Let’s talk bookish – The “Not like other girls” trope

Posted 11-06-2021 by Marion in Allgemein, Discussions / 8 Comments

I wanna write more discussion posts. I mean, I always say this but this time I mean it! I want you guys to have something interesting to read and to discuss your opinion on this topic in the comments.

That’s why I’m taking part in Rukky & Dani’s Let’s talk bookish again. I haven’t done that in a while.

The “Not Like Other Girls” Trope

What is the “Not like other girls” trope?

To me it mostly means, that the girl in question is different from others in their age group. I can mean that she likes different things, is more savvy in things her peers are usually not knowledgeable of or mainly just stands out from the group. And easy example here would be that Mary likes football while all the other girls in her class play with dolls.

(Fun fact: There are studies that prove that male babies prefer looking at things that move like a mobile while female babies like looking at faces. So it’s actually biology not social engineering. Also, babies like to play with certain toys regardless of their colour. Just so you know.)

But I also know that when it’s said “You are not like other girls.” then it’s mostly meant in wonder and as a compliment. It’s meant as, “You are not like other girls I know.”

There are, of course, also negative connotations to this trope. I feel that is the reason why this trope is so controversial nowadays. While I want to believe that “You are not like other girls” in MG and YA is mostly meant like described above, in the real world it can also have negative and derogatory meanings like that being a girl means that you are somehow inferior and being “not like other girls” somehow means that you are a credit to your gender.

There are other explanations for this trope but I think that is mostly what it’s used for in MG and YA books.

How I feel about this trope:

I have to admit, I’m a bit on the fence with this trope. It might really depend on my mood when reading the book that features it. Sometimes it also depends on the character this is directed to. Sometime I might like it. Sometimes I don’t. It really depends. I think there are many scenarios were it indeed works. I also think it depends on the context and on the mood the person it’s said to is in.

Imagine the following scenario: The protagonist, let’s call her “Tammy”, has a big family with a lot of sisters. She tends to get lost in the shuffle, overlooked between her siblings, is just one of many. No matter how much she tries, Tammy is just “one of those” and is more seen as a “part of a whole” instead of an individual person. If she is seen as a person, for example by a teacher, it’s mostly to compare her to her sisters. Hearing in this situation that she is not like other girls, might elate her. It might give Tammy a boost in self-convidence and make her happy.

Imagine a different scenario: The protagonist, let’s call her “Sally”, has been a bit different from the others her whole life. Be it the way she dresses or talks or acts. Sally is being shunned by the other girls her age who make fun of her and never let her join in on any of the games they are playing. Hearing in that situation that she is not like other girls, might upset her. I can even see Sally trying as hard as she can to be just like the others after hearing this sentence.

You see, it really depends on the context.

How does this trope apply in the real world?

I think that as a teenager, when everybody is trying to stand out, it might be nice to hear that you are different. I remember a time where I myself thought that I was different from other girls. I was not interested in the same things as they were, be it makeup or boys or whatever passing fancy had struck them that season. Heck, sometimes I still believe it.
I think that our world is in a state nowadays were we are taught to be as individualistic as possible, to express ourselves no matter against whose opinions we oppose or who we hurt with it. We relish in the fact that we have something about ourselves that is entirely our own. Of course we love to hear a confirmation about that from somebody we admire or even somebody we don’t know. I think this is why this trope became so popular in books.

On the other hand I think that we still succumb to peer pressure or, that on our journey to be an individual we end up being all the same person. We all join social media. We cannot escape our human nature of forming a group and to ostracize people who display thraits or behaviours that deviate from the “norm”. (This was a good thing for group survival in the oldern times. It did have it benefits.)

What I’m saying is, that, like in books, telling somebody or hearing from sombody that you are not like the others, really depends on your mindset and context. Mostly it is meant as a compliment.

From a strictly feministic point of view, it can of course be taken as an offense. The phrase “You are not like other girls” can be met with a raised eyebrow and a huffed “What’s wrong with other girls?”. And there is nothing wrong with other girls.
However, I also do not think that that is what is implied. Mostly.
Still, there are nicer ways to tell a girl that she is “different”. (Tell her all the things you like about her. Make her laugh. Tell her she’s the only one for you. Just a suggestion.)

Can this trope be damaging?

This is a question Rukky and Dani were asking and it made me ponder. I understand the worry that a young girl that is maybe not completely sure of herself might think that she has to change herself to find friends.
However, I don’t think that this trope has so much power that it stimulates self-hate or self-harm.


I’m not really on the fence about this trope. I don’t mind it but I am not completely in love with it either. I understand that it is mostly used to pay the female character a compliment. It can be a plot device. I don’t really think it’s hurtful but I think it really depends on context and circumstance and mindset of the character. It should not be used to put the rest of whole gender to shame. It should not be used to lift one person up and put all the others down. That’s not what it should do. As a compliment, to make somebody happy, I think it’s fine and I don’t mind reading it in that context.

