"I'm Not Like Other Girls..."
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Politics and Activism

"I'm Not Like Other Girls..."

The motivations and consequences of saying it.

"I'm Not Like Other Girls..."
Etsy shop WickedQueer

I am putting on eyeliner, and my lips are parted. I watch, unblinking, as my reflection draws a pencil-thin stripe on my lash line, flicking up ever so slightly at the corners, with a precision perfected by years of backstage mirrors and early mornings. The finesse this 20-year-old staring back at me possesses at last rivals the magical ability a much-younger me marveled at in my mother, the steady hand and transformative skill required for this ancient matriarchal art. But something else floats back to me as the slack-jawed expression generations of little girls have copied from their mothers jogs a long-forgotten memory: a silly chain email from the early 2000s. When I was in sixth or seventh grade, this little email pointed out something that had never occurred to my preteen brain. Amid its observationally humorous musings (there is really no comfortable place your tongue fits in your mouth, you park on the driveway and drive on the parkway, and so forth), one made a distinct impression: Why do women always keep their mouths open when they’re putting on makeup?!

It reads like it was written by a '90s comic in front of a brick wall waxing lyrical about his wife and "the deal with airplane food." This was long before I started wearing daily makeup, of course, so for the next year or so, every time I had occasion to apply makeup, I thought about that email. And every time I thought about it, I would immediately close my lips. Psh, I’m special, I would think. I’m different. I’m not like that.

I’m not like other girls.

Now, being an older, worldlier girl, and being a feminist, I understand that this well-established, tropey phrase is the result of internalized misogyny. Putting myself up by putting other girls down is a classic example of girl-on-girl hate, and the argument against it comes from a similar place as one of my favorite critiques of rape culture:

See, it's pretty easy to explain the problems with "I'm not like other girls." That simple phrase supports both the devaluing and dismissal of women, as the girl saying it is accepting the premise of their dehumanization and distancing herself from it. It's basically a way to say "girls are silly and petty and worthy of your disregard, but I'm not like that, so you shouldn't dismiss me!" Much like the tweet above, the phrase throws other girls under the bus for a cheap and fleeting grab at an affirmation of personal humanity, rather than combating the core issues at play.

Asserting one's value in that particular way is an unconscious assimilation to a sexist society, but wanting to be an exception to a sweeping female generalization comes from a very real desire to be treated differently than the masses of women dismissed for their interests, abilities or qualities. When I was jamming my mouth shut and applying mascara in seventh grade, it came from a place disgust, just not disgust I was able to accurately place. I wasn't disgusted with the women who did that; rather, I was disgusted by the realization that I ran the risk of being written off in the same way Other Girls were being written off.

The Me vs. Other Girls model is a reflection of both the value women see in themselves and the devaluing women see of women everywhere they turn in society. Women are reduced to their interest or lack thereof in beauty and fashion, the subjects they excel at in school, the careers they aspire to, their amount of interest in motherhood, the amount of space they take up, the pitch and timbre of their voices — and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Other Girls are vapid and stupid, or maybe they're annoying know-it-alls. They have too much sex, or they're prudes. They care too much about the number of split ends they have, or they can't drive well, or they hate sports. They're classically feminine, or they might be tomboys. In short, they're being women in ways incompatible with your concept of womanhood.

But girl-on-girl crime isn't the answer. Distancing yourself from Other Girls isn't the answer, because devaluing other girls is only contributing to the problem.

The reality is, there's no such thing as Other Girls. Every single girl on this earth is a complex and well-rounded person whose thoughts and words are valuable and whose interests matter. In a strange way, the sentiment is, to an extent, accurate. None of us are like Other Girls, because the myth of Other Girls is one of the greatest sexist lies we've bought into, and it enables us to devalue ourselves and our sisters in a toxic way that has to stop.

So today, when I was putting on my makeup, and my mouth was hanging open, I thought about that chain email. But then I thought about the artistry of painting my face, the skill and practice it takes to apply the makeup I wear. I thought about the genius of that slack-jawed expression passed down from my mother: it perfectly relaxes the muscles of my face, making putting on makeup a breeze. It's a skill I value and am proud of, and it's one that I cultivated over many, many applications of powders and pencils, and I almost let a sexist email sully the brilliance behind that seemingly silly expression.

I also thought about how this is one performative act that I enjoy, that contributes to my own concept of personal femininity, and the ways that my socialization and upbringing have influenced that. I thought about the women I know who value different things, and who do not wear makeup. I thought about doing my best friend's makeup for prom because she and her mother are not people who wear makeup often or who have developed that skill. I thought about how makeup is not gendered, and how people of other genders can choose to express themselves with it (or not). Most of all, I thought about complexity.

In a world where we must combat the myth of Other Girls, complexity is our greatest ally. There are many, many ways to be a woman, and each is equally valuable. Reject the idea that half of the population on this planet can be reduced to a sweeping generalization designed to dismiss and devalue them. Instead of saying, "I'm not like Other Girls," start supporting the other girls around you.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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