Once in a while, I’ll meet girls of various ages, ethnicities and backgrounds who proudly and vehemently declare that they are “not like other girls.” In fact, at one point in my life (the embarrassing middle school years), I too uttered this strange and confusing phrase. There exists this desperate need for girls to distance themselves from traditionally “girly” things in order to express individuality or, even worse, to gain respect and appreciation.
What I’m talking about is not specific personal choices or tastes, but a marked negativity and lack of association with the tastes of others and a sense of superiority that comes along with this distance. When girls make “stereotypical” choices about their clothing, hobbies or even the food and drinks they consume, this has come to denote something about their character or personality. For example, girls who are in sororities are considered dumb; girls who drink Starbucks are often thought of as petty or annoying; and, girls who wear high-waisted shorts are seen as thoughtless and blindly following trends.
Why do we associate these irrelevant character traits with clothing and food? More often than not, the demonization of traditionally feminine things, or things that mostly girls enjoy, is a demonization of femininity itself. Desperate to escape constant scrutiny, girls often resort to distancing themselves from not only the activities considered less valuable, but also from the people who enjoy them — in this case, other girls. It becomes a crime simply to identify as a girl — we are girls, but really just one of the guys.
Why can’t we say, “I don’t like to wear dresses” instead of “I’m not one of those girls”? Statements like these generalize a diverse and irrationally categorized group of people. It is simply illogical that all girls who wear dresses (or drink Starbucks or join sororities) would be the same. Why, in trying to express our individual tastes, must we put down other women? When girls in large quantities have an appreciation for certain food and drinks, clothing, music or anything else, it must be because they are “those kinds” of girls, and not that the things they enjoy are popular because they’re enjoyable.
I see this occurrence a great deal in pop culture as well, which only serves to perpetuate and normalize this division of women and girls. In Taylor Swift’s popular song “You Belong With Me,” she describes the current girlfriend of her love interest in this holier-than-thou way when she says, “She wears short skirts / I wear T-shirts / she’s cheer captain / and I’m on the bleachers.” Every time I hear this song, I’m a little miffed. What is wrong with short skirts and cheerleading? What is so much better about T-shirts and being a spectator? Why do we make automatic assumptions about the character of the cheerleader in this song (being sl*tty, stupid or catty), and paint Swift as the far superior (being nicer, sweeter or smarter) girl simply because of her T-shirt?
I see this phrase most often tossed around by women who are in friend groups of mostly men, usually in an effort to assimilate or gain respect. Yet again, it seems that the only way women can be friends with, accepted by or even respected by men is to be a woman only in name — to be “one of the guys.” Women can only have common interests with men when those interests are “masculine.” Women often sacrifice their interests in order to seem unique, different or to garner friendship. We don’t often (if ever) hear a man who isn’t interested in sports — something our current gender binary considers a typically “masculine” pursuit — say that he isn’t “like those kind of guys.” This sounds ridiculous to our ears; a disinterest in sports is not superior to an interest in sports.
So why is a preference for sweatpants somehow more unique or superior to a preference for dresses? Some may respond, “because dresses are girly, feminine, for women, and it is bad to be a woman.” This negative stigma exists in the same strange universe as “throwing like a girl” or referring to a man as a “p**sy.” For some, womanhood is an undesirable state, so in acting “like a girl,” dressing in a feminine way or liking the things that other girls like, we fulfill the role of female and are thereby systematically devalued for it.
The clothes you like, the coffee you drink and the things you associate with do not make you less because they are “feminine” or better because they are not. The idea of clothing, objects, and hobbies as gendered, ranked and classified is ludicrous and antiquated. The entire idea of what is “masculine” or “feminine” is a contrived, socially driven concept that only serves to divide women and make men fear being effeminate because what horror could possibly be worse than acting like a woman?
I’m not advocating for everyone to wear a romper and drink a pumpkin spice latte. I’m simply advocating for the same thing I do every other week: solidarity. I could write thousands of articles highlighting and analyzing the various ways, both monumental and covert, that girls are disadvantaged and scrutinized, but the first step to any solution will remain the same. When women uplift, support and defend each other, we can begin to battle the many problems we face.
If your personal preferences do not align with the “traditionally feminine,” those choices are completely valid and should be embraced. But please do not put down girls who enjoy things you don’t or dress differently than you. Let them drink their Starbucks and sing One Direction without subjecting them to a character analysis. A difference in taste of music and clothing is perfectly fine. The generalization, devaluation and outright mockery of all girls who dress a certain way or enjoy a certain hobby is pure, internalized misogyny. And this solidarity goes both ways.
Ladies, support each other in the choices you make, from the very large to the minute, and in doing so, we can work to eliminate the suffocating idea that some things are “for girls” or “for boys,” and be true to ourselves without scrutiny. For more female empowerment, check out this YouTube video.