Valley Girl

moon zappa

Valley Girl is a stereotype leveled at a socio-economic and ethnic class of American women who can be described as colloquial English-speaking and materialistic. Valspeak is also a form of this trait, based on an exaggerated version of ’80s California English.

The term originally referred to the ever increasing number of semi-affluent and affluent middle-class and upper-middle class girls living in the bedroom community neighborhoods of San Fernando Valley. Due to the Valley’s proximity to the Hollywood media machine, the demographic group which the term stereotyped garnered large exposure to the rest of the world.

Consequently, the use became more general, and the stereotype can be found all over the United States, and also in other countries in different forms. During the 1980s and 1990s, in common with the trend in community orientation, interest, and education, the term metamorphosed into a caricature and stereotype of such women: a ‘ditzy’ or ‘airhead’ personality, and unapologetically ‘spoiled’ behavior that showed more interest in shopping, personal appearance and social status than in intellectual development or personal accomplishment.

A certain sociolect associated with Valley Girls, referred to as ‘Valspeak,’ became common across the United States during the 1980s and 1990s, and much entered teenage slang throughout the country. Qualifiers such as ‘like,’ ‘whatever,’ ‘way,’ ‘as if!,’ ‘totally,’ and ‘duh’ were interjected in the middle of phrases and sentences as emphasizers. Narrative sentences were often spoken as though they were questions using a high rising terminal. Valspeak is often spoken with a heavy accent sometimes associated with Californians. Words are spoken with high variation in pitch combined with very open or nasal vowel sounds.

In Arizona, ‘Valley Girl’ refers to girls from Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, as well as co-eds at neighboring Arizona State University and sometimes used to denote teenage or young adult girls from Phoenix. The stereotype is associated with upper class wealthy girls wearing Juicy Couture tracksuits, Louis Vuitton/Chanel bags, and big shades. The heat of the low desert allows Arizona valley girls to dress in summer attire year round. Except for when it is 50 degrees outside and summer clothes are no longer an option.

In the Greater Los Angeles area, the term ‘Valley Girl’ originated and still refers to girls from the San Fernando Valley. In context it is associated with a spoiled girl from an upper-middle class background who socializes with other ‘valley girls’ in cliques. In regions neighboring the San Fernando Valley, people will often call a girl a ‘valley girl’ or tell her to ‘go back to the valley’ if she is showing signs of materialism and/or idiotic behavior. Usually, constant giggling occurs. Caricature traits of ‘Valley girls’ are rich, young (age 20-25), white, ‘bleach’ blonde, and thin.

The ‘Valley girl’ is also nicknamed ‘County girl’ or ‘O.C.’ (initials for ‘Orange County’) for their counterparts from affluent suburban communities of Orange County, and ‘Beach girl’ if they hail from a coastal community (i.e. La Jolla, San Diego, and Santa Monica) or West Los Angeles, has an image of stereotypical ‘West Side’ or ‘California girls’ walk down elegant shopping districts like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. There is also the ‘Bay Area girl’ for those in the San Francisco Bay Area, but the phenomenon of ‘Valley speak’ and trends was originally a Southern California subculture before it moved into Northern California. Not to be confused with the ‘Valley’ or California’s Central Valley. Lately, there was animosity between ‘O.C.ies’ and ‘Okies’ (people from Kern County): a clash of cultures when newcomers from L.A move to a largely rural conservative area.

There is some similarity between the phenomenon of a ‘Valley Girl’ in the United States and the concept of an ‘Essex girl’ in the UK, although the British stereotype’s emphasis is more on promiscuity and below-average intelligence. A perhaps closer (though less populous) equivalent would be the wealthier and generally upper-middle- or upper-class ‘Sloane Ranger’ – a widely-lampooned stereotype associated with Sloane Square in the Chelsea/Belgravia area of central London. In Wales, particularly Cardiff, a ‘valleys girl’ is often used instead as a derogatory term for a promiscuous young Welsh female from the Welsh valleys who travels to Cardiff from some small village at the weekend to go have fun. Or quite simply a girl that hails from the South Wales Valleys, not promiscuous but always fun-seeking.

