The “Not like other girls” trope

If you’ve hung around the online writing community enough, you know this is one hated trope. And in case you aren’t familiar with this gem, TV Tropes explains it this way:

On the surface, it’s nice to hear someone say you’re special. It’s flattering to the ego to hear that you’re better than the competition. That might be why this line is almost only found in young adult and teen stories. Writers may not expect teens to take subtext or larger social implications into consideration.

However it’s meant, this line can be interpreted as a backhanded compliment. By saying that your intelligence, sense of humor, chastity, lack of interest in makeup, independence, or whatever make you “different from other guys/girls,” it’s implied that the rest of your gender sucks.

So there you go. People see it as a misogynistic attack on women. And on social media? Don’t even bother implying that you or your character might be different. Mockery and hate will ensue, as these tweets show.

Here’s the problem with the negativity toward this trope–

Some of us really aren’t like other girls.

I was bullied in junior high. I had no sense of fashion and no boyfriend, and I was constantly picked on. The popular group would steal notes I passed to friends between classes and read them out loud, mocking my plans for the weekend. Plans that didn’t involve talking about boys and makeup. I bet you’re a virgin, someone said to me in gym class one day. Hello, I was 12. It didn’t matter.

Not like other girls.

In high school, I came into my own. I had a great core group of friends who I still see. Even so, I was weird–and people told me. Worse, they said it behind my back. I wonder why she doesn’t date? I overheard once at a sleepover when they thought I was asleep. She’s so weird. Or maybe she’s gay. <laughing> Gay and weird.

Not like other girls.

In college, I overheard two different groups of women make fun of me for being a pilot.  That’s so weird, they said. Why does she want to fly planes? That’s such a guy thing. Yes, one of those groups was a group of aerospace engineers, after I’d taken them up for a class project.

Not like other girls.

When I graduated, I took up bracket racing (a kind of handicapped drag racing) as a hobby. Care to guess how many women I raced against? Care to guess how potential female friends reacted when I told them what I did for fun?

Not like other girls.

I could go on and on, but it boils down to this–unless you’ve never made fun of a girl (or woman!) for being different, then you have absolutely no right to hate this trope.

Because here’s the thing: I was mocked and bullied for some of the things that even TV Tropes calls out as differences. And when you’re not accepted by other women for being different, you really aren’t like the other girls.

If they don’t like that, they need to be a little kinder to women who don’t fit in.

So now I’m curious–what do you think about this trope?

5 thoughts on “The “Not like other girls” trope

  1. As always, your posts are thoughtful, Anne. Thank you for sharing your experiences—though I wish you have been singled-out for simply doing what interested you, instead of the pre-conceived norm.

    I think the trope becomes problematic when it’s used as a lazy, short-form for making the heroine or FMC seem special or “not like the other girls” without actually making her different.

    It also depends on how the other female characters are portrayed. Are there no other redeeming female characters besides the FMC? Ideally, there would be a range of female characters, because women aren’t monolithic.

    All in all, women, men, humans, we need to support each other abd our differences. Until the saying “you aren’t like other girls or guys” (I’ve read/heard that one too), doesn’t really make sense.

    And if you lived this experience, then other women have too. And it’s important to make those experiences visible in books.

    So if your character really isn’t like “other women,” then I don’t have a problem with the trope. But I do like to see a balance I guess, where all the other women in the novel aren’t portrayed as jerks.

    Which segues to the hate for the evil/bad guy scientist trope, I’ve being grappling with in my WIP. There are bad cops, teachers, lawyers—name any profession or job. There’s the good and the bad. I have an antagonist who is a scientist, yes. But I also have a heroine who is a scientist. I figure they balance each other out, so the trope doesn’t stand out as one-sided.

    Just as you found a core group of friends in high school who accepted yoI firvrhe wonderful person you are.

    💕

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    1. The issue is that when you haven’t had a wealth of healthy friendships to model, those other women (as they support the main character) are nearly impossible to write about. You can see that in my books…many more men, because that’s what most of my life has been like. I tried writing more women, but they fell flat. Even the ones I have don’t seem real (IMO) because of my experiences. No, it’s not mandatory to live something you write about, but it sure helps.

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      1. And I should point out that when I see a guy tell a girl “you aren’t like other girls” in a book (which happens a lot less than people make it out to) I feel sick. Being like other girls is what I’ve always wanted and I’d cry if a guy had ever said that to me. I just have a different reason for my reaction than most of the internet.

        See? Different. Ugh.

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  2. Oh my days! You’re a pilot?? What a hero! I wanted to be a pilot for years (still do, deep down) but I have hearing/vestibular problems so I’m not even supposed to drive at the moment. That aside, I really liked this post 🙂 When people say ‘not like other girls’ I never know whether that’s a compliment or not, it stresses me out. I suffered similarly in school and I would find myself looking at the girls around me and thinking that’s not me. I’m nothing like them and have no desire to be and yet that was the only example I had of what being female was. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I learned what it meant to be feminine and a woman and all that and it looked nothing like the girls I went to school with.

    It also bothers me a bit, that trope because I’ve dated guys before who have been attracted to that very thing: I’m not like other girls. But it isn’t been the cute, quirky novelty they thought it was and that was problematic. Maybe they read too many YA books. Who knows 😛

    The other thing is, never compare a girl to other girls, guys, it hurts.

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