OPINION: The ‘not like other girls’ trope degrades femininity

Ellie Myers

     Everyone has absorbed messages from movies and books, and plenty of them can be positive and helpful. However, for every positive message we consume, there are lots of negative ones. One that comes up a lot in modern media is the idea that to be attractive, a girl has to be “not like other girls.” 

     We have a setting. It could be a dystopian battlefield, a fantasy village or your standard run-of-the-mill high school with students divided by social status with no overlap or nuance. You know, a typical high school.  

     We have a prevailing narrative of what is “the standard” for women. In dystopia land, the standard could be people who don’t question the status quo. In a video game, the standard could be that women don’t fight dragons. In high school, the standard could be that all girls like pink or are irresistibly drawn to The Quarterback™️.  

     Doesn’t matter! You just need to have something that makes all women appear the same, so you can make them all look bad for it later.  

     Now we have our leading lady. She’s … different!? She objects to things like dresses, passivity and social standards of what is considered polite. She might even wear — wait for it — glasses. She likes books, or sports, not makeup. She likes pants, or tools, or cars, or [insert traditionally masculine thing here].  

     Now there are a couple of things to unpack here. One of the most important is that the author or director is immediately pitting the leading lady against every other female in the narrative who enjoys things that are considered feminine.  

     They’re saying that women who enjoy whatever is traditionally considered to be feminine are unworthy of notice, because the creator is essentially saying that “femininity” is bad. The leading lady is the one we like, because she doesn’t like girly stuff.  

     This then begs the question: What are you telling us is girly? Is it makeup? Dresses? Fashion? Manicures? All of those things are forms of artistic expression and enjoyment of color and texture. If a girl doesn’t enjoy putting on makeup, she’s weird and looks tired, but if a girl puts on too much, she’s fake and lying about how pretty she is? What are we supposed to do?  

     That leads to the next problem. The whole question is “what are we supposed to do to be attractive?” Men in the stories want to talk to her because she’s “different.” She’s “not fake.” She “doesn’t wear makeup.” She “likes guy stuff.”  

     I’m not going to get into “what is guy stuff,” because I think I already made my point there, but all of this centers back to the idea that the girl in the stories is meant to like whatever the leading male wants her to like because it makes her look more appealing.  

     This is where we see the rise of the “pick me” girl, who tries to set herself up as different from the rest of women in general because she thinks it will make her stand out. She tries to talk about how she’s not like other girls because she thinks that being like other girls in general is going to make her unappealing.  

     Yes, these girls are annoying, but it’s also sincerely heartbreaking that they grew up hearing the narrative that they have to stand out to be attractive — that they have to be attractive to have value. They sincerely think that putting down women who do enjoy traditionally feminine things is what makes them worth notice. 

     Regardless of gender identity, I think anyone who wears lots of makeup slays, because I can’t wing my liner to save my life. I think anyone who plays sports is incredible, because I’m not remotely athletic. I think anyone who spends a lot of time studying is doing awesome, and anyone who doesn’t like reading shouldn’t feel like they have to pretend to be impressive.  

     If you ever find someone who appreciates the things you enjoy doing, or the things that you genuinely are without faking, that’s fantastic. If you’re a girl trying to put other girls down for liking “girly” things, subconsciously or otherwise, stop it. Go get a manicure and pick out your favorite color for yourself. It feels good and it looks pretty.