Updated: Mar 8
Dedicated to a younger me.
When did we, as collective members of the global sisterhood, come together and decide to strategically categorise young women into subsections of personality, based off of signposts such average food enjoyment, make-up choices, and level of sportiness? Actually, let me rephrase that: when did we, as people identifying as women, allow the patriarchy to validate us by how much our personality or appearance diverted from a typical feminine archetype? Let’s talk about it.
The ‘not-like-the-other girls’ trend, that has dominated both current internet culture and personal development, is a phrase referring to girls who, by their own admission, do things different. You know, they like eating, video games, or sports – not the basic girly things like…not eating?, makeup, and fashion. You know exactly what I mean. Memes that poke fun at girls who have typically feminine interests have circulated around the internet for years, starting from the growth of Tumblr posts such as ‘just girly things’ and the subsequent growth of parody accounts that mimic the style of posts, whilst inserting ‘opposite’ attributes. Instagram accounts continued this trend by promoting the idea of low maintenance vs. high maintenance women, and which were better to date, till finally progressing to the Tik Tok terminology trend that once again, you guessed it, pitted two types of women against each other: the ‘bruh’ girls and the ‘soft’ girls. Are you noticing a pattern yet? Metro defined the trend:
“The #bruhgirls hashtag has been viewed on the platform over 103 million times, with memes typically focusing on the difference between bruh girls, and their juxtaposing personality type hiii girly girls (also classified by the pleading face emoji – the one with the puppy dog eyes).”
Growing up as a Gen Z tween, I was regularly confronted with this attitude online and offline, where I would subconsciously align my interests to one pole or another. I did karate as kid, so I was a tomboy. But on the other hand, I took gymnastics lessons too, and loved Hannah Montana, so did that make me a girly girl? I know I wasn’t alone as a kid questioning what ‘identity’ category I was. It’s important to note that this entire trend deals with cis-heteronormative definitions of dating, and what it means to be hyper-feminine. Growing up with an actual bowl cut (thanks mom), extremely short hair throughout my childhood, baggy boyish clothes, and an interest in books and sports—I felt pressured by the idea of conforming to the typical attributes of being a tomboy. However, what I would slowly come to realise is that this would only inflate some sort of superiority complex within me. One that considered myself ‘different’ or ‘unique’ for not liking some of the things my female peers did. See: Claire’s accessories, sparkly makeup, or dancing.
As a young teen, slightly more comfortable with the idea that all of my interests could exist in the same realm of my personality, and knocked down a few pegs with the superiority complex, I encountered a new type of categorisation, one that was instigated by the male peers in my life. I would hear the phrase you’re not like other girls thrown around as if it increased my value as a potential girlfriend. What qualified as being not like other girls? My insider knowledge (aka asking my guy friends) suggested that it was being “low maintenance”, “chill”, “able-to-take-a-joke”, and “natural”. The idea of the ‘ideal’ girlfriend being any one of those ambiguous terms was popularised way before Gen Z, and through the medium of film. Think back to how female characters were portrayed in “10 Things I Hate About You” (1999), “What a Girl Wants” (2003), “She’s the Man” (2006), or Mean Girls (2004). It conditioned us to believe that specific physical and personality traits easily aligned within gender roles and being ‘sporty’ and ‘girly’ were mutually exclusive. Here’s the sad thing: I believed this. I was comfortable upholding the notion that the avoidance or rejection of stereotypically girly traits added value to my own identity…when in reality, it was straight up internalised misogyny.
I said what I said. The very notion of feeling superficially superior to other women, based off very loose and almost laughable traits (loving chicken nuggets vs. salad; wearing sweatpants vs. skirts) is a direct result of the patriarchal society we live in, and the strict gender roles it values. We’ve evolved into a society that deems stereotypically masculine traits (sports, eating messy food, being “cHiLL”) as more valuable than traits or attributes associated with femininity, and by result, has created a subculture of internalised misogyny where it is an insult to be “like other girls”. It must be mentioned that gender roles in themselves are confining and problematic for a number of reasons, and men are also subject to toxic hyper-masculine gender roles. However, we cannot continue the cycle of letting young girls believe that being not like the others is in any form a compliment. Other than being used by women against women, the very idea affects personal development from a young age. This phenomenon is a direct result of when society shames women for being feminine, sensitive, or engaged in traditionally feminine interests, and equates that to being shallow or superficial.
Many commentary channels and content creators have discussed this concept at length, whilst also cringing at the “you vs. me” types memes that accompany it, most of which just congratulate girls for liking basic life essentials, like food or comfortable clothes. Tiffany Ferg, in her 30-minute video, discusses the reasoning behind this. She mentions how if every aspect of a girl’s life is criticised, how she looks, how she speaks, how she eats, how much she eats, it’s no wonder we, as girls, have “adopted this criticism” and have “absorbed those negative sentiments and associations surrounding girls with girly traits”. Oftentimes, we aren’t even aware of it.
I’m going to make a bold claim here and assume that a lot of you had the same brief period in your life, where you perhaps felt validated for being somehow different than the hyper-feminine stereotypes that existed in school or in the workplace. I know I did, and it came from a place of extreme self-consciousness. It stopped me from telling my friends and family about my growing interest in makeup or fashion, in fear that I would be considered insecure and shallow. In relationships and friendships with guys, I felt cautious of being too emotional, because I thought that being chill and ‘able to take jokes’ was what valued me as a partner and friend. It’s exhausting. And there’s no one perpetrator.
It would be incredibly easy for me to write about the young girls who still uphold this culture yet pay no regard to the actual reasoning behind the phenomenon: a society that operates by comparison and contest, in order to inflate value of individuals. If young people are constantly shown stereotypes and criticisms of said stereotypes, it is no wonder that the idea of being different, and judging others for aligning to rigid gender norms, has long survived 90s teenage movies. This culture will continue to equate the Blair Waldorfs and the Cher Horowitz to the female archetype of an ‘airhead’, whilst rejecting the idea that women, (radical thought here) can actually exist as complex, nuanced, multi-talented individuals that can and do be whatever they want. In moving to remove the false dichotomies we assign to women, there’s a need to consciously unlearn the criticism we have absorbed from our patriarchal society. I feel like we, as members of this global sisterhood, need to call out anyone who starts with “you’re not like the other…”, as it exists as a form of racial microaggression as well (“you’re pretty for a brown girl”). The minute we start questioning why the person in question values us as “different” to others, the closer we get to dismantling the suffocating gender roles and stereotypes we all face.
Finally, the greatest thing we can try to do to remove this phenomenon is emphasise the importance of a strong community of female role models and mentors around us. When we see complex, ambitious, multi-talented women thrive and exist around us, the easier it may be to unlearn our tendency to categorise people by tropes, appearances, and personality traits. It’s incredible to be different, because we all ultimately are—yet there are ways to celebrate this, without putting down others, and by remembering that empowered women empower women.
Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the Editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s ‘Arts and Culture’ publication. She explores what "multi-cultural identity" looks like, in London and beyond, within her writing. She is the author of the exclusive digital column "Ketki & The City", where she explores life at the intersection of Gen Z and diaspora.