The Internalized Misogyny of "I'm Not Like Other Girls"
Updated: Oct 27, 2020
By Simran Kaur
Graphic via Emily Skublics
I’m not a “girly girl”. I hate wearing dresses because it makes it hard to play football. Pink isn’t a nice color either. My favorite color is actually blue! I like to hang out with boys because they’re less dramatic. All girls care about is make-up and shopping – they’re shallow and boring. I’m not like that, I’m not like other girls.
That’s probably something I said when I was 12. If you’re a girl reading this, perhaps that caricature rings a bell as well. Most girls are familiar with the phrase “I’m not like other girls.” A universal and cultural phenomenon experienced at the dawn of adolescence in which we distance ourselves from everything considered conventionally feminine, as well as project a disdain towards those who don’t.
We all want to feel special. It feeds into an adolescent insecurity that we are ordinary, boring, and that we will never stand out. However, I’ve yet to find a boy who has experienced an equivalent phase: an intentional concealment of conventionally masculine interests, a social distance from the color blue, a self-worth inherently hinged on being different from their male counterparts.
It’s easy to approach this phase as an embarrassing teenage anecdote, but it raises an important question of why did girls, exclusively and collectively, feel the need to distance ourselves from our femininity? At that young of an age, where does this extent of internalized misogyny stem from?
Comic via Cassandra Calin
From dress-up dolls to the exclusivity of pink, from being told to cross your legs and listen to studies suggesting wearing make-up leads to better treatment; to young girls, the rejection of femininity can feel rebellious in a society where it is expected. As oxymoronic as it sounds, this performative femininity has accompanied a demonization of femininity: perhaps an overcorrection of the stereotypes placed upon us, a backfired strain of third-wave feminism. Consider, for example, the female characters in pop culture, in which “tomboys” are protagonists, exemplified in Jo March in Little Women and Bianca Piper in The Duff. This is comparable to characters such as the Plastics in Mean Girls, Sharpay Evans in High School Musical (though we all grew up to love her), and Amber Von Tussle in Hairspray, who are the embodiment of hyper-femininity and portrayed as problematic or even villainous.
This selective presentation of hyper-feminine girls has associated them with shallowness, superficiality, and a lack of personality beyond traditionally girlish interests. The general contempt of femininity in pop culture likely provoked a sense of hatred towards it, pushing impressionable girls away from these stereotypical interests and causing an urge to erase every semblance of similarity.
But what does this really mean? It teaches that women are one-dimensional. We couldn’t be athletic and simultaneously into fashion. We couldn’t equally enjoy shopping and playing video games. If we wore make-up, we were self-obsessed but if we liked Fleetwood Mac more than One Direction, we were cool. When we convince ourselves that we are “not like other girls”, we aren’t separating ourselves from other girls –– we are separating ourselves from the insipid stereotypes that we have come to associate with femininity. In doing so, we exploit the notion that feminine and masculine traits cannot be balanced but more importantly, we endorse that femininity is inferior to masculinity.
While it can feel empowering to act against societal expectations ––a sense of independence that exists only after rejecting the hyper-femininity pushed upon us––, we must do so without degrading and vilifying femininity. We must do so without suggesting that the less feminine the trait, the more powerful. In a well-intentioned movement to free ourselves from the historical oppression of women, we may have internalized a sexism that simultaneously pushes us back.
Most young girls outgrow this phase when we realize that women are multifaceted beings, that feminine and masculine interests or traits are not mutually exclusive, that “the other girls” are a myth to appease a patriarchal society. Although this becomes a cringey phase to look back on, it remains important to understand why this polarization between women exists in the first place.
While it is true that not all girls within this subculture actively attempt to put others down, the mere separation of women can bring subliminal shame to those who continue to have “basic” interests. With the advent of VSCO girls, e-girls, Brandy Melville girls, skater girls, and much more, there seems to be countless categories of femininity all of which exist, more or less, in contradiction with one another. These contentious aesthetics have helped consolidate the shapeless experience of femininity in the 21st century, a world that has warmed up to female choice, a contrast against the futures of women that were historically contrived for them. With that, we must remember that lifestyles are never inherently against feminism, but the eradication of choice is.
Graphic via Reddit
When you’re young and figuring yourself out, the one thing you yearn for is individuality. So here’s to a subculture that celebrates young girls for all that they are, regardless of whether it is conventionally feminine or not. Here’s to giving girls the chance to explore different parts of themselves without feeling ashamed. Our identities are too complex and dimensional to be communicated with language. The caricature of “I’m not like other girls” not only misrepresents but undermines how femininity truly manifests in the modern world. There is no cryptic collection of “other girls.” We are all other girls in the nebulous identity of womanhood, existing singularly, fiercely, and independently.
Written by writer Simran Kaur