To be different from other girls: on misogyny, inside and out

I am not like other girls.

Perhaps you are here because you are not, either.  Some variation on the words “I’m different from normal girls” is one of the top reasons people come to this website from searching online.

*     *     *

I am different from other girls.  For years, in my teens and early twenties, I said and believed this.  Now that I am older, and have met more people–particularly more people from many ages and walks of life–I realize what was really happening.  Believing myself to be different from other girls was the first step toward internalizing and then externalizing misogyny that took years to purge from my system.

The process by which woman is turned against woman is seductive, elegant.  Would you like to know more?

*     *     *

I’m not like other women.  You begin by telling this lie that feels like a truth to a thousand people–some women, yes, but mostly men.  Of course, this does not stop people from treating you, frustratingly, “like a woman.”  Men talking over you–bringing up an idea you’d just articulated and crediting it to the man who spoke it second–being relegated to second-class status in relationships–these were the things you wanted desperately to escape.  The pink-patterned walls of femininity, the interests confined to the superficial and the domestic, looked like a prison to you.

Of course, just declaring oneself to be different was not enough.  Even having genuine, longstanding interests dominated by men was not enough.  There was always a new shibboleth, a new way that men could decide you were a garbage person after all.  And “garbage person” meant woman, first and foremost–whether you hung out with the jocks who liked their garbage people on the sidelines at the game, or the nerds who liked their garbage people on the sidelines watching them play video games.

*     *     *

I’m not a typical woman.  I’m more like “one of the boys.”  In fact, other women bore me to death.  If you wanted to hear what was really going on, what was going on in the world of men, not the people forced to their periphery, you had to go undercover.

But men wouldn’t just believe you.  Did you think it would be that easy?  You’re going to have to say something about women when you join in with a group of men.  Something bad.  Something that doesn’t just separate you from them explicitly, but makes it clear that you don’t really think they’re worthy of attention, respect, or possibly full human status.

So you try out a few easy pieces of misogyny.  They don’t have to be sophisticated.  A cruise ship comedian’s material should do the trick.  After a few, something changes in the men’s faces. The relaxation of these groups, all at once, as if a signal has been given, will come to look after a few years like a sign as distinctive as the soft click of a key fitting into a lock.

You are in.

*     *     *

Women are such a pain in the ass.  Men start telling the stories soon after you start hanging out with the group.  Stories of misogyny, usually subtle at first.  You quickly learn that the men react best when you respond with a story about a woman in your own life who is “crazy” or “a bitch.”

You come prepared with these stories.  They are armor, proof that men can say whatever they want around you.  No censorship.  Nothing off-limits.

And as you wait long enough, they’ll start.

*     *     *

No, it’s okay, I can’t stand women, either, and I’m one of them!  It doesn’t take long to realize they don’t just want a place with no censorship.  They want to tell you the stories.

The stories of the worst acts men have done to women will start to come out if you express virulent enough misogyny in front of them.  Amy Schumer has used this phenomenon to great effect in her comedy show.  After this has happened to you several times, in several different groups, you will start to ask yourself why it is happening.  Then you will realize:

The “one of the guys” woman is there for one key purpose: absolving masculinity of its responsibility for misogyny.

They tell you these stories not because you are actually welcomed as equal to men in their group, but because you are a woman, and because they believe on some level that only a woman can tell them that their actions are not so bad after all.

*     *     *

I can’t stand other women.  Catty and superficial, every one.  You start to realize the role you are playing, and you start testing new responses, trying to see if you can undo the damage you now feel you’ve inflicted on yourself and other women.  You start to try rolling your eyes at the most sexist jokes, or clearing your throat and uncomfortably walking away when someone talks about that time they had sex with a developmentally disabled prostitute.

It only takes a few times before you’re called a bitch.  You used to be funny, the men tell you.  You used to be cool.  What’s up?  On your period?  Maybe one of those feminists got to you.  Don’t go all feminist on us.  Promise us you won’t go all feminist.

*     *     *

Bitches, am I right?  After a while, you know they’re misogynists.  You even realize you’re perpetuating it yourself, but you can’t stop.

You see, you’ve discovered something vital: When you act like a misogynist, men will behave at their true, underlying level of misogyny.  You will have, for instance, discovered several men of your acquaintance who have committed rape and justified it, and you will have guarded yourself against being in rooms alone with them afterward.  These are men who, had you only associated with them in groups considered “mixed company,” with girls who weren’t “one of the guys” there, you’d have thought were personable and normal.  Behind the man door, they view women as inhuman.

The information you get behind the scenes becomes important to judging these men as potential dangers.  One of the reasons rape and sexual assault survivors often engage in this kind of misogyny is as a way of filtering out the most dangerous men by allowing them room in which to discuss their actual levels of violence and woman-hatred rather than the level they deem socially appropriate in mixed-sex settings.

*     *     *

I’m not like most other girls.  But there is a way out.  It has to do with undoing the notion that you, unlike other women, have a full and complete inner life and a rational mind.

It has to do with realizing that every woman in the world is a human being, and that the trappings of femininity aren’t about women wanting to live in the pink prison–they’re about finding yourself in a prison, then told the only thing you’re allowed to do to make your stay more pleasant is decorate the bars.  After time, the decorations would inspire pride in their makers, as they’d spent time and energy on them, but they’d still be only aesthetic improvements on the very structure keeping you incarcerated.  Some might even help to prop up the prison as a structure.

