Girly culture is an odd thing, sitting at the nexus of old-school social conservatism, the grasping desperation of late-stage consumer capitalism, and punk-influenced DIY subculture. Maoist China went to great lengths to ensure the ubiquity of strong female images in its public art, but as soon as it opened its asshole to anything-goes capitalism, feminine beauty began to be ruthlessly exploited as a lever to open the wallets of consumers. Japan and the West have been at the same game for far longer, albeit coloured by differing regional quirks. The pathological way toy marketing separates out the boys’ stuff into the blue aisle and the girls’ stuff into the pink aisle is occasionally the subject of public debate, but in the end it comes down to the way marketing identifies, exaggerates and exploits the individual characteristics of consumer groups, separating them out, training them to understand and identify with their position in their market sector, and then exploiting that identification to sell them shit.
This is something born purely from the machinations of consumer capitalism, but it finds allies and supporters among those with socially conservative notions of femininity – those (men) who feel threatened by the idea of “aggressive” women. In Japan, hyper-stylised images of feminine cuteness often sit alongside socially conservative attitudes (although not always comfortably so) in the otaku world. In the West, feminist grievances with aggressively gendered marketing, especially to children, are one battleground in the culture wars of which things like Gamergate are also part.
On the surface, it’s easy to take the view that women in the West have more fight in them. In the UK, “a Bic for her” is an inherently ludicrous idea and the object of sarcasm and ridicule, while in Japan it’s hard to imagine any such resistance. That said, somewhere along the line, the idea of a pink ballpoint pen specially for women must have seemed like an idea that would work – at least, there must have been enough evidence from other marketing successes to suggest that it would. In Japan it is perhaps more extreme, but it’s also perhaps not surprising that when society has such prescriptive notions of how girls are supposed to be, and works so hard to ensure that, taken together, submitting to these rules constitutes an attractive lifestyle choice, that girls will embrace them rather than fight them.
Now this may seem like an unnecessarily long preamble for what is essentially one of those “Hey, look at this!” blog posts about a cute music video from a hip new band, but this is the background to where girly culture in Japan sits right now. Girls have been trained to identify in a certain way, and there are powerful social forces that are happy for things to stay that way. Fighting it makes you look like a feminist, which has been successfully coloured as terminally uncool, but at the same time, that doesn’t stop girls from consciously or otherwise asserting ownership over their identity as a group.
Girls Talk by The Pats Pats is steeped in the girliest of girly imagery, the lyrics running through a shopping list of girly activities and interests, reinforcing one stereotype after another, but at the same time celebrating this special time with their girlfriends and strictly no boys allowed. Having entered the consumer pen into which they have been shepherded, there isn’t really anything to stop them shutting the door behind them – thanks for the cute stuff: we’ll call you.
The Pats Pats are thoroughly DIY – the 2nd EP from which Girls Talk is the lead track is a homemade, self-released CD, and like a lot of similarly DIY groups, they have a line of homemade accessories and other goods that they and their friends have designed and made. This process of becoming an active rather than passive participant in the culture, while doing nothing for those girls who dream of an alternative to the pink, the frills and the flowers, still has the (again, conscious or otherwise) effect of turning the pink, frills and flowers into weapons of defence or markers of territory. In economic terms, they have taken control of the means of production, and when boys are allowed, they may enter only with the understanding of who owns the turf.
The song? It’s cute, catchy, fun and pop pop pop.