The Boys Locker Room: A Reflection of Gender Stereotyping and Universal Intertext
O R I G I N
For an entire month of my eighth grade year, all fourth period P.E. boys shared one singular restroom to dress out for class, while us girls changed in the girls’ locker room per usual. No, I don’t know this because I was creeping in the boys’ restroom; according to a friend and primary witness, a locker room shoe fight started in good fun, escalated into a lock fight (this is exactly what it sounds like, pubescent pre-teen boys throwing their combination locks at each other for fun) that resulted in a broken window and luckily not any broken noses. To teach them the privilege of having the locker room to dress out, and to keep people away from broken glass, the boys were banished to the restroom to change for about a month.
Four years later, I saw this generalized distinction between boys’ locker rooms and girl’s locker rooms portrayed in “Boys Locker Room ” memes, which originate from a tweet by Russian Twitter user @one_dead_world that roughly translates to:
“Boys locker room: *changing in silence*
Girls locker room:
-I hate PE.
-Check out my bra.
-Don’t look at me.
-As if there was anything worth looking at.
-Screw that, gonna say my stomach hurts.
-Damn, I got fat.
The tweet gained over 700 retweets and 6,800 likes within a month of its initial posting, and began being recomposed on Russian social media platform Vkontakte. In the original format, boys are described as being calm and indifferent while performing the mundane task of dressing out for P.E. class, while girls are described as being vapid and vain as they do the same.
In the original format, girls and boys are contrasted as they dress out for P.E. class, boys are described as being calm and indifferent, girls are described as being vapid and vain.
T I M I N G
This original generalization of girls and boys took a complete 180 in future variations, as boys’ actions were portrayed as reckless, absurd and hyperbolized, while girls’ actions would be considered mundane and boring, such as in the first English variation by Redditor LukeChrome posted on May 9th, 2019.
The rhetorical success and large scale appropriation of this meme can be attributed to a number of factors: the depiction of a niche, yet commonly shared experience from youth, an easily reiterable format optimal for extreme hyperbole and absurdity, the ease and simplicity of creating and recreating through technology, and the meme’s brevity, making it easily consumable, shareable, and reworkable, and explaining its approximately 2 month duration and popularity, according to Google Trends.
In fact, the emergence and duration of “Boys Locker Room” memes can also be largely attributed to kairos, or circumstances outside the control of writers and discourse communities. The perpetuation of the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to individuals spending more time on electronic devices and accessing content and media more often, including memes. We also live in a time where basic editing and design software are highly accessible and often free online, serving as a catalyst for remixing and sharing. Furthermore, the meme’s popularity ending towards the end of May coincides with the surge of Black Lives Matter protests during the summer, which flooded virtually every form of media in the United States and internationally.
These uncontrollable circumstances, the kairos of this text, pertain to the text’s “luck” and placement in time, and are also components of the meme’s rhetorical ecology.
I N T E R T E X T
How did the initial concept of the Boy’s Locker Room Meme, contrasting mundane chatter of girls with utter silence of boys while dressing out for P.E., transform from an easily comprehensible joke to images of Ronald McDonald crucified on a Mickey D’s sign and heavily armed hoards of penguins marching under a Soviet sky? What happened to the original plot of the movie?
Even that last question was a reference to meme culture; I had to presuppose that the discourse community I’m in recognizes an audio clip often used in TikToks to ridicule major transformation, or changes in a subject (such as comparing people’s new year celebrations and hopes for 2020 to its reality). However, I actually presuppose that many readers did not understand that explicit reference, hence why I am using it only to transition into discussing intertext and discourse communities, presupposition and iterability, and how the remixing of Boys’ Locker Room Memes elicits continuous interaction with other texts.
As James E. Porter describes in “Intertextuality and the Discourse Community,” intertext (also known as Text or Writing) is “the principle that all writing and speech-indeed, all signs-arise from a single network.” Porter proceeds to explain that intertextuality exists in two forms: iterability and presupposition.
Iterability involves repetition and direct allusion and reference, much like how I referenced the audio snippet “What happened to the original plot of the movie?” earlier in this text, or my explicit reference to Porter’s text at this moment. A presupposition is essentially an assumption my text makes about its audiences.
By describing marching penguins under a Soviet sky, I assume that readers have knowledge of what the Soviet Union’s flag looked like and can apply the image of that flag to a sky, under which penguins are marching. These presuppositions and iterations hinge on intertext, on collective knowledge that may expand or narrow depending on the discourse community consuming my text. Texts often seek to be understood by discourse communities, but they can also provide new knowledge to communities.
Thus, intertextuality is a two-way street, in which community shapes text and text shapes discourse communities right back in text to text to people to text to people to text (etc. etc.) interactions.
M Y T H O S
Readers of Boys’ Locker Room Memes likely belong to multiple discourse communities, as most who have encountered the meme are multi-faceted, complex humans and not solely beings of routine, unending meme consumption. However, the meme’s foundation is built on the concept of common differences between boys and girls, gender norms, and gender itself. The meme presupposes that its audience understands basic gender stereotypes, such as boys being more rowdy than girls.
This largely shared knowledge, or universal intertext is known as mythos. No matter how absurd or wacky variations of the meme become, the intertext of almost universally understood gender stereotypes and generalizations is what makes this meme easily understandable, popular, and relatable, boosting its potential for recomposition and remixing.
Ridolfo and DeVoss describe remixing as “the process of taking old pieces of text, images, sounds, and video and stitching them together to form a new product”. The internet and ease of access to information and remixing tools (free editing programs, content remixed under fair use, etc.) act as catalyst for recomposition and appropriation. It becomes difficult to discern which variations of content arose from which variations of content and whether variations refer to other content directly or indirectly through even more chains of variations. Do these memes directly refer to crucified Ronald McDonald, Soviet penguins, and chemical warfare or is it more likely that these too are indirect allusions to untraceable “original content” and “initial forms?”
Ergo, originality and individuality exist in how a writer personally chooses to iterate, presuppose, and remix. Even the “original” format existing in Russian twitter user @one-dead_world’s tweet is a product of already-existing boys vs. girls formats, of text plus image compositions, of everything-under-the-sun Sunday comic strips, of derivatives of derivatives derived from derivatives, of intertext. It can also be argued that the absurdity of some iterations is meant to ridicule hypermasculinity and gender stereotypes through hyperbole. Through appropriation, initial intents and authors become lost and superficial consumption quickens. When answering “What happened to the original plot of Boys Locker Room Memes?” it can then be concluded that there was no original plot, only universal intertext, mythos.