlie tropes to communicate messages about internalized instructions regarding sadness. daily routines shows bubbly pink text layered over a gif of the artist wiping tears away from her face. The endless repetition of the gif rebels against the idea that sadness must be a brief activity, despite the instruction, reminiscent of a mother’s advice gone awry, to “keep ur breakdowns short ‘n’ sweet!” The title, daily routines, classifies weeping as quotidian an activity as checking Facebook or washing one’s face. The irony in the perkiness of the pink text reveals the unrealistic expectation that sadness should be moved past quickly. There is no acceptable space in which to have an indulgent sob—only a quick, shameful cry. By even giving directions on how to have a breakdown, the piece comments on the implicit message that there is a “correct” way to be sad.
Humor rooted in the failure to achieve unattainable expectations of womanhood is often an intrinsic part of the work associated with the “sad girl” aesthetic, exemplified in pieces such as SO SAD TODAY and the way things are by Molly Soda. These works embody an extreme femininity, becoming a glittering monument to the failure of attempting to be the perfect girl and ultimately mocking the notion that there is such thing as “the perfect girl.”
sosadtoday, the anonymous internet persona of perpetual misery (who was recently revealed to be the poet Melissa Broder), uses classical and religious references throughout her NewHives, giving her sadness a biblical and infinite weight. She enacts a feminine position of weakness so crippling she is no longer a functional human, but a yearning machine. By doing so, she reveals the destructive power of this cultural ideal while simultaneously personifying it in what seems like a cathartic way. Further, because sosadtoday’s identity is anonymous, we are able to project personal experiences onto the work, which becomes a source of catharsis for the viewer as well.
To read the “sad girl” as passive would be a mistake, for this new miserable girl is actually disrupting conventional ideas of womanhood. Her work considers the desire for dependency that can feel taboo for some feminists. Her work buzzes with eternal misery, battling the idea that sadness is to be overcome quickly and quietly. Performing sadness is a self-indulgent practice, and that’s part of what makes it radical. The act of using public space instead of a private diary to work through and document this emotional content is a bold resistance against those who have attempted to silence women’s voices. Being sad is one of the most rebellious things a woman can do right now. Sadness is challenging. A woman who needs instead of gives is threatening.
The voices of these “sad girl” artists are contributing to a cultural shift, one that values the complexities and hardships of womanhood. They are opening up a space in which exploring sadness is part of a healthy dialogue. By bringing these emotions into an art context, this work proclaims that sadness is not only acceptable, but also contains an inherent beauty.