by Paige Parsons
…Hmm, not like other girls, or a case of internalised misogyny?
Since I was little, I have heard this comment voiced from many women, often as a way to distance from ‘typical’ perceptions of femininity. Maybe from women who don’t like painting their nails, or wearing makeup, but who like to drink pints, those who swear (too vulgar!), or burp (definitely not ‘lady like’- whatever that means).
This comment, escaped from the mouths of many (myself included), is both familiar and complicated. What does it mean to be like other girls? Why are you not one of them?
We know women are weak, erratically emotional, and exist to please the gaze of men, or so they have us believe. If this is what women are bound by, then perhaps I’m not like other girls either.
Now, I know this is based on a rigid framework of stereotypes, stemming from our need to label our identity to navigate the world (Delphy, 1993). But as a re-occurring observation I have made, and continue to make, it has consequences for the respect (or lack of) for femininity.
‘I’m not like other girls’ holds other women in a box of confinement (one labelled girly girls, perhaps), their box placed lower on the hierarchy of gender. Girly girls, as we know them, can be explored through an emphasized femininity (see Connell, 1987). This is the expectation of women to conform to a desirable view of femininity, an ideal characterised by subordination (to men) and heterosexuality (having sexual feelings for the opposite sex).
Now, I do not want to blame women (or men) here….everybody has been boxed by the system that is patriarchy, a social system where power is gendered so that masculinity is dominant (Johnson, 2006).
This comment does not simply undermine other women purposefully (although it continues to spread narratives that paint femininity as lesser). Rather, society has a case of internalised misogyny (Manne, 2018), where sexist ideas and disrespect towards women (and femininity) have been engrained into our thoughts.
What does this mean?
We have internalised ideas that women as weak, inferior and have certain characteristics, e.g., appearance obsessed (we might blame beauty/advertisement organisations) or needing a man to feel fulfilled (we might thank traditional fairy tales), but let’s leave that for another day.
These ideas are expressed through our actions, towards ourselves (self-regulation and objectification, see Enson, 2017) and towards other women. Let’s say… the assumption that women should have less sex than men as to maintain ‘purity’ and ‘innocence’…. (Ironic right, as women are apparently existent for the sexual pleasure of men).
Having internalised misogynistic attitudes, distance from these may foster feelings of superiority, moving one closer to ideas of masculinity. I mean, in a patriarchal society, who can blame us? We have learnt that it provides acceptance in the social world….
But, through devaluing other women, we do not increase our own value (on a wide scale, anyhow), but rather, we maintain sexist ideas that continue to mobilise the box that is femininity.
So, through saying (and believing) ‘I’m not like other girls’, we continue to fragment femininity, creating competition and tension between women. Consequently, the patriarchy is supported as well as the division that is central to its power.
Let’s not forget, gender is fluid (Beasley, 2005). An individual may express the comment as to genuinely explore and signal a lack of alignment with the female identity. We must reflect on comments, thoughts, and actions as to question how and why we position ourselves and others, particularly as meaning is communicated through the language we use (Crawford, 1995).
Who are these other girls?
The other girls… Are they able-bodied? Are they white? Are they black? Are they young? Are the old? Are they slim? Are they fat?
These are important questions. The answers reflect the way normative (and emphasized) femininity has been presented to us. Whether that is through the media, television, books, or beauty industries. The way we recognise the ‘other’ girls can impact how we reconcile, respect or celebrate feminine identities.
So, although an innocent comment at first, ‘I’m not like other girls’ reinforces femininity as an inferior identity. These repetitive interactions nurture misogynistic attitudes (Manne, 2018), shedding light on the ways women are subtly subordinated.
Remember, men have internalised this too. It is not masculinity vs. femininity, but rather patriarchy vs. us all.
So yeah, I am like other girls: strong, diverse, intelligent, interesting, wonderful, and complexly unique; remembering that one expression of gender is no more valid than another.
Beasley, C. (2005) Gender and Sexuality: critical theories, critical thinkers. London: SAGE Publications.
Connell, R. W. (1987) Gender and Power. Society, the Person and Sexual Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Crawford, M. (1995) Talking Difference: On Gender and Language. London: SAGE Publications.
Delphy, C. (1993) ‘Rethinking Sex and Gender’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 16(1), pp1-9.
Enson, S. (2017) ‘Evaluating the impact of hyper-sexualisation on the lives of young people.’ British Journal of School Nursing. 12(6), pp. 274-278.
Johnson, A.G. (2006) Privilege, Power, and Difference. 2nd Edn. New York: McGraw- Hill.
Juliehangart (2020). Available at: https://www.demilked.com/not-like-other-girls-comic-julie-hang/ (Accessed on 7th March 2022).
Manne, K. (2018) Down girl: the logics of misogyny. New York: Oxford University Press.
Rajagopalan, H. (2017). Comic: What is Intersectional Feminism? Available at: https://feminisminindia.com/2017/04/08/comic-intersectional-feminism/ (Accessed on 7th March 2022)
Stanford, Q. (2019) Available at: https://allears.net/2019/11/27/theres-big-changes-coming-to-snow-whites-scary-adventures-in-disneyland-next-year/ (Accessed on 7th March 2022)
Vector (2021). Available at: https://www.shutterstock.com/image-vector/multiracial-women-different-figure-type-size-1263222466 (Accessed on: 7th March 2022)