“I’m/you’re not like other girls.”
It’s a phrase many are familiar with, whether or not they have heard it or said it themselves. One time overlooked, women and men alike are now coming to terms with just how harmful the phrase actually is. On the surface, it seems like any other statement. If a girl tells somebody she isn’t like other girls, or if a guy tells a girl she isn’t like other girls, they are simply saying that she is different. It’s a compliment, isn’t it? Everybody wants to be special.
Except, it isn’t that simple. The phrase “not like other girls” works as a way to divide girls into categories that are desirable and undesirable. When a man tells a woman that she isn’t like the other girls he’s known, he is using her internalized misogyny, the established competition she has been put in against other women for her entire life, to make her feel good about herself by putting other women down.
Because woman against woman competition is actually encouraged by society, many women who absorb these messages think that if a man tells her she is better than other women, she has one the ultimate prize–attention and respect from men. This respect may be false; for all we know men know this line works in picking up women so they use it repeatedly in order to make these women feel worthy.
Essentially, men telling women they aren’t like other girls is a problem because it is a way to separate them from one another and turn them against each other, as a power play and a way to win. Do men know the harm they are causing? Probably not consciously, but they know that with their words they are creating a dichotomy between different types of women. By telling a woman who dresses modestly that she isn’t like other girls, the other can be assumed to be women who show more skin when they get dressed up. By choosing the modest woman, he is telling her that the other women are undesirable to men.
This concept, when turned 180 degrees, can explain exactly why women tend to say, “I’m not like other girls,” to men. While these women are blamed for perpetuating sexism and competition against women, their reason may be for protection.
A tumblr user said it best, “The whole “I’m not like other girls” movement should really be called the “I don’t want men to treat me the way they treat other women” movement because that’s what it really is. What they are really saying, maybe without knowing it, is “I’ve heard the way men talk about specific types of women, typically women who do things that they don’t understand or relate to, and I really, really want them to separate me from that and see me as a person who is worthy of being respected.’”
Basically, women are aware of the dichotomies men create when they tell a woman she is different from the others, and they use the exact same phrase for the same reason–to get men to respect them. They are placing themselves in the “not like other girls” category so that men think they are worth speaking to. Through this, a woman is telling a man that she wants to be treated differently from other women because those other women aren’t treated very well at all.
While the phrase itself is indicative of the internalized problems in men and women and their behaviors towards each other, it is unfair to blame women when they use it. After all, they are just trying to protect themselves and fit in among men. The harm comes in when men use it to purposely turn women against each other as a way to disrespect one woman while praising another, who is just as worthy of respect.