Youth is essentially an exercise in observing, doing, and saying stupid stuff. From this rich soil presumably grows wisdom. This phenomenon is well and good, turning dunderheaded frat boys into respectable church deacons.
However, one recent trend among the “yoot,” as my Cousin Vinnie would put it, is the compulsion to refer to one another as “queens.” It is with this term that I have particular distaste and must protest. All over Instagram and Twitter, it’s “slay queen” and “what a queen you are.”
The pictures so described are almost always of a very average-looking young woman doing average things in her average life — like yelling at strangers during a bar crawl at 2 a.m during the University of Wisconsin’s homecoming. Most every day, there’s a tweeted “clapback” from a crone-ish female senator to a geriatric male House member that inspires a flock of Twitter she/hers to comment, “You tell him, queen.”
However, not once in the many examples of pronounced internet queenliness has there been even the suggestion of a beheading or war council taking place, let alone a coronation.
Facetiousness aside, this use of the term “queen” is bizarre for several reasons. First, not everyone can be a queen. It’s an archaic, hierarchical term that means “a woman of an elevated status; the female ruler of a state.”
Queens are singular, as the elevation of one means others necessarily are lowered relative to her. If every woman is a queen, then none are; it becomes a hollowed-out term that conveys neither status nor nobility.
Perhaps that’s the point. Sympathetically put, using “queen” to describe a woman living her life as she sees fit is now deemed “queenly.” Every man a king, every woman a queen — it has a whiff of classical liberalism about it. Sure, but that expression is meant to be aspirational, not license to act like a degenerate.
Historically, a queen was a job title, with expectations, courtesies, and requirements that often meant the denial of oneself in the service of the state. Perhaps no better living example exists than the queen of England, who has outlived empires as the spiritual head of a nation. Queen Elizabeth II’s is a life of public service and soft power, lived luxuriously certainly, but extraordinarily structured and upright — libertinism need not apply.
Her actions as an avatar of staid British-ness legitimizes her nation and provides constancy to the demos across ideologically diverse governments. Billions scrutinize her every remark, facial tic, and movement, and she handles the public’s eye in a masterfully demure fashion.
Unfortunately, the queen’s family also provides a representative of modernity’s queen in the selfish quasi-Duchess Meghan Markle. A middling actress with a staggering desire for power and acclaim, she managed to marry into English royalty via the doltish Harry and then leverage that station for her aggrandizement. Meghan is Instagram’s definition of a queen, standing atop useful institutions to advance herself no matter the social cost and damage to the institution upon which she perches.
Another issue with the term’s use of late is its reference to heteronormativity: one man and one woman ruling. Kings and queens go together, male and female. For progressives to use such a descriptor for each other is either intentionally ironic or amusingly ignorant. Whether it be the former or the latter, I’ll leave it to the reader to decide.
Interestingly, the etymologically distant kin of “queen” better describes queen’s contemporary application. While “queen” denoted a regent, a “quean” meant a loose woman of low social standing throughout the last 500 years — originating from cwene in Middle English.
From “quean,” the homosexual application was first used in the early twentieth century, something we see now in the word “drag queen,” for example. That the “a” has since been replaced with an “e” — thus conflating a quean’s debauched harlotry with a queen’s refined, feminine leadership — is sadly further evidence of the West’s moral befuddlement.
Perhaps next time, substitute “I publicly approve of your post, fellow human” for “slay, queen.” It would do us all good to pursue more precise language.