My name is Elisabetta Smith. My friends call me Lizzy. I have long brown hair, am conventionally attractive (even if I don’t realize it) and only ever where jeans, sneakers, and nerdy T-shirts because I don’t like shopping or makeup like other girls. For some reason, however, I’m attracted to the same teenaged heart-throb as all the other girls and, for some reason, he’s attracted to me. It’s probably because I’m not like other girls. He finds my klutzy ways adorable and my social awkwardness endearing. I’m a high school student, but unlike everyone else, I actually like learning. English is my favorite class. Shakespeare was a genius and Jane Austen is my muse.
Have I mentioned that I’m not like other girls?
Okay, okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic (okay, really hyperbolic), but there’s no denying that the “I’m not like other girls” trope has plagued YA for some time and has seeped into New Adult as well. For some reason, readers and authors alike have come to think that being low-maintenance, nerdy, and introverted are divine signs of uniqueness and, more disturbingly, make a character superior to “other girls” who tend to have more feminine interests. As someone who’s been there, read that, and come out on the other side with girl friends who are nerdy, sporty, masculine, feminine, snarky, sweet, and a million other things, I’ll let you in on a little secret: that protagonist is actually a lot like other girls and that’s okay. I’m feeling generous today, so here’s another secret: there’s nothing wrong with “other girls.”
The irony in how prevalent this trope has become slays me every time it comes up. The simple fact that it’s used so often, both in realistic and speculative fiction, makes it so that these girls are actually a lot like other girls, both fictional and real. Why else would writers keep using it to snag readers? We want to see people like us tackling both realistic and larger-than-life challenges. It’s comforting to know that if someone like us can walk through fire and come out okay on the other side, so can we. However, in giving girls and women that comfort, you’ve blown the whole illusion that your character is “not like other girls.” Obviously quiet, nerdy, awkward, introverted girls like us don’t like to draw attention to ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we’re rare. Thanks to social media, popular movies, TV, books, and the existences of this trope in the first place, it’s become rather obvious that there’s a lot of girls like us. That’s okay. I like being like other girls. It means I can talk to them about my interests, passions, and dreams. Being around girls not like me allows me to learn about new interests, passions, and dreams, ruining the delusion that there’s something inherently wrong with “other girls.”
I could write a textbook on the social conditioning behind belittling feminine interests and hobbies. For the sake of time, I’ll condense: there’s actually nothing wrong with them other than the fact that our society has deemed them “feminine.” Seriously, what’s the real issue with pumpkin spice lattes, make-up, and girly clothes? When push comes to shove, absolutely nothing, yet the girl who’s “not like other girls,” is praised for shying away from such things like she’s been dodging the zombie virus.
While there’s nothing wrong with liking girly things, I think there is something wrong with being shallow and judging someone’s intelligence and character on such superficial things. It’s petty, vain, and pretentious, kind of like the stereotypical mean girls we as writers seem so desperate to distance our characters from.
Instead of pouring all our time and effort into figuring out what our female characters are NOT, what if we focused on what they ARE, where they’ve been, and how they shape their future because of it? After all, where we go in life, not what we like, is what really what makes us unique. That’s been my experience anyway.
That’s not to say female characters can’t be low-maintenance, nerdy, awkward and introverted, but when that’s all our females characters are for fear of being “like other girls,” they fall flat. Round them out. Let your female characters be girly, gender-neutral, and boyish in turn. Let them get excited about silly little stuff, because everyone gets excited about silly stuff. Let them get bored of Jane Austen for a minute and have them watch a stupid funny YouTube video for once. Stop being scared that your female characters are going to be like “other girls” and let them just be them.
And, if you’re someone who’s afraid to be “like other girls,” be kind to yourself. Let you be you.
Clipart from www.clker.com.