There was always a certain sense of pride that welled up inside me whenever people praised me for being “not like the other girls.”
After all, who doesn’t want to be unique? There’s nothing wrong with being different, of course, and the voices of my friends, family, and favorite books all seemed to chant in unison that I needed to be different to be better.
Over time I learned that other girls liked glittery pink stuff and I was better because I avoided floral prints like the plague. Other girls were obsessed with fashion and popularity and I was better because I played video games. Other girls wore makeup and dressed like “sluts” and I was better because I preferred t-shirts and jeans. Other girls got offended by sexist jokes – and I was better because I just laughed and went along with them.
I was taught that other girls were invariably shallow, vain, superficial, and mean. And I wasn’t. Right?
It took me way too long to realize how fucked up that was.
Behind all the praise, behind the “progressiveness,” the compliment reinforces an unfortunately familiar message—femininity is something to be stigmatized.
Teaching us to antagonize other women breeds a nasty form of internalized misogyny. We learn to distance ourselves from our gender with disgust; we learn that only women with certain passions and personalities should be respected. And although it’s absolutely vital to create a space in our culture for girls to break free from traditional gender roles, the solution is NOT to impose a new set of rules and guidelines for how we need to act in order to vie for society’s approval.
Traditional or not, there should never be a singular, narrowly-defined ideal of the female gender. We are all different. We are all better.
We are the beauty queens and rocket scientists. We are the fearless ones and the ones who cry. We douse ourselves in sweat, tears and strawberry-scented body spray. We belong in the kitchen, on the soccer field, and in the White House— we have a right to belong in every inch of the world, to belong in a society that treats us with dignity for all our differences and similarities.
We are all the “other girls”, and don’t you dare try to distance us from that.