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WHY SAYING ‘I AM NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS’ IS PROBLEMATIC
WHY SAYING ‘I AM NOT LIKE OTHER GIRLS’ IS PROBLEMATIC ( By Kaveri Sinha Mahapatra, Class 12, North Point Senior Secondary School, Calcutta, India)
Unless you have been living under the rock for the past few years, you must have come across posts like " SATURDAY NIGHT AT HOME #ME vs Other GIRLS" or " LOOKING ME # STAY REAL FAKE GIRLS".
Surely just another harmless internet trend again, right? Well, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Hundreds of such posts flood the internet and the basis of those are young girls, shaming girls of their age. The fact that they know 80’s songs and do not wear makeup while ‘basic’ girls just live for popularity and show-off, gives them this right apparently.
WHY THE NEED TO BE DIFFERENT IN THINGS THAT WON’T MAKE MUCH OF A DIFFERENCE
The root of this problem lies in internalized misogyny. In simple terms, it is when women shame and get sexist towards other women. Let the ‘I am different’ girl be X while the ‘other girl’ be Y. X probably says ‘Oh I am not like Y because guess what she uses a pink cup and that is so girly. You know what, I am going to use a black cup because I am so edgy.’
So what exactly is X doing here? She is associating the color pink with ‘girliness’, therefore as a female, she is reaffirming the idea that pink is the only color of femininity
And pink is just a small issue. X will probably associate a host of other things – shopping, makeup, dancing, partying, and lack of modesty with Y, irrespective of how well she knows her or not; because that is the idea that she has grown up with- all frivolous things are for ‘normal girls’.
And herein lies the irony, X refuses to abide by stereotypes, but ends up stereotyping other girls. She is ultimately reinforcing the very ideas that feminists have fought against, thus furthering internalized misogyny.
However, the practice of girls having such thoughts depends a lot on their upbringing also, especially in conservative countries. The stereotypes can change according to culture, so, irrespective of where you are from, you have definitely encountered some sort of misogyny while growing up.
As children, we might have seen our parents scowling at or even silently shaming ‘modern girls’. We might have seen people criticizing a girl who wants to be a fashion designer. We may have seen the mean popular girl suffering ultimately in high school dramas. If you are from a conservative family, you might have been shamed by your own mother because you wanted to wear shorts.
All this adds up unconsciously and eventually comes out in such a toxic form, almost like a rant. It helps X feel better because now she has a false sense of superiority.
However, we cannot blame everything on their upbringing. There are a good number of adult girls who do the same as well. It is because they have not unlearnt the misogynistic messages they have received earlier in life. Sometimes they do the same for male validation- which includes them acting uniquely so that they can be seen differentiated by the opposite gender from your traditional makeup-wearing and attention-craving girl.
EFFECTS ON POPULAR CULTURE
Sadly, the “I am not like other girls’ phenomena” is not restricted to adolescent relations. It is also rooted in popular books and movies, though very subtly.
There are two major divisions of this phenomenon: one is the tough girl who does not care for personal care in a dystopian or fictional setting, or it is the ‘quirky’ girl in a high school setting.
Recall Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Katniss from The Hunger Games.
They are both fictional female protagonists who are very smart, and very rough and they are different from other girls. In Harry Potter, it is repeatedly and subtly mentioned how she has bushy hair, bad teeth, and is not conventionally attractive- unlike other girls like Lavender Brown, Cho Chang, the Patil twins, etc.- whose whole purpose of existence is to giggle or cry.
Katniss is the protagonist of the popular Hunger Games series. Yes, it is all fun and games until we start idealizing the fact that a girl who can shoot an arrow, never lets her hair down, and hardly gets hurt is the only type of girl who can be seated on the same pedestal as a male protagonist. And sadly, this is pretty much the case for the majority of dystopian books and movies.
Now recall Bella Swan from Twilight. You just cringed right?
Sadly, people hate her for the worst reasons possible. This is because they have conjured this mental illusion that a normal girl cannot be a strong protagonist. People hate her because her life revolves around choosing between two boys, (which is a very unrealistic depiction by a female author in the first place, but still it doesn’t justify the amount of hate that Bella gets) and that is apparently not appropriate for a strong female lead.
On the other hand, B Grade films like Fast and Furious catering to 14-year-old boys are hardly hated to that extent. I mean, people do hate on those at the release time, but we forget them more or less. However Bella Swan, even after more than a decade is still hated. And the same goes for everything teen girls tend to like. We are forced subconsciously to cheer for the girl who has a typical masculine attitude. We as girls are reinforcing the fact that toughness, roughness, and no signs of self-care are all masculine qualities, which have somehow been put into a female character- a girl by being her normal self cannot be strong.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO?
So, I hope now you know the roots, causes, and effects of this phenomenon. I could write this because I have experienced both sides of the coin. In my middle school emo girl phase, I spent a good time feeling superior because I never wore makeup and studied a lot. In high school, I changed completely and started wearing heels and skirts - and was often shamed for that. So, if you are one of the girls being shamed- don’t care because no one can define what you are except yourself. And if you are the Different Girl, know that you are not just different for your clothes, your anger, your taste in music, etc. You are different simply because you are. Your tastes may change one day but you will still be different, still, be lovable. Everyone is special in their own way and the sooner we taught teenagers that, the better it is for us as a society.