This post is inspired by another well-written post I just read, that discusses the Me vs. Other Girl trope seen frequently in popular young adult films and literature. Basically, many female protagonists of YA fiction are described as being unique and “not like other girls”. What this usually implies is that the protagonist is ‘unusually’ smart, nice, emotionally resilient, down-to-earth, independent, and ‘strong’ compared to the other ‘typical girls’ – her peers/antagonists who are superficial, catty, dumb, and dramatic.
In chick flicks, the antagonist usually takes the form of a “mean girl”, usually blonde, preppy, and/or a cheerleader. It is commonly portrayed in the dichotomy of the smart, intellectual, nerdy, casual-dressing girl vs. the pretty, very fashionable/pink-wearing, shopaholic, and catty girl.
Practically every Cinderella Story remake, with the Cinderella being a ‘Me’ and her stepsisters being the ‘Others.’
The Trope in Real Life
While such a protagonist may seem like an empowering role-model for women, there is something sexist about her portrayal as significantly unique in her traits. It actually perpetuates the negative stereotypes of women in general: that they are by default catty, shallow, and dumb. It also implies that it is bad to be “girly” and wear make-up, skirts, and high heels. When other girls try to take after these “empowering” role models (like I myself once had) they usually find themselves under a lot of pressure to meet some narrow standards. As a girl, you are expected to be girly, but if you choose to wear a dress and heels, you risk being labeled as preppy or shallow. The Me vs. Other Girls trope also puts pretty/feminine and smart on two ends of a spectrum, and it feels like you can’t be one without canceling out the other.
When we project these same narrow standards on other girls, it leads very easily to harsh judgment. Laci Green explains it very well in this video. It is thinking that you are the only girl who reads, plays video games, or studies math or science. It compels some girls to call another girl a slut for wearing a sexy dress or for flirting with boys. Shallow for wearing too much make-up, or weak for showing emotion.
From my personal experience, buying into this trope made me feel that, as a woman, I had no inherent value unless I met some groundbreaking standards: being supermodel gorgeous AND fiercely intelligent AND strong. Dressing exactly the right way so that people didn’t find me too high maintenance, but “laidback”, and having exactly the right amount of partners so that I wasn’t too prudish/slutty. The standards get ridiculous. Just acknowledging that we don’t have to fit such unrealistic expectations can relieve us of a lot of pressure, insecurity, and feelings of competition with fellow women. Remember, other women aren’t the problem. Negative stereotypes are.