HeForShe: The "I'm Not Like Other Girls" Phenomenon

HeForShe: The "I'm Not Like Other Girls" Phenomenon


August 04, 2020

I know you cringed reading that title, and you got flashbacks to your 15-year-old self scrolling through generic Pinterest graphics about how liking food made you somehow "quirky." The “not-like-other-girls” phenomenon was one we thought we’d left in the past, but evidently the deep-seated misogyny was simply taking a small break before emerging again on the social media platform, TikTok.

I won't lie, I've been this girl before. The one who prided herself in being different. I listened to rock music and I liked sporting the color grey.

I watched sports and loved books. It became a personality trait for me to want people to recognize my individuality. Being "not like other girls" was a compliment, because it meant that I wasn't boring like everyone else.

But if you weren't that girl, you’ve seen this trope before in the movies and in books. This boy becomes enamored by this girl because she’s just different. She likes sports, she plays poker and drinks cheap alcohol.

She’s never offended, doesn’t wear dresses, no makeup. Or maybe she’s this flawless, ethereal beauty who walks on grass barefoot. She reads only classic literature and speaks solely in haiku stanza.

She could be super punk: she listens to old rock on vinyl and wears leather jackets. Whatever it may be, there's something about her that's just different, which means she's better. She deserves the attention of the primary love interest.

What's the problem?

This phenomenon has come and gone in different forms over the years: in the “quirky, relatable” teen in 2017 when YouTubers like Emma Chamberlain garnered an audience, the “greaser” girl in the 50s, and the “sports” girl of the 2010s. Being called “not like the other girls” is supposed to be a compliment because you’re different. There’s something about you that’s unique.

Seems harmless, right? It makes you feel like there's something special about you. Instead, the issue lies within the statement itself: being "not like the other girls" insists that the aforementioned “other girls” are vapid, shallow, and embarrassingly ordinary.

It imposes a binary onto the female gender that insists different aesthetics of femininity are inherently separate. It suggests that the only two things a girl can be is disgustingly shallow or spectacularly fascinating. It creates a binary that doesn’t exist.

The “not like other girls” phenomenon is a direct reflection of what we, as a society, dictated to be a strong woman. It pushed for the abandonment of any feminine characteristics and interests. It’s a separation tactic, meant to boost the ego of certain women at the cost of others.

Where does this show up?

The social media platform TikTok is a warehouse for egregious examples of this phenomenon. When the app began to gain traction there was a general consensus about the different “kinds” of girls on the app: VSCO girls, E-Girls, Soft Girls, etc. VSCO girls wore big t-shirts, shell necklaces, and drank iced coffee.

E-girls wore a lot of black and silver, chainlink jewelry. Soft Girls wore pastel shirts and barrettes.

There are a few issues with these characterizations: for one, it insinuates that a girl's clothing choices are indicative of their entire personality. Two, it perpetuates the idea that you're either one kind of girl or the other kind of girl. There's no overlap. It created "versions" of being a girl, each distinct, and each intent on poking fun at the others.

Each subsequent group did just that, denouncing the other groups' style and aesthetic choices. You all remember the one video of the girl with the hydroflask, a video that made a cultural imprint so deep that hearing “sksksksk” makes you cringe to this day. This is another reason why these characterizations are problematic; the human tendency is to bring down the "others." As a product of being different, you feel that you are superior to those who are "basic."

As the VSCO girl/soft girl/E-Girl era came to a close, another version of this phenomenon emerged. In the past few weeks, there’s been some strange development of a “bruh” girl superiority complex, in which TikTokers poke fun at basic activities and assert that having a fervor for life or an adventure complex somehow makes a girl inherently better.

I'm not exactly sure what constitutes a "bruh" girl (other than saying the word "bruh" on the daily?), but a “bruh” girl is more masculine and doesn't like basic things. At the beach, they don't want to tan, they want to boogieboard. When their friends want to dress up and get brunch, they want to go hiking. A “bruh” girl doesn’t wear lululemon or Brandy Melville.

A “bruh” girl is one of the guys. A "bruh" girl is better.

There's the "alt" girl, who wears the combination of baggy cargo pants and small tank tops. They also like jewelry, and they listen to indie music. They have a personalized side of TikTok that is perpetually guarded by gatekeepers who pick and choose who gets in. They make fun of popular influencers on the app for being "basic."

See the pattern?

What does this say about our society as a whole?

The superiority complex derived from these types of ideals, and the development of these binaries in the female sect, is a showcase of the internalized misogyny many of us continue to harbor. Why should we value girls who are more masculine more? Why should I have to live my life in pursuit of being “one of the guys” instead of embracing my femininity in whatever form or fashion makes me comfortable?

A common misconception when discussing this internalized misogyny is that girls are just seeking male approval when that's far from the case. If anything, examples like these are trivially proof that we tend to value masculine traits and characteristics over femininity. There's a reason people want to not be like the other girls because other girls are boring. The societal pressure that dictates how worthy a person is pushes us to want to be different, otherwise, we're just another face in the crowd.

There is no “other” girls. Femininity does not exist in distinct, separate sects, and it’s dangerous to indicate that it does. Social media can influence young girls to have a fear of being “plain”-- causing problems as they grow into womanhood.

Being “girly” does not make you inherently worse, and being “angsty” does not make you inherently better. Nobody is only one of those things. In the search for individuality, all that we’ve done is tear our entire gender apart.

There's a quote from the book "Gone Girl" that puts it well:

“The Cool Girls are even more pathetic: They’re not even pretending to be the woman they want to be, they’re pretending to be the woman a man wants them to be.”

A takeaway

I implore the world to stop pushing against this nonexistent current and seeking validation through individuality. You are a part of a crowd, unfortunately. We all are.

But you can’t assess worthiness through something as subjective and tired as feminine stereotypes. We’re all a part of the same gender, and no matter how hard you try to be “not like the other girls,” there’s always going to be another girl who is like you. Your individuality should stem from the development of your own, individual persona.

I'll make this very clear: I like The Smiths, baggy jeans, and football. I also like Taylor Swift, mini-skirts, and sneakers. I wear denim cut-offs and drink iced coffee.

I also like old books and light, European aesthetics. I love big, chunky jewelry, but I also like dainty necklaces. I am not filtered into one version of a girl because I like all kinds of different things.

It doesn't make me better or worse. It makes me, me.

Each person is bright and beautiful in their own way. You don’t need to put down other people in order to feel confident in yourself.

Riya Jayanthi
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Riya Jayanthi is a college sophomore from Atlanta, GA who loves acai bowls, the Saints, and The Smiths. She's also published two books of poetry, and is on instagram @riyasnoms!