We need to stop saying 'I'm not like other girls'
Originally published on Marie Claire Online
During my first and only Tinder date, the guy (let’s call him Trent) told me three separate times how impressed he was by my intelligence. Prior to that, he’d been what I considered overly blown away when I made a Richard Nixon joke in reference to a conversation about the prevalence on Tinder of unsolicited dick pics.
Spoiler alert: I’m university educated and I like to read, but I’m no astrophysicist. I’m at least 70 IQ points behind Sloan Sabbith. In fact, I just turned 30 and I still can’t use a drinking fountain without soaking my T-shirt. So when not-his-real-name-Trent applauded my brain so enthusiastically, the only conclusion I could draw was that this dude doesn’t have a particularly high opinion of women and their grey matter.
Then he dropped the line that makes steam shoot from my ears like some Wile E Coyote-feminist-hybrid cartoon. He said, ‘You’re not like other girls.’
Look – I know he meant it as a compliment. And it’s a mild improvement on the fact that a lot of men’s idea of a compliment is telling me they approve of my cup size as they speed past in their cars. But I’m a proponent of the idea that cutting other women down doesn’t make me any taller, so no, I’m sorry, it’s not a compliment. It’s a sweeping generalisation and denigration of my gender that positions me as favourable only in the context of not being anything like ‘other girls’. It attacks and belittles interests, activities and even modes of dress that are generally considered ‘female’. It’s not just specious, it’s destabilising to feminism.
And it’s even more damning an indictment on femininity when you hear that phrase in the mouths of other women.
Because what exactly is so wrong with being like ‘other girls’? The whole idea speaks to society’s tragically casual acceptance of womanhood as inherently less – less valuable, less powerful, less desirable a label to wear. It’s so ingrained a belief that we seem willing to betray our gender just to get away from it. When we think more favourably of being considered ‘one of the boys’ than we do of occupying the space called female, we have a problem.
Here’s the ugly truth. I recall using that same line to describe myself when I was growing up. I liked the idea that I could contrast little old me – bookish and emo AF with a working knowledge of the Marvelverse and a copy of Kurt Cobain’s suicide note in my desk drawer – against the popular blonde beach babes of my school. To me, saying ‘I’m not like other girls’ meant that I didn’t have to compete with them and lose. (A competition that, incidentally, none of us had voluntarily entered.) But what I was actually doing was saying, ‘I’m not like the vapid stereotype of a female that society projects on us.’ And in doing so I was beaming that stereotype straight back on to the girls and women around me.
I’ve changed my tune since then. Mostly because, if I look at the women who surround me in my everyday life, I want to be just like them. They’re smart, capable, funny, complex human beings. And why say ‘I’m not like other girls’ if that means disdainfully distancing yourself from Christiane Amanpour, Michelle Obama, Emma Watson or any of the jaw-droppingly cool female role models the world is offering up these days? Behind every incredible woman is usually … a few more incredible women. They’re fucking everywhere.
Obviously every person is unique. Each of us is a little like a lot of others, and unlike a lot of a few more. On a planet of 7 billion people, you’re going to share characteristics with more than a handful of other men, women and non-binary humans. Saying you like watching rugby rather than a romcom doesn’t make you one of the boys or ‘not like other girls’. It makes you a woman who prefers rugby to romcoms. And that’s about the long and short of it.
It’s about time we respected the sisterhood enough to make full card-carrying membership something to be proud of, rather than to be denied and shied away from.
I am like other girls. And I'm fucking thrilled about it.