Rejection of Femininity: The Phenomenon of Being “Not Like Other Girls”
Written by Katie Manzer
Most people have experienced the thought that they are unlike their peers; perhaps they are not as intelligent, beautiful, athletic, or any other comparable difference. However, there is a continuous trend among women in which they label themselves “not like other girls,” rejecting their femininity and aligning themselves either with masculinity or in a category of their own. Although this phenomenon has existed for decades, it has regained traction through social media, taking shape through internet meme culture as well as legitimate criticism of its implications. I will address the possible reasons for the “not like other girls” phenomenon and why it is more adopted by females than males. Gender norms, individualism, male approval, and internalized misogyny will be addressed as factors that may encourage women to distance themselves from their femininity.
Firstly, it is important to distinguish sex from gender. Sex is determined by one’s chromosomes and biological data, while gender is how one presents themselves according to their society’s accepted modes between masculine, feminine, and androgynous, in sync with or in disregard of their biological sex (Cooper, 1990, 392). In Western society, girls are typically portrayed as having a range of values limited to makeup, fashion, shopping, and causing drama. What about girls who enjoy reading, sports, and are low-maintenance? She is not like other girls — she is different, she is unique. While these statements derive from no specific source, versions of them have been repeated across popular culture. This idea leads an increasing number of girls to separate themselves from other women and established femininity, becoming a “Not Like Other Girls” (NLOG) girl. This change often happens around puberty and lasts until emotional maturity, however, many women carry this idea into adulthood and use it to justify bullying “other girls”. By late childhood, girls are well aware of the power discrepancy in gender ideologies, resulting in a change from being a “girly girl” to “one of the boys.”
A girl may identify as an NLOG due to her desire for individuality or as a form of self-deprecation. Everyone wants to fit in and be socially accepted, but not to the point where they lose grasp of their goals, preferences and ambitions. In some cases, the NLOG can be examined through the lens of self-deprecation — the NLOG may feel as though she does not fit in among the people she is supposed to relate to, possibly due to differing interests, a poor self-image or a social disorder. She may negatively compare herself to others, voicing her envy of their seemingly inherent beauty, intelligence, or social ability that she cannot grasp without intense effort. This NLOG may not necessarily want to be different from the other girls, but rather cannot help the fact that she experiences difficulty fitting in and thus adopts the label. To the typical NLOG, however, she is the sole outlier among the “other girls”; a homogenous amalgam of specific traits and interests, often appearing as a “hive mind” or a mass-production of people. Therefore, the NLOG must form an independent self-construal — focusing on distinctive personal characteristics — to convince herself that she has her own thoughts, feelings, and opinions and is not like the “other girls” around her. This lens is a self-enhancement motive, giving the NLOG a high, but contingent self-esteem as it is often reliant on the approval of others, particularly men. This gives her a damaged view of the women around her, priding herself on her uniqueness.
Another reason that women may identify as NLOGs is due to internalized misogyny and/or sexism. Growing up in a gendered society, one similarly finds gendered terms that work their way into everyday conversation. Negatively feminized terms such as “bitch,” “nag,” and “shrill” are often incited by men, yet many women continue to use them among each other. Internalized oppression, sexism or misogyny “consists of oppressive practices that continue to make the rounds even when members of the oppressor group are not present,” where, upon hearing it enough times, the oppressive notion becomes encoded into our self-schema (Bearman et al., 2009, 13). Eventually, girls believe these repetitions and echo the message onward through their interactions with others. The rejection of femininity that NLOGs respond to may be a result of their internalized oppression, causing them to attack their fellow women instead of destroying its institutional origin. When a society is built by and for men, the interests, talents, and qualities of women, such as compassion or sensitivity, are considered secondary. To men that find the cares of women trivial, the NLOG is someone special, as she is more similar and relatable to boys. Male approval is important to young girls as they are socialized to understand the hierarchy of gendered interests. Thus, the NLOG learns that not being like other girls is a positive trait, something that gets attention from the others, and so may harden her beliefs.
It takes an empathetic understanding of people to realize that every girl is her own person with individual interests and feelings. It remains extremely important to provide girls with role models that represent all facets of femininity, demonstrating more than one acceptable mode of girlhood. I believe that the issue that NLOGs as they become more present is that they become another form of femininity that is ridiculed. For any NLOGs that exist, there are five more people, particularly men, making fun of them for wanting to be different, creating a socially acceptable type of girl to mock under the guise of feminism. However, we must realize that if this phenomenon exists almost entirely within one category of people, something is fundamentally wrong with the formations of our social norms.
When it comes to femininity, many girls find themselves placed in boxes due to their representation in history and the media, leaving them to turn to the socially accepted mold of the masculine. The phenomenon also comes down to maturity and growth. Being like “other girls” is not a bad thing — challenging these ideas that profoundly permeate our culture relies on a sense of self and of the world that is gained only through experience and empathy. Soon we will realize that we are all like other girls and we are all like each other, as we are all individuals together.