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The term Girl Code refers to an unspoken set of guidelines to be followed by women in their interactions with other women. Urban Dictionary defines it as; ‘the code of guidelines that girls must obey in order not to get kicked out of the community.’.  Mantras like ‘Sisters before misters’ and ‘Chicks before dicks’ are the offspring of such thought, which dictates, for example, that a ‘true’ friend should never go for her friend’s ex. Growing up, this phrase arose in many aspects of social life. Hushed conversations in the girls’ toilets would focus on the outrage of a friend having violated an unspoken boundary, and who can forget Maura’s horrifying ‘crimes’ on Season Five of Love Island.  

Despite its good intentions, I find this petty moralising deeply problematic on multiple levels. Whilst schoolgirl chatter is understandable, such small-scale slander breeds the behaviour we see in adulthood, when women continue to be slated as ‘girls’ for their apparent misdoings.  

The first issue I take with the notion of Girl Code is with the very name; ‘girl’ code. For what reason should fully-grown women be infantilised in this way? This narrative seems to usurp the position of an alternative moral framework, suggesting women make decisions based on loyalty to their sex. For example, the idea that a woman should not be able to pursue a relationship with someone purely because that person happens to be a friend’s former flame seems absurd. While there are often times when such a relationship might be inappropriate, we should appreciate that every situation (as well as the parties involved) is different. We cannot apply a one-size fits all type ideology to issues as complex as human relationships. 

Indeed, rather than reiterating the importance of individual freedom, this frame of thought binds ‘girls’ to a specific code of conduct from which men are by definition excluded. There is no written legislation as to what it even really means, other than that a woman prioritises other women over individual desire.  In these ways, the idea of girl code is as patronising as it is unhelpful. 

The idea of sisterhood is undeniably an essential idea, and I would like to make a clear distinction between the two. Sisterhood focuses on the importance of building other women up and supporting their right to self-expression and free choice. The importance of the notion of sisterhood is something intrinsic and permanent to the feminist agenda, a woman cannot be excommunicated from this collective. I would find it difficult to locate an ounce of sisterly spirit in a group of friends slandering another woman for having cheated with an unavailable man. So frequently, the woman is lambasted as the guiltier party, the man excused for having succumbed to his carnal impulses (boys will be boys). The ‘crime’ of having violated girl code is often seen as itself more offensive than the original act. Cheating or deception are faults exhibited by people of all descriptions and should be condemned as such.  

In fact, ‘girl code’ cheapens the idea of feminist sisterhood which our predecessors fought for. It is ironic that people will spend their time preaching about ‘girl code’ when bitching about a supposed dissenter. I would argue that the Girl Code clause is often used as a bargaining chip in place of a genuine moral argument and is often changeable depending on the likeability of the offender.  

For these reasons, I think Girl Code is a problematic (and sexist) frame of thought better left in the past!

Anna Sykes

Bristol '24

Anna is a second-year student of English Literature and French at the University of Bristol. She is one of the editors for the Culture section at HerCampus Bristol, and enjoys reading, cooking, and travel.
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