I’m a big reader. For the longest time – starting at about age 13 – I read a LOT of the same type of book. Always either from the POV of a male who falls in love with a cool, quirky, unusual girl, or from the point of view of that very cool, quirky, unusual girl. I’ll be the first to admit that I absolutely loved these books and I did for a long time. Up until this past year actually.
I never saw a problem with these books and the characters, and I almost idolised a lot of them. I’m sure you know the ones I mean. They read a lot, they don’t have a lot of female friends, they wear jeans, they listen to The Smiths, and they “aren’t like other girls”. Yeah. Around January time I read two books* (I didn’t realise that they were by the same author until after I’d suffered through them both) that absolutely INFURIATED me. I feel like this was a pivotal – yet late coming – time for me in regards to growing up. I didn’t finish the books so they may have redeemed themselves in some way further along, but I doubt they could do such a U turn.
Let me use these books as examples of this outdated young adult trope. Both of them featured a female main character who constantly felt the need to express in some way how much she “isn’t like other girls”. The “other girls” they refer to are always girly, have crushes or date guys, listen to mainstream music, and are generally pretty feminine. They implicitly state that they have more self worth than these “other girls” because they’re different from them.
To state that having one set of qualities means you should be more respected than someone with another, or that every girl without the qualities you possess or deem desirable is simply a clone or a two dimensional character, you’re reinforcing the belief that your regular female isn’t worthy. By saying you’re “not like other girls” because you consider yourself intelligent and deep, you’re labelling the rest of your gender as inherently stupid and vapid. Apply this to anything someone says in regards to not being like other girls and you’re implying the complete opposite of “other girls” and therefore labelling and damaging the female gender as a whole.
But as well as being damaging to the female gender, it’s honestly really sad. You often find that the girls saying all of this are lonely, separate from all the other girls in her school, and extremely hesitant about – if not completely against – making female friends. They think they’re better than them before they’ve even given them the time of day. Girls are multi dimensional people with emotions, interests and individual personalities. Sure, a girl might like something you consider stereotypical, but that doesn’t make her any less than another girl in any way.
Of course, I’m not like a lot of girls, but I am like a lot of other girls too. We all have interests that differ from person to person. We all have differences with other people. We all have similarities with other people. There isn’t one set of qualities and interests for every single girl, or even most girls. Some girls love to read, some don’t. Some girls love pop music, some don’t. Some girls love makeup, some don’t. Some girls love sports, some don’t. Either way, every female has interests, emotions and a personality individual to them. It’s unnecessary to build up your set of traits in a way that is purposely trying to make any other set undesirable, or unworthy.
We need to break down the stereotypes and stop them from getting in the way of girls forming bonds with each other, stop them from turning girls against each other. Young adult authors need to change their angle and realise the impact the “I’m not like other girls” trope can have on young women. The girl who likes The Smiths and the girl who likes Taylor Swift can be best friends if they give each other a chance. They may both have a weird obsession with serial killers and fictitious lesbians. Celebrate and embrace our differences without tearing anyone else down. The “other girls” don’t exist, and we need to start empowering all women no matter what their interests, especially in a world that already gives women less of a chance to be themselves without retribution.
*The books I read are The Manifesto on How to be Interesting and Soulmates by Holly Bourne. If you’ve read this and didn’t feel the same, I’d love to hear your opinion on them and this whole topic in general. You can check out my scathing reviews of these HERE and HERE. They were written in the heat of the moment and are pretty all over the place but that’s the point of this post.