The phrase “you’re not like other girls” has been embodied in film, books and television repetitively by traditionally male counterparts who ogle at how a female character is different.
It’s become a media trope, appearing in ‘90s rom-coms including “10 Things I Hate About You” or “She’s All That” — where the female protagonist isn’t popular but rather outspoken or artistic. This is also seen in novel series such as “Harry Potter” — where the female protagonist is different because she’s intelligent and witty.
Our insatiable craving to be, or be in a relationship with, someone who’s unique has led to this phrase becoming the ultimate compliment, making audiences and individuals think this phrase translates to “I think you’re special.”
If “you’re not like other girls” is a compliment, what does it say about “other girls?” When a compliment explicitly states that someone is desirable because they aren’t like everyone else, isn’t that just saying everyone else is inferior to that person?
Considering women have been undermined and insulted for centuries, saying that one is likeable because they don’t act like “normal women” isn’t a progressive statement. It’s saying someone is special because they don’t act like a woman. This isn’t only an indirect insult to every other woman-identifying person, but grossly generalizes the entirety of women based on stereotypes that were created for us, not by us.
Oftentimes, this phrase is said to female characters who possess admirable qualities, such as being strong, independent and intelligent. In other words, women who don’t fall into the stereotypical female societal standard. They often possess more traditionally masculine traits — not wearing makeup or the color pink, ordering hard liquor and a steak for dinner or genuinely enjoying sports.
This connotation is everywhere, whether in a media platform or real life. In “Beauty and the Beast,” Belle is seen as “not like other girls.” She’s interested in a partner for more than physicality. She spends her time in the library and has a daring, intelligent personality. She is the antithesis to the women who swoon over Gaston in the film. Except Gaston doesn’t want them, he wants Belle because she is, you guessed it, “not like other girls.”
Examples exist in recent times as well. In “Game of Thrones,” an extremely popular television series, when Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is asked by Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance), “Aren’t most girls interested in the pretty maidens from the songs? Jonquil, flowers in her hair?” and she answers, “Most girls are idiots.”
This puts those who identify as women in an unspoken competition of who’s the most different. It’s implying that “normal” female qualities are inherently bad, and those that aren’t like “other girls” are a small exception to that.
While this statement seems small, it isn’t. Our concept of gender has shaped rhetoric to reward some and punish others. We subconsciously include gender stereotypes into everyday conversation and sayings because of hegemony, the concept of an institution establishing a “common sense” for us, to which we blindly accept. No one questions phrases including “you’re not like other girls” because we were taught it’s a compliment. We haven’t questioned this tendency that’s become commonplace.
Not only is this sexist, it’s really not a compliment at all. Rather it’s a lack of something better to say. Being “different” is a concept completely independent of gender. There are countless aspects of a person that contribute to their identity. It’s ignoring every other quality that person possesses, and simplifying them down to just being “different” from what they expect a woman to be.
“You’re not like other girls” is a backhanded compliment, which enforces our restrictive ideals of gender identity and gender in relationships. Don’t say it, and don’t accept it. Without it, we can shift our communication to be more inclusive and less condescending.