sub.culture

A Brief History of the Hun, the Most Relatable Woman in Britain

How the ladette birthed a new sub-set of woman, armed with memes, tropes and a gentle kiss at the end of every message.

by Hannah Ewens; illustrated by Marta Parszeniew
29 May 2019, 9:00am

Collage by Marta Parszeniew. 

Your mates are on their holibobs and you’re jelly. Instead you’re at home in fluffy socks messaging your ex (waste of space) and reminding yourself, again, to pick up fresh batteries for your Ann Summers Rampant Rabbit. Your most relatable TV moment is a toss up between Kat Slater self-identifying as a total slag and Ian Beale having nothing left, x2. You consistently tell your mates you’re on your way when you’re sat with toe separators on, watching the Love Island recap. Your commitment to fitness goes as far as concernedly declaring a diet then drinking a bottle of Chardonnay and ordering a korma and peshwari naan and cackling maniacally. You’ve tried to keep up with Brexit but the most engaging moment remains Gemma Collins on live TV telling Theresa May: “If you need some help, hun, I’m free for an hour after the show.” All considered you are, indisputably, a hun or an appreciator of huns.

Hun culture is more than an inside joke – one that amounts to calling everyone “hun” or asking, in a wry act of faux sympathy or post-irony, “u ok, hun?” – or even a recognisable UK-specific meme style. It’s rooted in banter based on class observations, yes, but a very British sensibility and lifestyle.

It’s hard to explain what it is without using disparate examples, and almost impossible to convey to an American (a hun could never be American – we'll get to the US' basic bitch soon). It’s Lisa Scott-Lee roller-blading around London in hot-pants and blue fingerless gloves to sell a Nivea spray. It’s Davina McCall saying “look, you'll get a bum like that, COME ON” and smacking her arse at the camera during one of her own 30 Minute workout DVDs. It’s trying vegetarianism after watching a horrible documentary but stealth-eating a kebab in the Uber home, drunk. It’s dramatically committing to “good vibes only” then five minutes later diving into a bitch-fest about some bastard in your office who keeps eating all the free fruit. It’s laughing at your mate’s “live, laugh, love” canvas but wondering in bed that night at your lowest, while right-swiping, if you have really lived, laughed and loved.

Hun culture was born from the shenanigans of the ladettes of the 90s. Ladettes died out as an identifiable social phenomenon at the turn of the millennium – women could do what they wanted so there was no need to pop a boob or drain ten cans to make a point. Hun culture today is similarly drunk and disorderly but in a context that wouldn’t make observers bat an eyelid. Pints were swapped for prosecco. Not giving a fuck turned into pretending to not give a fuck while crying over everything.

It really took off with Twitter account Social Needier, handle @uokhun. It was born on the 18th of November 2012 with the tweet: “Some people are just not worth it. They know who they are!!!!!!” Underneath someone replied “LOL u got that rite hun!!!!!” and Social Needier replied “xx”. With tweets like “Just can’t take it anymore!”, “havent slept (again!!) hopin today is better 4 me but that depends on u know who grrrrrr :(( #keepclimbingthatmountainhun” and “literally cant beleve some ppl, specially after yesterday”, its mastermind sent up the tone of oversharing, horribly intimate early social media posts. We might associate this type of desperate groaning more with Mum Facebook now – grammatically incorrect, heartfelt essays about the minutiae of the lives of middle aged and older women – but not so long ago, this was us all. Young and old whined on the internet in a bid to seek connection. But there was, however, only one type of feminised individual who would curl up on the staff-room sofa at 3PM and share something like this Social Needier tweet: “not comin 4 drinks after work. U know y, not feelin ill but feelin rage! Slanket n pink wine n tv xx :(”.

By January 2016, Dolly Alderton had written a feature for the Times titled “U OK hun?” that looked into the phenomenon of the hun as a female stereotype. She was, as the sell professed, “needy, a bit basic but always fun”. By this point, Nick Grimshaw had been compulsively using the word on his radio show, the now-defunct Instagram account @hunofficial began to pull together huns or hun appreciators as part of a community – even starting a club night in east London – and you couldn’t go on Facebook without having been invited to a “hun’s leaving drinks x” event, plastered with screengrabs of Jo O’Meara smoking fags in a dressing gown.

Before you might ask, hun culture is similar but distinctly different to the Americanised concept of the “basic bitch” which lacks the theatricality or camp of hun culture. “The basic bitch has no humour or kindness to it and actually can be tied to certain behaviours, like wearing certain clothes or liking certain drinks or music,” pop culture writer Alim Kheraj tells me. While it’s rooted in an appreciation of a specific type of British ‘low culture’ and its female hun celebrities, there’s a universal hun spirit, a joie de vivre that bonds huns together. Within that, a scale: from Benevolent Hun (Martine McCutcheon) to Changeable Hun (Kerry Katona) to Fuming Hun (Pat Butcher and Peggy Mitchell in one room).

“The whole hun culture thing allows people to completely take the piss out of themselves and everyone around them, and no one can say a single thing or get threatened by it and you put the word hun on the end,” the man behind the hun Instagram account Hunsnet says. What it has become, he says, is like a secret club or social code. “You can turn up to any situation, chuck down a couple of buzzwords, and you know if people are in the club or out of it. It can completely skew your conversation and what you would or wouldn’t say.” It’s rejecting respectability politics and relaxing into your unfiltered best worst self.

