“You’re not like other girls,” he says.
You are supposed to take this as a compliment. But what he really means when he says this is that he looks down on women and girls as a whole and you do not fit the degrading image of women he has in his mind.
And of course you don’t! Because (like all other women), you’re unique and a powerhouse; these are two things that couldn’t be further from that image of women he has in his mind. This is something you’ve only learned with time, or are maybe just realizing now. If that’s you, welcome. I’m so honored to be a part of this moment with you, and we are so glad you’re here.
First, the crucial question: Where does the “not like other girls” phenomenon come from? Obviously, in the general sense, it’s the product of a patriarchal society that devalues women. But the phenomenon is reinforced in a plethora of ways in pop culture as well as through interpersonal interaction (like the one with our Average Joe above).
For example: despite my respect for Taylor Swift as a woman, a musician and a strategist (Swifties, please don’t come for me), the iconic and pervasive lines “She wears short skirts / I wear t-shirts / She’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers” are the poster child for this trope. “You Belong With Me” shot to stardom and still has a special home in the cultural zeitgeist because it resonated with all of us, reminding us of that pang of sorrow and jealousy we felt watching our crush date someone else.
Over some delightful chords, Swift says what we only wish we could have: You should be with me instead. Unfortunately, the song doesn’t just say that your crush should be with you because you’re great — it crosses a line by arguing that your crush would be better off with you because the girl he’s with now is “like other girls” and you’re not.
In the equally popular cult-classic film “Pitch Perfect,” Becca (Anna Kendrick, “Love Life”) is an excellent archetype of this. She’s moody, she likes to produce music instead of singing it, she wears dark eyeliner, she refuses to partake in activities that many other women find fulfilling, she rejects the advances of the Dream Guy™ — you get the gist. While she ultimately does find love and belonging in her relationships with other girls, the film elevates her as the desired woman because she’s “not like them.”
A significant period of my life was defined by my efforts to not be like other girls. I wore the same Under Armour sweatshirts as the boys in my class, I read the Warriors series when they did (you know, the completely plausible one about the warring gangs of cats), I wore the same DC skate shoes and I spent my recesses playing knockout on the basketball court instead of sitting on the bleachers talking to my girl friends. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with that. In hindsight, though, I did everything the boys did, not just out of enjoyment, but also because I thought that being “like other girls” was a bad thing (wrong) and figured the best way to be the least like other girls was to be like the boys (also wrong).
As my roommate pointed out over one of our mac and cheese dinners, it has “become cringe” to say that you’re “not like other girls.” How interesting that, as the concept has been interrogated, its insidious nature exposed to the world, it is women who take the fall. Even now, the message is clear: It is the women who once fell prey to the ideology, rather than the men who cultivated it, who should feel embarrassed. From its conception, the “not like other girls” phenomenon was destined for a significantly long run before its current reckoning because it obscures the role of the oppressor in pitting women against each other, allowing for him to abscond, even now.
In possibly my favorite tweet of all time, @mcapriglioneart wrote: “No, no, no. You misheard me. I didn’t say ‘I’m not like other girls.’ I said ‘I LIKE OTHER GIRLS. IM GAY.’” In another (now deleted) tweet, @MissElla wrote, “im not like other girls in their mid-twenties. Im childish like a 13 year old and moody like a 90 year old on their death bed.” These women illustrate (in the most amusing way possible) what we know to be true, now and forever: It’s not embarrassing to be like other girls. In fact, it’s an honor.
I couldn’t be more proud of the ways I am like other girls. I cherish the relationships I have with the women who enrich my life, each one of them bringing something special to the table I’d be worse off without. They empower and inspire me to be the best version of myself, and lift me up and accept me on the days when I can’t manage that.
“Other girls,” this is my brief love letter to you: Thank you for everything. I’m so proud to be you, to know you and to love you.
Daily Arts Writer Emmy Snyder can be reached at email@example.com.