Why girls feel like they have to be “different” to be accepted
If you have ever seen a picture of a girl reading in a park or journaling in her diary about how no one understands her, then you already understand the mindset behind the “I’m not like other girls” trend. This trend has been around for longer than people realize—the original trope looked a lot different than today’s, but at the core, both are the same trend developed out of generational misogyny. The newest era is brought to us by the music and comedy app, Tik Tok. Tik Tok has evolved since its origins as an app for teenagers to lip sync and dance to their favorite songs; now Tik Tok is taken more seriously as a platform for people to share genuinely funny and interesting content, but it is also a perfect breeding ground for more damaging content like this deeply mysogynistic trend.
The easiest way to describe “I’m not like other girls” is just the female version of that Jughead scene from the CW show Riverdale (left) where Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse) says, “I don’t fit in, and I don’t want to fit in. Have you ever seen me without the stupid hat on? That’s weird.”
This encapsulates girls who do not feel like they fit into whatever is popular or “on trend” for most women. This mindset is nothing new: it can be traced back decades, which means that the people who consider themselves “not like other girls” change as frequently as the group of women that are considered popular.
Regardless of the era, these women take so much pride in the fact that they do not fit in to the point where they feel superior to women who do fit in. The umbrella of unpopular things and traits that are “not like other girls” can be based on is endless.
It can mean disliking a popular trend or not subscribing to current popular beliefs involving relationships or sex or just about anything under the sun. Some great examples of this come from memes posted on Facebook that say things like, “not all girls are made of sugar and everything nice. Some are made of adventure, dark chocolate, intelligence, cuss words, and courage.”
An example of the absurd reasons one can be “not like other girls.” Photo courtesy of iFunny.
Another example, though, is a lot more common because it feeds into that “I’m-a-guy’s-girl” mentality. One post said, “Instead of being wined and dined, I just want someone to drink beer in a blanket fort with me while we talk about some weird sh*t.” And the idea of “not being like other girls” is not something that exists on its own. A popular branch of this trend is called the “pick me girl,” where a girl will claim that she’s not like other girls in an effort to gain male attention and validation, but that doesn’t mean that every “I’m not like other girls” girl acts that way.
An example of the “I’m-a-guy’s-girl” mentality posted by a Twitter user.
This trend started as a group of women who felt different from other women because they didn’t fit into traditional female roles, but today, any girl—no matter what genre she falls into—can feel like she’s “not like other girls.”
This trend from before the days of Tik Tok, though, eventually fell off. You don’t see nearly as many girls shouting from the rooftops that they are different from everybody else. Why? The answer is social media. There are tons of jokes online now with people making fun of women who try to separate themselves from the norm.
Maybe some women think they are not like other girls because they want to abstain from sex before marriage or they think liking rock music makes them different. This sounds ridiculous, which is exactly why people love poking fun at it so much; trying to parade yourself around as “different from other girls” is now seen as a bad thing and something to make fun of. It has allowed a lot of people to step back and realize, “wow, it is kind of ridiculous that I used to think I was different and special just because I didn’t like the color pink.” But this does raise a lot of questions. Why did it take so much for this opinion to fall off? Why did we quite literally have to bully the internalized misogyny out of women online? Why don’t we want to be like other girls?
A lot of this has to do with the fact that anything a woman enjoys can be easily ridiculed. Anything a girl finds enjoyment in is labeled cringe-worthy, basic, or try-hard. If you are a girl who likes Starbucks and pop music, then you’re basic. If you are a girl who enjoys smaller artists and likes to read, you’re a try-hard. Girls who enjoy playing video games are viewed even worse: you’re obviously just a bland girl trying to impress men. But somehow, even if you are the complete opposite of that and maybe you’re more feminine and you like dresses and the color pink, then you are still a try-hard and you are still looking for male attention.
Even if your personality and interests are a combination of all of these examples, you are still going to be labeled with all of the negative aspects associated with them. This mentality is so ingrained in not just men, but also women because we believe it about other women; we just don’t believe it about ourselves.
And the reason, initially, why we feel like the “exception” is not because we feel like we are better than other people. It is just because we know why we are interested in something.
Obviously, I know that if I enjoy listening to smaller artists and I like to read, I’m not being a try-hard or trying to be quirky because I’m doing those things for myself. I’m the one doing it. I know why I’m doing it. The whole mentality that women cannot enjoy things, that they must have some sort of ulterior motive, whether that is trying to impress men or to seem quirky or different.
This is when “I’m not like other girls” starts to reveal itself as a mentality that does not just show up as those “exhibit A, exhibit B” comparison examples (right) that are always shown online. Those are the easiest to catch, of course, because they shove it right in your face. But it can come in more subtle forms too, because the words “I’m not like other girls” are just exclaiming that you are different. I know I’m not like those girls, I actually enjoy the real interests I have—but we never bother to consider that maybe that’s the mentality of the other girls, too.
