In the middle of a blue LED-lit dorm room housing a gaggle of first-year girls, a phone blares the elementary ABCs. “Stand up if you’ve been with a J,” a girl yells when the letter passes over the phone’s screen. Every girl shoots up and poses for the video, collectively groaning about their romantic experiences with the stereotypical, thoughtless “J-named boy.”
TikTok trends like the “ABC hookup list” embody how Gen-Z girls are reclaiming their sexual and romantic lives. Similarly, Gen-Z girls post humiliating dating, flirting and hookup stories set to Seal’s “Crazy” and “Are they hot or are they just (insert adjective here)” videos — in which they illustrate the niche traits they find attractive in a love interest. By being honest on social media, recongizing both the triumphs and pitfalls of hook-ups and love, we erase the shame baked into the female experience. Thanks to TikTok, these conversations are broadcasted globally for girls to empathize with.
Older generations tell us what is “too mature” for our age and the media tells us what is “too prudish.” We are taught to laugh when Sandy wears both a long-sleeved cheer costume and a tight leather set in “Grease” and to sneer when Taylor Swift meets “yet another boyfriend.” Boys high-five their guy friends and stare at their girl friends when rumors about sexual encounters spread in the halls.
When society shames young women for their sexual or romantic histories, we internalize our struggles, desires and experiences as wrong or abnormal. If society were to destigmatize and recongize female sexual and romantic histories, we would be more equipped to accept and embrace our sexuality and ourselves. Until then, we are stuck in a vicious cycle, held to unattainable standards wherein sex and abstinence, being noncommittal and being romantic and fooling around and monogamy are all “wrong.” As we internalize these norms, nothing really feels “right.”
Teenage girls deserve an outlet to discuss their personal experiences with hookup culture. We find that outlet on Tiktok, where there is little shame in telling our story.
In dorms across the country, teen girls have been commiserating in each other’s romantic woes for decades. Digitization makes these conversations (set to music ranging from City Girls’ “Twerkulator” to the ABCs) more casual, open and funny — within the dorms and also on a global level.
In TikTok trends like the “ABC hookup list,” girls blush as they stand for 26 letters or zero letters of the alphabet because others tell them it’s “too many” or “too few.” But within these small circles of laughing girls, removed from the pressures and expectations of what is “normal” for a teenage girl, there is no judgement. With secrets out in the open and set to a soundtrack of bouncy music, girls can have real, honest conversations. We can find solace in the fact that others go through the same things we do. We learn that sex and romance are personal, and we are all simply doing what is “right” for us.
As my roommate stood for “M,” she told me about a high school crush who was far more than a crush. As I stood for “A,” I told her about my humiliating first kiss. We told each other we would look out for one another as we navigate college love with rose-colored glasses. These lovestruck conversations are just as important as the basic roommate inquiries: “When do you go to bed?” and “What’s your favorite movie?” Tiktok started these conversations.
When Gen-Z looks back with horror at our old TikToks, I hope we can be proud that we worked toward destigmatizing love, sex and adolescent absurdity via a 30-second clip set to the ABCs.
Daily Arts Contributor Kaya Ginsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.