The first time a guy told me I’m “not like other girls,” I blushed and said thank you. It’s nice to hear that someone thinks you’re special. As the night went on, however, I couldn’t help but ponder the subtext of his praise. Being told I’m “not like other girls” stopped feeling flattering, and started to feel like a thinly veiled dig at my entire gender.
Why do I have to be unlike the women I call my friends, family, and role models in order to be wanted? By saying that my wit, values, or independence make me different from “Other Girls,” he was basically saying, “I think girls suck, but you are the lucky exception.” Appealing to my ego by insulting other women isn’t a compliment; it’s forcing women into a competition that none of us agreed to.
As my anger mounted, however, I realized I couldn’t blame him for thinking he was just being nice. After all, the tired trope of the woman who derives her worth from being unlike Other Girls is all too present in books, movies, and television. According to our media most girls are vain, backstabbing shopaholics, but every so often someone authentic comes along. She’s different because she reads, she likes sports, she cares about other people, or she doesn’t focus on her appearance. She’s unlike every other female character, and that is what makes her so desirable. This clichéd narrative that intelligent women with any emotional complexity are uniquely exceptional is, of course, nonsense, but that doesn’t stop it from influencing how women are viewed and treated in society.
The idea that the best thing a woman can be is unlike Other Girls is so ingrained in our culture that women have taken to saying it themselves. The myth of Other Girls leaves us with throngs of women proudly declaring that they “just don’t understand women,” and all their friends are guys because “girls start too much drama.” 1) If you think a man has never started drama, I kindly encourage you to read a history textbook, and 2) homogenizing your entire gender down to a few negative stereotypes is sexist.
Saying that your intelligence, thoughtfulness, or rationality makes you “different” from Other Girls is saying you think women are inherently vapid. Saying that your passion for literature, music, or film makes you “different” from Other Girls is saying that you think women are inherently dull. It takes a true complacency with sexism to say, “yes, girls are awful, they’re shallow and annoying and all they care about is shoes… but not me, I’m special,” instead of saying “no, this is popular fiction, and no one’s gender should limit what they can value, or who they can be.” It’s deeply saddening to see thousands of women internalize misogyny, and emphatically proclaim they are “not like Other Girls” in unison—never recognizing the ironic contradiction.
Women cannot be contained to a single archetype, and there is no wrong way of being a girl. Other Girls don’t exist—only other people, who are just as capable as you are of feeling love or loss, joy or suffering. Once we stop degrading our own gender it will be so much easier to support, encourage, and love one another. Empowered women empower other women, so build each other up and watch each other grow.
Whether its my heroes like Malala Yousafzai, Laverne Cox, or Amandla Stenberg out changing the world, or just my roommate Caroline showing me what it means to be a friend, women inspire me everyday. When I think about women like this I realize that maybe that boy was right—I’m not like other girls. I can only hope that someday I will be.