Letter From Beckytown
BY JOEY SWEENEY
Over the last couple of weeks, as the word “Becky” has suddenly exploded all over the white consciousness thanks to a casual-but-epic dis on the new Beyonce record, I’ve looked on with a sense of, well, what, exactly? Vindication isn’t quite the word, but it’s in the neighborhood. Recognition, for sure. Mirth? No, not quite. But suffice it to say that I too feel, have felt for my whole life, that kind of shittiness laid down by basic white girls, and basic white boys (Brads, but let’s call ‘em by their more common name, Bros).
But it’s been an uneasy moment to even be an onlooker. As the word Becky quickly went from 0 to possible racial slur in a matter of days, there also tumbled out a whole book’s worth of issues to go over with this whole ball of wax.
On one hand, I’ve got privilege coming out my ears. On the other hand, I’ve identified as being what Patti Smith calls “outside society” for about as long as I can remember. This is not what is commonly referred to as white guilt; I’ve got full-on white alienation. And clocking the awfulness of white people — and there is so much that is just awful; fellow white people, I swear I am not fucking with you — is one of those things that once you start, it’s pretty much impossible to stop. So “Becky with the good hair?” I know, Beyonce, of which you speak; I attended St. Joseph’s University.
At the same time, though, it’s also true that this feels like not the best time to draw a line in the sand between one very large group of women — Beckys — and everybody else. No matter how horrible Beckys really kind of are. We’re in an election year in which women’s rights are (as ever) under full assault. Does the slur of Becky shame women who’d otherwise be Beckys into a state of (I am trying very hard not to say) woke-ness about this? Meanwhile, look at the rancorous, nasty anti-feminist sludge Hillary Clinton is being dragged through by everyone from Trump supporters to Bernie Bros to your own mother. Do we really need another term that puts women down? Even if they really are, yeah, kind of insufferable?
Before we get back to those larger questions: A word about that insufferability, and its ubiquity here in Philly. The local hook, if you will. We should be concerned. Because as the city gentrifies at the rapid pace it has been, it is very obvious that we’re not making room for more people who are #outsidesociety. And this is a moment, when the city is in a phase of major reinvention, when we need to be doing just that. Move about the town, pretty much anywhere on the Center City grid and its offshoots, on any weekend night, and you are beset by Beckys and Brads. Philly is quickly becoming Beckytown. And Beckys and Brads are fine, I suppose, when they’re part of a larger mix, but the thing is, there is no larger mix. This is it now. This is where we, and increasingly a lot of other cities, are landing. If you are neither Becky nor Brad, it is an increasingly terrifying place.
This all feels terrible to even talk about. It feels unseemly, it feels anti-feminist. But it’s important to remember (and I believe this is what Bey was kind of getting at): Beckys aren’t feminists. Beckys are Kathryn Knotts with more attention to clothes and hair. They’re the instruments of a power structure designed to claim femininity as an unquestioning parcel, and to do it with a smile.
Holy shit: Beckys are Donald Trump.