What do you think? Do you agree with me on this topic? What is your opinion? Do you like/dislike this trope?

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8 responses to “Let’s talk bookish – The “Not like other girls” trope

  1. simsalabim24

    It’s great you try more discussion posts, especially about a trope and then even one about girls/women! I research a lot to such topics for my personal interest (but more with regard to movies/tv shows). 🙂

    I appreciate your optimistic view about it and your conviction that it can be used for good.
    It is the question when it’s indeed this trope because you alway want your protagonist to stand out of course and not few supernatural/fantastic stories with a chosen-one-protagonist begin with the idea “they seemed to be just a normal girl/boy but they weren’t!” If you count this as this trope or in case of your examples it can be fine to use this trope. (But for your second example it would be good if Sally learns the lesson in the end that she is fine as she is and doesn’t have to change.)

    Additionally some thoughts:
    “So it’s actually biology not social engineering.” Your apparent certainty there signaled through the phrasing “actually…not” irritates me. If then it’s definetly both. This seems the scientific consensus but there is also additionally enough personal experience. There are several girls who don’t like to play with dolls but are expected to and there are boys who want to play with them but are still today shamed for it. However I will look for this study, thx for the new information.

    “it’s mostly meant in wonder and as a compliment.” You don’t need to view it “from a strictly feministic point of view” (this framing irks me a little…) to recognize the following: With this exact wording you are seen as the exception of the norm. This implication is there. And so the social expectations are cemented again. (–> Die Ausnahme bestätgit die Regel.). There don’t have to be a mean intention while still generalizing a whole gender group.

    I think a lot teenagers (or already earlier) go through this phase where they distance themselves of social expectations to find their own identity. However during this I also experienced some internalized misogyny. I hated the color pink because I just hated to be pressured to like it as girl and raised an eyebrow over girls who liked it. I experienced moments when I wanted to avoid to be shamed for “girly” behavior and interests and so also looked a little down on girls who enjoyed openly shopping, make-up, fangirling for their prominent crush etc. Here again perfectly pictured: https://i.pinimg.com/736x/33/29/43/332943ee49601c0f1adf2acad8964f35.jpg
    Their is a general internalized disdain for things (teenage) girls like in our culture (sometimes more sometimes less), e. g. here briefly pointed out:
    And here a great analysis of another trope (“the cool girl”) which is connected to your mentioned one where the problematic aspects are pointed out:
    This all resonates with “not like other girls” for me.

    TLTR : You can of course look at it as you like but in my eyes “Not like other girls” is hardly ever “just” a compliment because it transports the expectation how you should behave and what you should like as a girl. However in a story you could probably underline the specialness of a character through distancing them from their gender peer group. For figuring this out I would need to look more in detail into such characters…

    • simsalabim24

      PS: Really love your new design! Great choices! (My favorite color is orange and foxes are one of my favorite animals. ^^) <3

    • Hey, I just fished your comment out of my spam folder, so sorry for the late reply. (Links and pictures tend to get flagged but thanks for including them anyway.)

      I know that many people have different views on this topic. Since this is (mostly) a MG blog, I’m mostly looking at it through the MG lense, where it’s handled rather well imo. Here it’s really mostly used in a positive manner since these books are targeted at children in that age group. It’s one of the reasons why I like that genre so much, for it’s positivity and good values.

  2. I really love the redesign, it’s so bright and the fox is really cute!! Also, it’s great to see you participating in LTB again! I hope it helps you with writing more discussions.
    I understand your approach to the trope here, and you’re not wrong: there’s definitely a good side to it where it can be seen as a good thing to be unlike other girls/people. But like you said, I think it’s generally done in a bad way in books and that’s why I find it problematic in that world. It kind of creates the idea that these “other girls” are too weak to be the saviors of the world. And it gets really annoying really fast to hear how special these girls are by being different, so for the most part, I dislike it. But it was interesting to read your perspective ❤

    • Hm, I think the big difference is that I read so much MG. You rarely ever find that trope portrayed negatively there, if portrayed at all. I feel like you find it negativly mostly in movies or real live.
      The more I think about it, the less I can think of the last book that had that trope in it.

  3. I think this idea only works in certain contexts. Ok, a girl in a historical fiction novel where the “other girls” are upperclass young ladies won’t be “like them” if she’s into knives and archery and martial arts. It’s fair to say she’s different. But the implication that she’s better or more interesting makes it annoying. Knowing how to murder someone with a knife shouldn’t make the character “better” than someone who knows how to dance and embroider. (And really some books go out of their way to go on and on about how the other girls are all frivolous simpletons who only care about their clothes.)

    • I have to admit, I don’t really have any experiences with books where they go on an on and on about how different she is and how much worse the others are. I get that that can be annoying.
      I guess in a context like that the trope is not really desirable, although I feel that this would only happen in a novel with a “bad” author because it would mean that the author doesn’t really bother with the side characters to find a richer innerlife for those other girls?

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