What Happens When a ‘Girl Crush’ is a ‘Crush Crush’

7/7//2017

The term ‘girl crush’ is common nowadays. You can see it bandied about on the internet, from Tumblr to mainstream news sites. Basically, this new catch phrase boils down to the feeling of platonic admiration a woman has towards another woman. But the standalone word ‘crush’ has been around for much longer, and has a much different weight, indicating feelings of romantic and/or sexual attraction. The degree of these feelings is usually mild, preceding love, but exceeding friendly affection. Now, as queer women, with words like ‘girl crush’ being thrown about everywhere, it can be even harder to express our feelings towards each other, or to convey having a genuine crush on another woman. I know ‘girl crush’ is supposed to be a fun and innocent term, but bear with me while I look too into it’s meaning and social implications.

The positive side of the term ‘girl crush,’ is that it is used in support of one another. Commonly you’ll hear it used to lift another woman up, to show your respect and kudos to someone you see as special. It’s supposed to be an endearing, harmless term. Although the proliferation of ‘girl crush’ is part of a wider movement to stamp out the competition and hate between women that the patriarchy feeds us, it somewhat complicates matters for queer women. Women are conditioned to feel like we must compete with each other, that life is a contest in beauty and talent, and that other woman are the enemy. This definitely needs to be overcome through solidarity. I’m all for this kind of healthy encouragement, but by using the word crush as a modern form of ‘you go, girl!’, we are sending another message at the same time: that woman do not have real crushes on each other.

The biggest issue with straight people using words like ‘crush’ that usually describe attraction is that it weakens those words for queer people. I’ve told people I have a crush on a girl only to be met with “oh my god, me too!” The conversation following is an awkward one involving me having to explain that mine is a crush crush, in a more-than-friends way, and an equally awkward response from them trying to get across that they “didn’t mean it that like that” and repeated assurance that they are “not a lesbian.” ‘Crush’ is such an apt word to describe being attracted to someone a bit but not too much, and it’s a shame it doesn’t hold that meaning for queer girls anymore. Alternative phrases, including “I have a thing for that girl” or “I dig that girl” don’t have the same ring to them (and sound a touch creepier).

As a bi person, I would never be able to use this term in a platonic way. I have a conflict of interest. The same goes for anyone who is attracted to women or femmes. The term ‘girl crush’ is exclusive to straight woman, and though it appears harmless, it’s just a small part of a bigger issue. When your crushes on girls are romantic or sexual in nature, it can be tricky to separate your genuine crushes from your ‘girl crushes.’ So where do these two distinct types of crushes meet? Do they blend into a spectrum, or is there a clear line between them?

The term ‘girl crush’ could potentially indicate feelings beyond friendship. It’s not something you’d say about all your friends. It’s used to refer to women you find extraordinary, whether you know them personally or only know them by reputation. There’s something more there, but what is it? Could there be an element of bicuriosity hidden in this innocent term? Or is it really just a supportive compliment? When I hear people say it, I often find myself pondering how they really feel about the object of their ‘crush.’

When women say they have a crush on a man, it’s presumed to be a flirtatious term and an indication of attraction, however small. But a woman saying the same thing about another woman is now an indication of support and admiration— which is good in many respects, but undermines the validity of the term for those who use it romantically. It’s hard enough for us to identify each other as it is without terms like crush being used so frivolously. Maybe we should get badges or hand signals.

When I was younger, my first same-sex crushes were extra confusing. Lots of girls were obsessed with female celebrities. When I felt strongly about another girl for the first time I wasn’t sure how to define those feelings in comparison to strong friendships. Where does friendly affection end and attraction begin? Amongst all these ‘girl crushes,’ my actual crushes would have been muddled and confused. Defining feelings is hard, navigating them is even trickier for young people, and ten times harder for young queer people. If ‘girl crush’ is a normalised part of being straight, it might be harder for young girls to explore their own sexuality and identity, as they may convince themselves that any feelings of affection towards women are just platonic and not worth pursuing.

The term ‘girl crush’ is definitely not our biggest problem. But it does pay to acknowledge the power of words, how they affect us, and why. The reclaim of the term ‘crush’ by women is empowering on one hand and excluding on the other. The intention behind the term is great, I just wish it didn’t make things so ambiguous for us.

Kelly Taylor
Kelly Taylor is a writer and actor from New Zealand. Her areas of interest as a writer are film, LGBT+ life, theatre, arts, vegan food, music, mental health, and unusual adventures. You can read her ramblings about horror films on her blog, finalgrrl.com