The thing is, every woman goes through this phase when she realizes, “Oh if I’m doing this because I find personal enjoyment in it, and I’m not trying to impress anybody, then why is it so hard for me to believe that that is the same situation for other girls?” There was a time as kids when many girls thought they were different because they enjoyed reading. Can you even blame younger girls for thinking this way? Almost every book that they read would put them into the perspective of a female protagonist who was different from everyone else because she was independent and she didn’t care about men or looks and only cared about being strong and smart. However, any other girl in the story that didn’t care about those things was just seen as a dumb bimbo. And yet, despite this, many of those innately patriarchal books are still incredibly popular today.
We can’t blame young women for going through this phase at least once in their lives, because every single genre of entertainment that they grow up with celebrates or idolizes these “different,” quirky, or independent girls who are “not like the others.” There was Rory from Gilmore Girls, Lindsay from Freaks and Geeks, Katniss from The Hunger Games, Samantha from Sixteen Candles, the Riverdale Girls, Tris from Divergent, Kat from 10 Things I Hate About You, and any female character in any John Green book. The examples are endless. And that’s pretty concerning when you have an entire generation of young girls idolizing these women who are walking “I’m not like other girls” poster girls.
These young girls grow up thinking that their individuality has to come at the cost of generalizing every other girl on the planet in the worst way possible. So can we blame women for feeling like they have to separate themselves from other women and put them down in a society where we have generalized billions of people, put them in categories, and then told them, regardless of the type of person they are, they are either cringe-worthy, try-hard or seeking male attention? No, we should not blame women for this mindset, but we also shouldn’t encourage it. Thankfully, the internet finally decided that it’s cringe to “not be like other girls,” but that’s only the resolution for our generation. What’s going on with younger girls on newer platforms?
Welcome to the next generation of “I’m not like other girls” girls, which is, of course, sponsored by the app, Tik Tok. And apparently, everybody’s new obsession is with being the girl that every other girl hates. If you haven’t seen this trend before, you might be a bit confused, but essentially a new Tik Tok trend has been gaining a lot of traction in the past year. It’s called the “introduce yourself as the reason girls hate you” trend.
The comment sections under most Tik Tok videos are clearly comprised of teenagers who think it’s a personality trait to be aggressively mean. They can be men hating on men, women hating on women, women hating on men, or men hating on women. So it is not at all surprising that Tik Tok was the perfect breeding ground for the new evolution of “I’m not like other girls.”
With the trend itself, the similarity between “I’m not like other girls” and the “introducing yourself as why girls hate you” is, again, the objective of separating yourself from other women and taking this weird sense of pride in how other girls do not like you. There are some pretty linear examples like, “girls hate me because I have a lot of guy friends, since girls have too much drama,” where the unspoken implication is that they are different from other girls because girls hate them.
It is a trend where they are still separating themselves from other girls, but it is done a little differently. Now the “other girls” are painted as jealous hateful drama queens because they are not you. It is the same idea of “not being like other girls,” but now the girl posting it is playing the part of a borderline villain who pretends to enjoy the hatred of her fellow women towards her. Definitely not the upgrade to “not like other girls” that we wanted to see.
Some girls will take part in this trend, and it is hard to tell if they are being serious or not, because they will introduce themselves as a trait that women usually celebrate or lust after, not hate you for. It just feels like everyone is so obsessed with “living rent-free in people’s heads” that they are not even really considering that, at the end of the day, nobody cares because they are all too concerned about themselves.
So Tik Tok is spawning an uglier, nastier version of “I’m not like other girls,” but what can we do about it? Do we just start shaming again? Clearly that doesn’t work because the trend just reappears in the next generation of girls. And the resolution to this chronic problem is not cyberbullying a five-year-old before they start having an “I’m not like other girls” phase. What really needs to shift is the way we talk about women in any form of media.
Quite frankly, if you look at the movies and books that are popular for younger kids these days versus the ones that came out when we were younger, there has not been a strong push against the whole “different than other girls” trope.
It is not surprising that not only is the “I’m not like other girls” trend back for a younger generation of women, but it is also back with a more aggressive and sinister tone to compensate for the fact that the old stereotypes used to shame women were not as effective. And Tik Tok is where that whole “main character” idea came from, so there is just another generation of girls growing up idolizing characters that think they have to shrink other women down to stereotypes to feel empowered and unique.
The real solution to “I’m not like other girls” is just to stop making girls feel stupid for doing something they enjoy. The media needs to drop the whole “quirky different girl” trope unless they are going to do it in a way that shows how you should not aspire to be like that or romanticize that idea to justify your interests, preferences, or choices. Obviously, those are not simple solutions and it is not going to happen overnight. To be honest, we may never be able to fully erase the many decades of idolizing these female characters that have their own internalized misogyny to unpack. But maybe that is not necessarily a bad thing.
When we look back at older movies with these female characters that we used to idolize, now we notice the tropes they embody. It is almost embarrassing. Does it make the movie downright horrible and should it never be spoken about again? No, but if we knew a ten-year-old girl was watching it, maybe we would tell her that this girl is not as cool as you think she is and that you should not aspire to be like her. We can make better books, movies, and content involving women that do not revolve around this obsession of being different. But, as for now, no girl has been able to escape the grasp of an “I’m not like other girls” phase, no matter how short-lived it was.