It's time to leave 'basic' girls and their pumpkin spice lattes alone. Here's why

·6 min read

It's finally that time of the year. Leaves are falling, sweater weather is arriving and America's most hateable flavor is making its highly-anticipated return.

As pumpkin spice lattes make their seasonal comeback, so do the inevitable insults: that pumpkin spice-loving women are corrupting autumn with their mainstream Uggs and leggings. That they're simple, unoriginal and of course, basic.

The reality is that anyone, regardless of gender, can enjoy a pumpkin spice latte. But women bear the brunt of the criticism.

Of all the things that society mocks about women for not being enough (pretty, smart, stylish, the list goes on), in fall it comes down to the 16-ounce cup of sweetened coffee. And somehow, liking a certain drink makes them worthy of judgment and criticism.

Leora Tanenbaum, the author of "I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet," says the insults are rooted in sexism, and "it's that added sweetness with the coffee that is often associated with femininity."

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"It's seen as manufactured, unnecessary and altered sweetness of added ingredients that gets people so worked up," she says.

Experts say the jokes stem from a culture that normalizes ridiculing women who enjoy anything "feminine," like wine, makeup and anything pumpkin-spiced – while male car-lovers and beer drinkers are often spared.

"It's literally a cup of coffee, but we're saying a woman who enjoys this has all these other negative traits," says Kjerstin Gruys, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Nevada, Reno. "This stereotype is just one more version of a very long, long history of a culture that views women through an overly simplified binary."

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'Basic' women are mocked for liking pumpkin spice lattes, Uggs, white wine

The pumpkin spice misogyny is just one of many examples of casual sexism.

The term "basic" is used to condescendingly stereotype girls who enjoy traditionally feminine hobbies, from listening to Taylor Swift's music to watching "The Bachelor," as boring, frivolous and superficial.

But experts say it's time to abandon the trope that condemns women for simply enjoying what they want.

"This term basic itself is really interesting because all women are complex. All humans are complex … and there's no one femininity," Gruys says.

Rather, the outdated and one-dimensional version of femininity being mocked with the "basic" insult is "the kind where women are always happy, wholesome… satisfied with simple pleasures."

But the reality is, women can enjoy mainstream pleasures while also being sophisticated, unique, and cultured.

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"A woman can enjoy autumn and all the pumpkin spice lattes she wants, and still be critical thinkers and ambitious leaders. Simultaneously, women who pride themselves in being worldly and critical can still enjoy the simple pleasures of life, like pumpkin spice lattes," Gruys says.

Juliet Williams, professor of gender studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, adds that women are instead praised for enjoying more traditionally masculine interests, such as watching sports, drinking beer, or going to the gym.

"We expect women to organize everything about their lives to be interesting to men. Otherwise, they're basic. They're boring, vain," Williams says. "Society wants women to be seeking approval from men, and it can be kind of terrifying for some to think that women don't care how they look or what men think of them."

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Are they just jokes or something more?

Like many microaggressions, the pumpkin spice latte jokes aren't as harmless as they seem. Experts say calling girls "basic" may seem innocent and playful, but in reality, it's more serious.

According to Gruys, these insults are a form of benevolent sexism. In contrast to hostile sexism, which includes sexual harassment or physical violence against women, benevolent sexism is "more subtle." For instance, it's when men say women are worthy of their protection in an attempt to seem "chivalrous and superior."

However, Williams cautions that tolerating these demeaning jokes about women's characters can be dangerous. A recent study from the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that nearly 75% of people implicitly associated high levels of intelligence or “brilliance” with men more than women.

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"You may mean it as a casual one-off joke, but you're still reinforcing a system in which women are defined as less worthy of respect, especially in a society where women are dismissed or not taken seriously," Williams adds.

Tanenbaum also says the seemingly lighthearted nature of the pumpkin spice insults further reinforces hopping on the bandwagon of putting women down for humor.

"There's so much everyday casual sexism, like talking over a woman, explaining things to her in a condescending way, touching her when you're talking to her," Tanenbaum explains. "It's this default presumption that it's OK or even funny to treat women as less worthy or with less respect."

'I choose not to let someone dictate the way I live

This fall season, women are embracing what they love and ordering their pumpkin spice lattes – with pride.

Morgan Bartel, a TikTok influencer with over 290,000 followers, says she's all-too-familiar with being called basic and cheugy for her seasonal obsession. However, she doesn't let the criticism get to her head.

"I’ll happily indulge in copious amount of pumpkin spice lattes, wear blanket scarves relentlessly and burn my 'Sweater Weather' or 'Leaves' candles freely."

Why? Because "basic is just one person’s opinion and I choose to not let someone else dictate the way I live."

Unlike other beverages, like regular lattes or matcha, pumpkin flavors bring Bartel "instant joy" and excitement about the upcoming holiday season.

"When something so simple can remind you of sweet memories, you can’t help but feel an attachment," she says.

Krystal Kotesky, a blogger and lifestyle influencer from Buchanan, Michigan, also says she's been considered "basic" and "unoriginal" for liking pumpkin spice, cozy sweaters. But "just because we have something in common does not make us the exact same."

Krystal Kotesky is embracing pumpkin spice lattes and rejecting the stigma that enjoying her favorite beverage makes her unoriginal.
Krystal Kotesky is embracing pumpkin spice lattes and rejecting the stigma that enjoying her favorite beverage makes her unoriginal.

"We have different personalities and offer value in different ways… I have other talents and hobbies that make me stand out like wood burning, creating unique, fall outfits," Kotesky says.

Tanenbaum encourages to take the stigma of being "basic" and "turn it around on its head."

"Why should you drink a burnt coffee if you can make it an apple crisp macchiato? Why drink beer when you can drink a hard cider or seltzer?"

Pumpkin spice latte recipe: How to make it at home

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Autumn: Pumpkin spice lattes jokes are an example of casual misogyny

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