This is a phrase that gets cyclically dissected in social media these days. The last time its bones got picked, I saw it being portrayed as a phrased used by women to men as a defensive measure to make themselves look better. It was said to be a distancing tool, wielded to earn better treatment. As in, “I’m not like other girls, so don’t treat me the way you treat other girls. Treat me with respect.”
Okay. That is clearly true for others in situations outside my experience. But this is my blog, where I talk about me, and that narrative doesn’t match my life. So, let me tell you my story. Not interested? That’s all good. I am hardly a mainstream example of anything. Except, y’know, white, married, educated, employed, not-poor privilege. I’m all that.
I’m only saying, I did say those words, and I meant them, but it was never said(and I doubt was ever interpreted) with the meaning stated above. Bottom line, though: I’m not speaking for anyone else.
When I used that phrase with men (and I haven’t in over 25 years) I was saying it to reassure guys who were afraid to trust me. These were guys over whom I held all the power of acceptance or rejection in the social dynamic. They were accustomed to dismissal and outright derision from women who were not interested in scruffy-haired comic-reading, math-obsessed, Monty-Python-quoting fantasy-RPG playing men. I was saying to those men, “I know the rejection you feel, for I, too, am a social outlier.”
And in an aside, those same women were the ones who actively, vocally refused association with me because I was a scruffy-haired, flannel-wearing, moisturizer-indifferent science-obsessed weird girl. Just saying.
And back then when my overwhelmingly male social circle said disparaging things about women followed by, “but we don’t mean you, you’re not like them,” I called them out on it, oh, yes I did. Mostly by pointing out that I was indeed female and emphatically did identify with the “girls” they were dissing. Sometimes by simply tugging my collar and doing an ostentatious boob check. (how often? usually? always? I can’t judge from memory. I know I had a whole repertoire of comebacks memorized by junior year in college.)
I never felt “better than” other girls. I was measurably isolated in my differences. I had damned few compatriots in my limited peer group and fewer adults as role models. Until college, I knew three women who read SFF. My physics teacher, her daughter, and one classmate in a high school class of 700. (And four I met in summer camp. We shared two unforgettable, brilliant, giddy weeks fighting light saber flashlight battles and talking about The Dark Is Rising, but we had no internet to hold us together when the dream weeks ended, and we never saw each other again. The end.)
I met a couple more women SF gaming nerds in college. By which I mean two. TWO. But sure, there were always some other girls like me. When I said “I’m not like other girls,” to guys I was never declaring myself a unicorn who should be revered, just a member of a shared minority. And it was accepted in that same sense by guys who were not like other guys. Our geeky awakening was a shared, culturally alienated phase where all of us were truly wasn’t like almost any other people we knew.
The men I hung with, back in the day (and now) treated women with respect. No, really. They tried, to the best of their ability and experience and blind privilege. And when they didn’t get it right, they got read the riot act (and told me I was being emotional, got read MORE riot acts until they eventually learned.)
We stuck with our passions, me and my guy-exclusive social circle, the world turned around us slowly, nerd culture became mainstream, and I no longer had to reassure men I understood difference. These days I can’t swing a cat without hitting nerdly women and men in every walk of life.
If I was 20 years younger, I would’ve had girl friends who didn’t turn away from magic stories in junior high and start shunning me. I would’ve had Harry Potter-raised, video-gaming adept girl buddies. I never would’ve said I wasn’t like other girls to men, because my sisters in nerdliness would’ve stepped up beside me and I would’ve been like them all along, loving nerdy guys and girls right back.
The glory of nerd passion is that it can be discovered and embraced at any age, by anyone, so women of my advanced age have discovered SFF and video gaming and comics over the years too. (When curiosity meets ubiquity, magic happens) I am now like so many other girls it makes my heart sing and my head spin with giddy joy.
But. I do still use equivalents of that phrase with women to this day. These days, it is a different defensive shorthand, explaining in the language of the groups I move through that I don’t enjoy things they assume (nay, insist) I should and must like because of my gender. What I actually say is something more like, “I know <X> is a popular thing, but it isn’t my thing.” They’re the ones who nigh-invariably translate that to “well, you’re not like other women.” Which is patently not true, and I will call it out when I have the energy, but there’s only so much ingrained prejudice I can fight. If they want to think me different, well, then, bless their hearts.
Battles. I pick them.