Growing up, how many times have you heard someone say, “I’m not like the other girls?” Whether it’s coming from your best friend or a stranger on social media, this mentality is quite common, and in some ways, might even be viewed as a rite of passage for womanhood. Many women, including myself, have gone through a period in our childhoods where we actively pushed away all things feminine. This is often a result of the following message reinforced by movies and television shows we consume: being “like the other girls” makes someone bland, vapid or even unlikeable. Thanks to social media, this ideology has increased tenfold in being upheld as a societal norm.
The “other girl” archetype
This “other girl” archetype is consistently viewed from a media lens as the popular, conventionally attractive girl who enjoys mainstream TV shows or music. In recent media, think Regina George or Sharpay Evans. The villainization of women who have traditionally feminine interests stems from this stereotype. Shopping, makeup and boy bands are all looked down upon because of their association with femininity and popular culture, and thereby, a lack of uniqueness. In contrast, women who classify themselves as unlike these women tend to align with traditionally masculine or alternative interests: liking sports, reading books, playing video games — the list goes on. Within the media, these women are presented as an antithesis to the “other girl” by being generally well-thought of and relatable. If a character is labeled as “not like the other girls,” then she is unique: Characters are portrayed as relatable and authentic in contrast to the shallow and vapid antagonist. Movies and TV shows reinforce this concept by celebrating women who lack conformity to social norms.
This feeds into the stereotype that if one does have feminine-driven interests, it is impossible for them to be intelligent or multi-faceted in their livelihoods. Essentially, the media we consume tells women they must pick a side, which is an incredibly harmful ideology.
In many cases, we seek to distance ourselves from traditionally female tropes in order to avoid this rejection from the media and our peers. In my childhood, I would refuse to wear pink or listen to Taylor Swift in an attempt to avoid being labeled as a “girly girl.” While this wasn’t necessarily a result of distancing myself from my peers, I still strayed away from these negative connotations.
YouTube commentator Sarah Z makes the point that “hatred of feminine things didn’t explicitly come from the notion that ‘Feminine Things is Bad’ so much as from the notion that ‘Feminine Is What You Must Be.’” It’s important to acknowledge media messages constantly push ideas of gender roles upon us, especially as children. Thus, it’s no surprise we would want to fervently reject these roles and break the norm. Nonetheless, it’s clear both aspects came into play while shaping our perceptions of what we liked and disliked in childhood.
When covering the complexities of the trope, it would be impossible not to speak on how the label has been turned against the very women who use it. A woman labeling herself as “not like the other girls” has gained the rebuttal of “pick me” from a chorus of men and women across the internet.
Defined by Urban Dictionary, a “pick me” is a woman who is willing to do anything for male approval. The term largely has been used as means of shaming women who have been affected by the “other girl” archetype. While the purpose of the phrase stands in sharp contrast to the first, this isn’t a change for the better. The negative intentions by those who label women as “Pick Me girls” continue harming women who struggle to fit into the values of a society that’s ingrained this message in them since birth.
This creates a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” mentality for all women, which creates an issue where women can never truly avoid antagonization by the media. It is of the utmost importance to recognize the danger of labels in this context, which are especially prominent in their unadulterated purpose of tormenting women. If we truly want to work towards ending these judgmental labels, the focus must turn to critiquing them.
The subversion of the trope
The phrase “I’m not like the other girls” strikes a chord with Gen Z primarily because of the comedic use of the term. In recent years, a multitude of social media trends have brought the phrase to meme status via videos labeled as so-called “cringey” content. However, with this surge has come a rise in critiquing this form of media. Commentary-style YouTube videos have turned the tables in the perception of the label with content from Casey Aonso and Kurtis Conner, to name a few. Instead of attacking the women who engage with the “not like the other girls” trope, commentators analyze the societal impacts of why these behaviors exist in the first place. This shift from making fun of to critiquing has offered a healthy way for offenders on both sides of the argument to consider their behaviors without feeling villainized. Thus, the use of deeper analysis has provided a necessary change in the way we perceive these labels.
For a phrase once utilized to divide, one way people have taken back the term is by calling themselves “exactly like the other girls.” TikTok user @clemkeiser created a video of herself on July 28 where she listed a majority of “basic” things she admitted to doing. The self-awareness of the trend succeeds in calling out the one-dimensionality of the stereotype and suggests a successful shift toward combating judgmental terms within social media.
The process of learning how to recognize and combat these harmful messages is undoubtedly difficult and takes time. It was only recently I began to unlearn my internalized worldviews, and even now, it is a daily battle of striking down these preconceived ideas. I’ve found the best way to begin this journey is by doing your own research on feminist theories, such as the male gaze. Another great place to start is with YouTube commentaries like the ones I’ve mentioned above.
Ultimately, it’s key to keep yourself in check and challenge yourself to combat these feelings of judgment. If you do catch yourself having these thoughts, it’s okay. Just take a moment to step back and reevaluate. We’re all on this journey together, so reach out to a friend to share your feelings. I think you’ll find the “other girls” might feel the same.