Now, that club of sorts is for British women and gay men what lad culture was for straight men from the 90s onwards. It’s an excuse to share and celebrate your most base desires: booze, food and emotions, packaged in a self-aware, British way. Where ladettes brushed up against issues of what femininity should have been – prim and proper, not like the lads – huns are supposed to be girlbosses, woke, highly-educated, plugged into the #discourse, able to joke about their Fleabag-esque messy qualities but have it under control, and want it all. It’s nearly as alienating as the 80s female ideal. Sometimes, women simply can’t be arsed.

You could easily link the rise of hun culture to a backlash against both influencer groupthink and the need to connect to the news cycle's constant churn. “I can’t relate to Instagram models sitting on a beach in Bora Bora drinking coconut water and nibbling on hair gummies,” the owner of the 57,000-follower strong For The Love Of Huns Insta account tells me over email. “But I can relate to Daniela Westbrook leaving Greggs with a steak bake and not a care in the world x”.

Both she and the Hunsnet account owner only speak to me on condition that no personal details at all be shared – they want to keep the fun and mystery but also don’t want their double lives to be linked to their workplace or digital footprint. It doesn’t surprise me since by today’s standards hun culture constantly threatens to veer into the “problematic”. A whole separate article could be dedicated to unpicking where hun jokes cross over with blatant misogyny – particularly when it comes to chat about vaginas or sex drives. The original @hunofficial account was deleted after a misguided comment defending Dr Luke, and it can still be a space where outdated gay male misogyny goes unchecked.

That’s one genuine criticism, but to call the enjoyment of these memes classist – which does happen online occasionally – would be to miss the point. Those who adore hun culture are largely working class themselves, or as the Hunsnet owner pointed out, like himself, “people who are from a working class background but may have had a glow-up of late. They’ve gone to university, now might be working in London or Manchester.” The celebrity huns that get used in the memes – The Cheeky Girls, Lisa Scott-Lee, Natalie Cassidy – are from reality TV, short-lived pop acts or soaps, and were in the heyday of their reality TV, soap or pop careers when hun appreciators were young (Hunsnet says most of his users are between mid-twenties to late thirties). It’s a time in British pop culture that the hun masses fondly remember.

Something mum-like about celebrity huns makes them endearing. I half-think of Kerry Katona as a spiritual mum, with Iceland-deal platters at the ready, cheap wine in the fridge, aphorisms when needed. Alim agrees, adding that we relate to them in a protective and caring way too: “The huns are mothers but also need to be mothered.” Passing class concerns might come from the tragedy and dramatic arcs of these celebs and their lives. A hun wants so much and, between public moments of triumph, never quite manages to pull it off. “There’s an element of watching the mess or embarrassment that feels wrong, but there’s a real human aspect to it too, which makes me think it’s more complicated than just being misogynistic and mean,” Alim continues.

It’s why many gay men such as him feel an affinity to the hun. In The Rise and Fall of Gay Culture, Daniel Harris writes that “at the very heart of gay diva worship is not the diva herself but the almost universal homosexual experience of ostracism and insecurity.” See: Nikki Grahame screaming “who is she?”, The GC falling on ice, or Charlotte Crosby crying over a lad. Many parallels can be made to diva worship, just as many divas are themselves huns: Gemma Collins, Adele, Barbara Windsor, Tulisa, Miss Piggy (The Muppets has strong ties to British culture, the pig was voiced by a dude and its sheer levels of camp override the previously stated US rule).

Unpleasant memes aside, it’s only offensive if it’s not relatable. Which it clearly is. “As Brits we are good at taking the piss out of ourselves. [It’s a] long-standing tradition within British comedy, with shows like Never Mind The Buzzcocks, to celebrate our celebs in a tongue-in-cheek way,” says For The Love of Huns. She adds that plenty of the women featured on the page often like and share the posts – Love of Huns fans include Gemma Collins, Ellie Goulding and Kat from Big Brother series 9.

Whether it’s waking up to face your depraved sexual mishaps after a bank holiday weekend, accidentally liking your ex’s new girlfriend’s Instagram post or getting verbally destroyed during a performance review at work, the topics and the way they’re delivered cuts to the heart of something ridiculous and otherwise un-catered to. One of my favourite #relatable memes captions “Me jumping from crisis to crisis” under a clip from the final conceit of Beverley Callard’s (of Coronation Street fame) fitness DVD. Dancers throw her into a swimming pool at the leisure centre they’ve filmed at. With arms outstretched and a mock-shocked face, Beverley contorts her body into an elegant position before being submerged, completely aware of the oncoming thwack of chlorinated water. It’s camp suffering at its finest. If nothing else, hun culture shows that there will always be women and gays who feel too much, with only social media to express it and a bottle of Echo Falls and a Kinder Bueno on hand, to self soothe.

@hannahrosewens

Images for collage used: Gemma Collins book signing via; Greggs sausage rolls via; Natalie Cassidy via; Steps via; Kat Moon via; Echo Falls via; Cheryl Cole via.