In Ireland, the term D4 is used to refer to a similar stereotype applied to young people, especially those from the southern suburbs of Dublin. This usage of the term originates from the postal district of Dublin 4 which includes affluent upper-class areas such as Donnybrook, Ballsbridge and Sandymount. However, the term is used more generally for people from almost any upper middle class suburb.

Two exclusive hillside neighborhoods in Budapest, called Rózsadomb and Pasarét are traditionally regarded as breeding grounds for upper (middle) class spoiled children, including arrogant Valley girl types. Their affluence and lifestyle are comparable to those of Californian Valley girls. There is a huge income disparity between the parents of these teens/twixters and those of the majority in Budapest, especially in Pest. The term plázacica (literally ‘mallkitten’) is a related Hungarian neologism referring to girls (aged roughly 15 to 25) who frequent high-tech malls or plazas (like WestEnd City Center), spend much time and money enhancing their looks, and focus on parties and fashion. The term implies a degree of promiscuity, narcissism, materialism and lookism.

In Israel, the ‘Freha’ is often viewed as the counterpart to its male counterpart ‘Ars,’ although the stereotype is distinct. Freha is a derogatory term often used to describe an Israeli female who exhibits bimbo-like behavior. One is identified as a Freha for having tacky fashion statements, loud and obnoxious speech patterns, and crude behaviors. The stereotype of the Freha gained notoriety around the same period as the Ars, especially through TV broadcasts and Burekas films (genre of Israeli slapstick, often racial, comedy). Similar to the Ars, it is often claimed that the Freha is an ethnic stereotype. However, youth today will often not associate the Freha as being of a specific ethnicity.

In Italy, the chiefly Roman term ‘Tamarra’ refers to a usually, poorly educated, vulgar and loud woman. The masculine form is ‘Tamarro.’ For Mexicans, the terms ‘popis,’ ‘niña nice,’ and ‘fresa’ are used by its middle class population to mark girls to young women who exemplify soap opera attitudes and mostly come from the upper middle classes. ‘Gyaru’ and its masculine form ‘Gyaruo’ are the Japanese equivalent. Gyaru are portrayed in a similar fashion as the American Valley Girl due to their looks, interests, and slang (called ‘Gyaru-moji’). Young women that follow the subculture are often frowned upon by older generations and some of the Japanese media. Gyaru are stereotyped to being affluent and having partying ways.

As the Valley Girl accent has developed and aged it has been adopted in variations across the country and cultural landscape. One example is high society Valley Girl (see ‘Real Housewives of Orange County’) or intellectual/yuppie Valley Girl (see ‘Legally Blonde’). This is where the Valley Girl’s increasing association with wealth and status has seen the adoption of the accent by aspiring women across the country. Many in the yuppie subculture adopt a similar cadence and lengthening of vowels. This can be seen in girls in graduate school or other positions of increased status. Those of educational pedigree may use a lot less of the traditional teenage ‘Valspeak’ slang but keep the same cadence and sound of the overall accent.

In 1982, composer Frank Zappa released the album ‘Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch.’ The album featured the single ‘Valley Girl,’ with his 14-year old daughter Moon Unit (who supplied Frank with much of the content) speaking typical ‘Valley Girl’ phrases. Zappa intended to lampoon the image, but the single also popularized the Valley Girl stereotype nationwide, and, to a lesser extent, throughout the English-speaking world, much to Zappa’s frustration. There was a significant increase in the ‘Valspeak’ slang usage, whether ironically spoken or not.

In 1983, the feature film ‘Valley Girl’ was released starring actor Nicolas Cage and actress Deborah Foreman. Besides featuring the up-and-coming actor Cage, the movie contains a soundtrack of New Wave music, which was at the peak of its popularity at that time. The film’s producers had initially approached Frank Zappa to ask him if they could make a film based on his song. Zappa refused, and the filmmakers wound up making the film anyway. Zappa attempted to sue over the obvious capitalization on his song, but the lawsuit was thrown out.

In the early 1980s, Hollywood films and songs portrayed the female-dominated mall lifestyle in the San Fernando Valley. The Sherman Oaks Galleria was perhaps best known as the home of the Valley Girl, since this San Fernando Valley mall was where ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ was filmed in 1981.

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