Many–even most–women may be more invested in the trappings of femininity than you are.  But that doesn’t make you any less of a female, or less of a woman.

The way out of the pink prison isn’t to try to plan a solo midnight escape to the cigar-smoking, whiskey-drinking land of blue that lies beyond.  If you travel that path, you will find yourself again in service to men–to the absolution of their misogyny, to servicing their egos.  Instead, you must try to find the other women who are dying to get out, band together with them, and kick against the prison walls until they fall down.

Keep in mind that the women who’ve devoted their lives to decorating the bars aren’t trying to work against you.  Many just didn’t know that kicking was an option.  Instead of fighting them, help them to find their legs.

*     *     *

I’m not like other girls.  But I am like other girls.  When it comes to the groups of women you once found alienating and hard to talk to, they may stay alienating and hard to talk to.  But you will find points of commonality, and you will find shared humanity.  The types and groups of women you once thought incomprehensible will begin to make sense to you, and you’ll begin to figure out new ways of identifying dangerous men (to start with, the ones who get angry when you call them out on misogyny).

Take the first step.  You’re like other girls, at least some other girls.  Some other women are like you, even if you’re a six-foot-two, or a heart surgeon, or annoyed as hell by women’s fashion.  Understand that separating yourself from the rest of women isn’t making a wider gender spectrum–it’s narrowing the definition of what “woman” means.

If you’re a female, you are like other women.  And that’s something that’s just fine to be.

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16 thoughts on “To be different from other girls: on misogyny, inside and out

  1. A very fine essay, thoughtful and thought-provoking. I’m old enough to remember when learning to hate other women was seen as a mark of maturity, and thanks to transmania and liberal feminism, I see that horror returning. Thanks for reminding me always to stand with women.

    • Who cares about men, LoL. I could even bet that they see “such women” as WORSE than “other women”. Not the same at all. They are the witches. (you can replace “w” by “b”) Men spend so much energy to convince us that a woman developing her inner life is on the wrong path and is useless. Useless in a misogynist society, that is. There must be a reason for it. Fortunately some women, the ones who escaped the pink prison don’t live for men, but for themselves and other women, so no, it’s not their “ultimate tragedy” if men are unable or unwilling to see them as they are. You could say that such women are the ultimate tragedy for men (and the cosmetic industry), for women’s sole goal in life should be to get men’s approval by being sexy or trying to be their buddies. They don’t want women to be grounded, they want women to be totally dependent of their precious gaze. When you allow someone to place the center of your life outside yourself, you can be more easily manipulated and “designed” in a way that is not yours.

  2. Oh, how I needed to read this… burst into tears at the start of the last paragraph and haven’t stopped crying since. I will be carrying these words — these truths — with me for a long, long time (and right through the summer, on to Michigan). Thank you so much for writing and sharing this!

  3. Yeah, well. The women who bullied and shunned me throughout my life, for being unable to perform their narrow, consumerist brand of ‘femininity’ are the ones who pushed me into setting myself apart this way. Blame them for their misogyny. Blame them for throwing other women under the bus. Do not shame me for my natural, protective response to years of abuse.

    • Your “natural response” is misogyny and to assume that these women represent the way all women are, instead of seeking out other people to hang out with? This is like men who say “why are all men bitches?” when they refuse to even associate with women who don’t meet social normative requirements.

      I’ve been bullied and shunned by women, too. I’m sorry you experienced it, it really sucks. The “natural, protective” response you describe is not being “shamed.” It’s being criticized. Critique and “shame” are not the same thing. You are the one feeling shame; no one is telling you that you should feel ashamed. Perhaps your shame is trying to tell you something.

      • Eh, I hated femininity-performing women, too, for a long time. However, I hated boys more. Boys bullied me, girls just shunned me. That’s a meaningful difference.
        I admit that I still hate SOME male-identified women, because they are actively bullying me (mostly on behalf of males, interestingly). However, that’s more hate of the emotional kind. Rationally, I know that they have to live under patriarchy, too, and that is sucks for them, too.
        I’ll even admit that I sometimes wish they’d be harmed by patriarchy so that they would finally realize what they are doing. Not noble or ethically right emotions, but I have them. No need to feel ashamed. It IS a natural response. Thing is, one needs to get over that and see the real oppressor.

  4. ” One of the reasons rape and sexual assault survivors often engage in this kind of misogyny is as a way of filtering out the most dangerous men by allowing them room in which to discuss their actual levels of violence and woman-hatred rather than the level they deem socially appropriate in mixed-sex settings.”

    I never realized that. Interesting point. Makes sense. Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer, etc. One needs to know the danger.
    (But wouldn’t it be nice if the “one of the guys” women shared this information with other women? Assuming, of course, that the other women would believe them. *sigh*)

  5. thank you so much for this. i just realized last week that i was filling this role and am now trying to find a way out of it.

  6. Thanks for this essay, I identified with it very strongly with it as this is what I did throughout my 20s.

    For me it came as a reaction to years of sexual harassment from men on one side, and rejection from straight women for being queer, on the other. Plus a hatred of female beauty norms and resentment at those who upheld them. I felt, as I suspect most of us do, deeply vulnerable.

    ‘Siding with the power’ made me feel safer, and as though I was identifying my way out of a target group, although ironically it just meant spending more time in the company of abusive men.

    My 30s are for building strong female friendships.

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