Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you must have heard the phrase ‘I am not like other girls’ or ‘I am not like most girls‘ somewhere – either in a Nicholas Sparks novel, a John Hughes film, or even from your best friend. Who is the elusive ‘other girl’ and why are so many young girls so determined to separate themselves from her?
From what I understand, the ‘other girl’ represents the very essence of femininity; she is the microcosm of how others perceive womanhood – the ‘other girl’ is a pink-loving, makeup-wearing, domestic diva whose basic comprehension does not stretch beyond fashion magazines and vapid celebrity worship. Or so is the perception.
It does not take a genius to figure out that the trope of the ‘other girl’ is incredibly poisonous, because it essentially vilifies femininity and paints women as shallow, unintelligent creatures. It makes young, impressionable girls afraid of liking things and doing activities that are inherently feminine in nature. It also degrades femininity so much that when a woman is intelligent, well-read, and prefers jeans over a skirt, she is automatically seen as ‘not like other girls’. If she reads Cosmo instead of Mental Floss, drinks a pumpkin spice latte instead of chamomile tea, listens to One Direction and not Fleetwood Mac, then she is dumb, ditzy, airheaded. Femininity is portrayed as something that is degrading, something that makes young girls want to disassociate themselves from the very essence of their being, and strive towards doing ‘manly’ things in order to make themselves accepted and tolerated.
Clearly, girls can only be of one type, duh. It’s not like femininity is a spectrum of variety and diversity.
This sentence, though seemingly innocuous, is also an example of internalized misogyny – that is, hatred of women by a woman, although it may not always be direct or palpable. Internalized misogyny is something that is born out of all the gender roles and stereotypes enforced on us from childhood – that good girls are not supposed to be sexually active till marriage, that good girls must be modestly dressed at all times, that good girls are supposed to be seen but not heard. So when a woman does not conform to all these stereotypes, she is seen as a deviant, a girl unlike others, a girl to be celebrated and glorified because she is so different.
Internalized misogyny is thus also the cause for slut-shaming, fat-shaming and homophobia, in general. It is also, at large, the failure to recognize that femininity is about personal choice and interests and that womanhood is not a polarity, but rather a beautiful mish-mash of diverse interests, tastes and preferences.
Here is a quick guide to the other ways in which internalized misogyny manifests:
- ‘Feminists make me so embarrassed to call myself a woman’
- ‘I am one of the guys – girls are too shallow and boring’
- ‘I hang out with guys because they cause less drama’
- ‘I prefer watching sports to going out shopping, I am such a guy!’
- ‘I identify as a feminist, but I think that women in the sex/adult entertainment industry are not worthy of equal rights and health benefits’
- ‘I don’t wear makeup because I don’t want to feel like I’m lying about my appearance’
- ‘Girls are all gossipy, whiny bitches, I cannot ever be friends with a girl’
- ‘Don’t you think your skirt is too short? What kind of a message are you giving out?’
To recognize that other women are allies and not competitions is the first step to unlearning this inherent misogyny. Women have been pitted against each other from the moment they enter this world – for example, a few days ago, a meme turned up on my Instagram feed, comparing Beyonce’s daughter, Blue Ivy and the Kardashian baby, North West. Here’s the thing though – both those girls are not more than four or five years old, and we have already started comparing two beautiful children for the sake of memes. Sometimes you disappoint me, world.
When I was in the eighth grade, some seven or eight-odd years ago, there was a bunch of girls who used to give ‘titles’ to the other girls in class. Snooty titles, like ‘Girl most in need of a dictionary’, for a girl who used to struggle with English lessons, for instance. I was never complicit, but I used to laugh along, because obviously it was all so funny. I got a title too, I don’t remember what, exactly, but it was nothing nice, I am sure of that. From what I remember vaguely about school politics, I remember more girl-on-girl crimes than boys bullying girls, or vice-versa. It seemed all too easy, hating a girl because she was a messy eater or because her skin was acne-riddled, or because she had never had a boyfriend.
I will go out on a limb here and admit that I have been guilty of hating other girls just for being girls. I have loathed classmates because they were prettier, more talented, and more popular with other classmates and teachers. I have hated other girls for no other reason than that they were girls, and it is something I truly regret now. Over the course of school, college and work, some of my closest, most supportive friends have been girls. Every time I need a pick-me-up, it is to my girl friends I turn, because they always have a word of comfort and warmth. Male friends are cool, sure, but nothing beats the love and empathy female friends are capable of showering on you when you need it the most.
In the recent times, when I think of internalized misogyny, the first thing that pops up in my mind is the movie Mean Girls. The movie goes against my very ideology of feminism and sisterhood, but it is an excellent watch to understand the ramifications of what happens when your hatred for other girls reaches dangerous peaks. When I watched it first, I found it immensely funny (I was thirteen), but then several re-watches later, the truth and the message of the movie sunk in: girl on girl hate will never prosper. Putting your boyfriend before your female friends is nothing but sheer folly. If you haven’t watched the movie yet, I request you to do so immediately. The pettiness and the superfluousness of it all will make you roll your eyes, but it will be worth it, I promise.
As a woman, it took me a long time to realize that womanhood is not a dichotomy between the traditionally feminine and the traditionally masculine, and that womanhood is a beautiful thing that is not necessarily black or white. Femininity is not the vitriolic Madonna-Whore complex that has been sold to us by white male authors and musicians and filmmakers for so long. It is a long, tedious process to unlearn hatred that has been planted in you from the moment you were born, but it is a vital part of being a woman, and more importantly a feminist, and something that all of us must actively strive for. And as a wise person once said, “I am like other girls because other girls are dope as hell”.
Also watch: “I’m not like other girls” by vlogger and slam poet Savannah Brown.
Featured Image Credit: Samm Newman on Pinterest