Last week, Rebekah Lyons opened the second Q Women conference by addressing calling—a popular topic lately among evangelical women. In the midst of discussing the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the discernment of our gifts, Lyons confessed her sense of restlessness with day-to-day life as a wife and mom of three. Exasperated, she put it this way: “Some days, I don’t know if this is the life that longs to live in me. Maybe today we’ll just go to Target. Maybe Starbucks.”
That’s all she needed to say for the 300-person crowd to laugh in solidarity, an audible expression of “been there.” Beloved brands like Target and Starbucks have become shorthand for a sense of ambivalence over the pleasurable but predictable lives of many middle-class American women.
The Internet now has a term related to this idea: It’s called basic.
Basic has become a trendy insult this fall, currently a candidate for TIME's worst slang word of the year. Basic is used as a smug designation for an exaggerated stereotype. Basic girls (the real term is a bit harsher) are labeled by their clichéd consumption habits: listening to Taylor Swift, wearing Ugg boots and yoga pants, going to brunch, Instagramming fall leaves, drinking pumpkin spice lattes, etc.
Basic girls live in the mainstream, their tastes susceptible to the latest “it” thing. New York Magazine's The Cut said in its explainer: "The word basic has become an increasingly expansive stand-in for 'woman who fails to surprise us.'"
While smart, ambitious women like Lyons are far from society’s image of the basic girl, the sentiment she alludes to – the combination of both pride and guilt (of the “guilty pleasure” sort) over our most ordinary habits—relates to the negative connotation around basicness. The label uses women’s predictable habits and likes to designate them as boring, not special enough or cool enough.
In recent weeks, some have come out to defend against, decry, or reclaim the term. As Bustle’s Aria Bendix wrote, the terms basic and basic girls “take things that women enjoy… and turn them into qualities that diminish our standing as unique individuals. They fuel the stereotype of the twenty-something white female, among other demographics, as nothing more than a vapid, self-centered product of a consumerist society.” Most markers of basicness involve products ubiquitous enough that any of us could identify some in our own lives, if we cared to go through the exhaustive Buzzfeed checklist.
Our fear and defensiveness over being basic, as silly and overanalyzed as it is, relates to a fear of being generic in a culture that champions individuality. For women of faith, this sense of basicness carries baggage beyond the negative stereotype and desire to please our friends. Our lives are so obvious and boring—or so we’ve been told—that women worry that we aren’t fulfilling our true purpose. In evangelical women’s books and blogs, it comes up again and again, that ordinary moment when the author asks if there’s more to her life than changing diapers/packing lunches/watching reality show reruns/posting Facebook updates/shopping at Target.
As women living in 21st-century America, much of our day-to-day routines inevitably get tied to our habits as consumers. What we do, what we watch, and what we wear become markers of our identity. Even before the recent wave of basic-haters, both the faith community and the broader culture have rightly reminded us that consumerism has a dark side. It’s selfish, materialistic, unethical. No wonder we feel guilty.
I look at my daily routine—littered with brands and products deemed “basic,” from the Larabar I eat at breakfast to the Netflix queue that lulls me to sleep at night—and consider if I’m as banal as the stereotype would seem. Like Rebekah Lyons, I ask if this is it, if I am really living a faithful, meaningful life as a follower of Christ. I’ll admit to having moments of genuine happiness in the clearance section of Target. I read my Bible during Bravo’s commercial breaks.
Our spiritual restlessness and our fear of basicness make a fitting parallel, since research in business and social science has found similarities between religious identity and brand identity. As Patton Dodd recently wrote for On Faith, faith and consumer habits are each seen as means of self-expression and indicators of worth. And in both cases, we struggle to find meaning in the mundane.
Yet, the Christian faith insists that the meaning is there, particularly with the recent celebrations of “ordinary” Christian life.
“The homely side of the Incarnation tells us it’s okay to attend an ordinary church, to have an ordinary job, to live in an ordinary house in an ordinary suburb,” wroteCT’s Kevin Emmert, chronicling the ordinary as backlash to previous pushes for Christians to do “radical” ministry. “We can spread the gospel and the love of Christ in whatever context God has placed us.”
Emmert points out that Christ himself lived much of his life and conducted nearly all of his ministry in what we would consider boring and ordinary contexts: dusty streets, marketplaces, fields, mountainsides. It would be quite a Jesus juke to suggest that our Lord and Savior was himself “basic,” given his well-documented decries of materialism, but he also didn’t put on airs to resist the mundane.
We can reflect God just as well in our living rooms and the aisles of Target as in the halls of power. As Andrea Palpant Dilley wrote for Her.meneutics:
Men and women alike pine to make an impact—it's human nature at its best and the imago Dei at work in us—but by virtue of child-bearing biology and traditional ties to the domestic economy, women have been forced to come to terms with the "mundane good" in a more systematic way than most men…. My days are filled with activities that would make David Platt yawn with boredom: I change diapers. I scrub pee out of carpets. I wipe vomit off the kitchen floor. Most days, I'm lucky to get out of the house at all.
From the outside, the life of mothers may look unremarkable, and yet I've come to believe—had to learn to believe, actually—that our mundane actions have profound purpose if we take a long view of both our own lives and the life of the world.
If we hear God leading us to make changes to our lives to more fully live out his purpose for us, we should absolutely be obedient to that call—but not because we feel we have become too boring, with our latte habit and “Shake It Off” playing on repeat.
Even when they seem generic and routine to us, lives of ordinary faithfulness are treasured and used by the God over all.