an essay by suha
art by Manahil @manonahil
She’s not like other girls. She doesn’t like drama and gossip. She doesn’t wear makeup or enjoy shopping, because she cares about more important things than her appearance. She’s not shallow or superficial. She’s not like other girls. This is a trope that’s been circulating the internet for years, and more recently I’ve become aware of just how much girls who display this way of thinking are called out and mocked online for believing that they’re unique for something that doesn’t actually make them stand out. But is the ‘not like other girls’ mentality actually problematic? The belief that you’re different for not conforming to the stereotype of what girls are like is, at its core, a display of internalized misogyny. We are taught that femininity exists in a certain form. Girls like shopping. They care about how they look. They want to impress boys. They like to gossip. They are overly sensitive and fragile. So if i’m not like that, I can conclude that I must be different from other girls, as opposed to realizing that these ideas are a false depiction of what 'normal' girls are always like. By interpreting their non conformity to a stereotype as their straying from the norm, these ‘quirky’ girls reaffirm the truth of these stereotypes and consequently undermine other girls to establish themselves as a superior kind of women. They tell the world that they believe that girls are not not deeper than people who exist with no real thoughts beyond how they should look and where they should party, and their lack of compliance with that makes them better. They agree that this narrow perception of femininity is true, and that they are rebelling against the norm as opposed to questioning the idea itself. Essentially they are saying ‘I’m not like other girls because I have a personality, and my female peers do not’.
It's important to distinguish between ‘you’re different’ and ‘you’re different from other girls’. There's nothing inherently wrong with feeling that you are different or wanting to stand out. In the same way that we all have things in common, we are also all different from each other. But the phrase ‘you’re not like other girls’ being used as a compliment or a way to lift yourself up is a compliment that is at the expense of other women. Taking it as a compliment perpetuates the idea that being a girl is a negative thing in itself.
However, according to what I’ve been exposed to online, the sexist implications of this trope often aren’t the main concern of people who criticize it. It is rather the fact that girls want to believe they’re special when they don’t have a real reason to believe they are different that makes them the subject of the joke. The internet often rushes to shame women who even exhibit qualities or interests that fall outside of the traditional gender status quo with the assumption that such women think they're 'not like other girls'. The 'not like other girls' mentality extends beyond women trying to distinguish themselves with everyday acts they have declared unique to themselves, to people scrutinizing women for daring to believe that they can have any individual quality at all.
The women who act in accordance with the feminine stereotypes in the media are not taken seriously and so groups of girls who seek the acceptance of men or the media or even other women are made to feel that in order to be seen, they must separate themselves from this image. They fail in realizing that even women who conform to some of these stereotypes aren’t as one dimensional as portrayed, and that they may not be different from ‘other girls’ in the ways they imagined. We condemn these girls, not for trying to bring themselves up by bringing other women down, but for trying to convince us that they’re unique. For wanting to be different. At the same time, we condemn the girls who conform to stereotypes the media sets. Most of us are familiar with the concept of ‘basic girls’ or as they’ve more recently come to be called in 2019; ‘VSCO girls’. It feels like there's little girls can do in a public space or platform without being the object of some kind of joke. Women who fit the representation of women that the media has sculpted are seen to have no depth or personality, and women who don’t want to be associated with it have a superiority complex. So what is a girl to do? The negativity associated with 'not like other girls' needs to be redirected from women who believe that they are different to the idea that women need to feel different. The idea that girls who embrace the traditional idea of ‘femininity’ are one dimensional characters must be rejected. Girls should not feel that they have to be distinguish themselves from each other, nor should they be shamed for being proud of their qualities whether or not people on the internet consider them to be unique. They should not feel that they need to prove their worth, and as women, we need to recognize that our differences are what makes us who we are, not better competitors against each other. The need for this kind of validation has got to go, and we have got to recognize that ‘you’re not like other girls’ is not a compliment, and that shaming women for thinking they're not like other girls is a step backward, not forward.