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Cameron Smith / Her Campus

We Should All Stop Worrying About Being “Not Like Other Girls”

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at KU chapter.

Picture the quirky, clumsy protagonist in a teen movie. She doesn’t know the first thing about makeup and can’t for the life of her walk gracefully in heels. She hates boy bands and rom-coms and scoffs at conversations about reality television. She doesn’t really “get along” with other women and only has guy friends. The Popular Boy just sighs dreamily in her direction and tells his friends, “She’s so special, she’s not shallow or vain. She’s not like other girls.”

The Lala
I get one whiff of this in a movie and I’m rolling my eyes so hard I’m afraid they’ll get stuck. There’s nothing that sours a film or television show for me quite like what I call the Not Like Other Girls Phenomenon. With this common trope, women are praised by men and lauded as superior to other women for rejecting traditional femininity and the things that “other girls” enjoy.

It is certainly okay for women to go against the grain. However, the problem with the Not Like Other Girls Phenomenon is that it is more often about society equating femininity with inferiority and pitting girls against each other. And the worst part is that women have bought into it too.

Think Bella Swan in Twilight. Edward becomes obsessed with Fork’s newest resident because she’s, you guessed it, not like other girls. Then, ironically, in the real world, a woman in 2010 who loved Twilight was reduced to being like “other girls”—which apparently meant silly and vapid and unoriginal. It’s impossible.  

The Twilight Saga Edward and Bella
Summit Entertainment

This is why I have a strong appreciation for the film Legally Blonde. It’s often sort of dismissed as a fun popcorn flick, but I think that it actually has a really interesting and distinctive take on feminism, internalized misogyny, and the Not Like Other Girls Phenomenon.

Elle Woods IS like other girls (well, I think Reese Witherspoon is actually part goddess but for the sake of my point we’ll pretend she isn’t). What I mean is, she’s a ‘basic’ sorority girl through and through. She loves lipstick and handbags and sequined bikinis and and going to the hair salon with her best friends. And the people around her shame her for these things. Her boyfriend even breaks up with her over it.

Now, Elle certainly had some learning and growing to do, but her pink wardrobe and her blonde hair weren’t the problem. I know that 2020 Elle Woods would have Lululemon leggings and Spotify playlists full of Taylor Swift and a minor obsession with the Starbucks PSL. And she’d also be an accomplished Ivy League-educated attorney with a highly respected career.

Luckily for us, Elle Woods sticks to her style and fully embraces her femininity, so that over the course of the film we realize that loving these things doesn’t mean she has to sacrifice courage or strength or intellectualism. This is something that Selma Blair’s character, Vivian, has to overcome her own internalized misogyny to learn. It’s something that I’VE had to overcome my own internalized misogyny to learn.

What’s also great about Elle Woods is that she could have very easily been—with her wealth, beauty, and popularity—a classic Mean Girl, but she is actually a very kind and generous person who is extremely uplifting of other women. While I do admittedly need a Regina George fix every so often, this is a really refreshing character to see on screen.

get in loser mean girls
Paramount Pictures

Now don’t get me wrong—mainstream conformism is its own problem. I’m not advocating for a society of skinny, blonde Elle Woods Clones. There are infinite issues with that message too. Women should not have to wear makeup or have French tips. Women should not have to love sparkly jewelry and lap dogs. Women should not have to [fill in the blank with practically anything.]

It’s also important to note that it’s perfectly valid for women to prefer beer to fruity drinks or football to The Bachelor or sneakers to high heels and that does NOT mean that they’re performing for male approval in any way either.

Basically ladies, my point is: Like what you want to like. Dislike what you want to dislike. Who cares if it’s basic? Who cares if it’s not basic? Who cares if you’re *gasp* like other girls?

Just don’t let men and media convince us that we’re somehow superior or inferior to each other because of our interests and how closely they align with traditional femininity. It’s not true, and we should just do our thing without paying any heed to this bogus benchmark.    

Senior at the University of Kansas studying English and journalism & editor of Her Campus KU. You can find me hiding in the Watson Library study carrels or wandering around HomeGoods avoiding all responsibilities.