I guarantee that if you’ve watched a TV show or movie, read a book, listened to a pop song or basically left your room in the past twenty years, you’ve probably encountered some sort of romance narrative. It’s even more likely that at some point in said romance, once Boy has met Girl, Girl has met Boy – whatever, you know the deal – Boy will lean in, perhaps tucking a lock of hair behind Girl’s ear, and whisper: “You’re not like other girls”.
Why is it that the highest praise you can give a women is that she doesn’t behave like her fellow females? What the fuck is wrong with other girls?
Spoiler Alert: It’s sexism, internalized misogyny, and a general hatred for teenage girls that pervades our culture, courtesy of the bombardment of media images that portray teenage girls as vapid, useless, and shallow, or, perhaps even worse, as bookish, awkward, and unpopular girls who are considered “better” than those who fall under the prior category of femininity. Basically, nobody’s winning here.
The point of this line in our stereotypically romantic narrative is to valorize Girl over her fellow females for exhibiting traits that aren’t stereotypically attributed to teenage girls. She’ll have displayed her worth – usually by performing behaviors culturally classified as “masculine,” like a lack of emotion (Ginny Weasley), an ability to hunt/survive (Katniss Everdeen), or perhaps just a distaste for the company of her fellow females (any female character on a teen soap ever, basically).
It’s certainly meant to be a compliment, but all that’s happening here is a cissexist perpetuation of the gender binary contingent on outdated concepts of masculine and feminine emotions. Pro-tip: There’s nothing wrong with girls. There’s nothing wrong with being like other girls. In a culture of girl-on-girl hate, where women are encouraged from a painfully early age to cut other women down, it reinforces the idea that there is something inherently incorrect in being a girl. And the pressure is self-regulated, because it’s girls themselves who bully and police each other’s performances of gender. Hence the fact that not being like other girls is such a compliment; it means you’ve succeeded, you’re officially the best at girlhood and have won what is apparently the prize – male affection.
But there’s no man alive worth that shit. And the idea that women can and will continue to destroy each other in order to earn the approval of some random dude-bro is heterosexist and, frankly, depressing. Everyone suffers from that toxic trope, but fortunately the future of feminism is looking a little brighter, as a rash of TV shows have sprung up that portray diverse, complicated women who are more interested in their own, and that of their fellow ladies, friendships, careers, happiness. Lydia Martin and Allison Argent of Teen Wolf, the ladies of Pretty Little Liars, Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins of Parks and Recreation, Cece Parekh and Jess Day of New Girl, and Meredith and Cristina Grey of Grey’s Anatomy, all prioritize their friendship over and above the approval of an external male voice. These friendships portray a spectrum of different performances of femininity, debunking the myth of an essentialized version of womanhood while promoting female friendships rooted in support and shared strength, not competition. Which is how it should be. You can’t fight the patriarchy if you’re too busy hating other girls.
By Catherine Schetina, www.feministtv.tumblr.com
Collage by Kellie