Positive Masculinity Contributor - Amy Harris
Policy Research Associate, Former Collegiate Athlete
I’m easy-going, I won’t bat an eye when he flirts with other girls. I’ve got a sense of humor, I’ll stomach all of his crude jokes and make my own to get a laugh. I’m low-maintenance, I don’t need compliments, gifts, or reassurance. I promise, I’m not like other girls.
I have pretended to be that girl, the one who guys want to be around because she’ll put up with anything, and I am not the first woman to do so. This trope has even been solidified in popular culture as the “pick me” or “I’m not like other girls” girl. And while this trope largely applies to female-identifying people, I believe it is an example of toxic masculinity. Indeed, the “pick me” girl looks down upon femininity and prioritizes the male perspective above others, as toxically masculine men do. I have realized, however, that this behavior is as much a symptom of toxic masculinity as it is a display of it.
Internalized misogyny drives women and girls to feed into opinions about what makes a woman undesirable to a man. The deep influence of internalized misogyny on the “I’m not like other girls” attitude means we owe it to women to not simply condemn this behavior, but also examine why it occurs.
The “Pick Me” Mindset
In my experience, being “not like other girls” meant prioritizing praise from boys over the opinions of other women. I laughed at rude jokes, brushed off disrespectful behavior, and echoed complaints about girls, even if they were my friends. In doing so, I separated myself from the girls that were “annoying”, “uptight”, or, worst of all, “clingy” in the minds of the men around me. This behavior nurtured a sense of competition between me and other women — and the winner was the girl who could put up with the most disrespect.
The problem is, there always came a point where I couldn’t fake it anymore. I wish I could say I handled these moments with grace but often I snapped in a magnificent fashion, exposing in an instant that I was in fact capable of being annoying and uptight and clingy. This led to confusion from the men who had come to know me as the girl they could do anything around without consequence and no sympathy from the women I had framed in the opposite light. I built too many shallow relationships on these false grounds and damaged too many friendships in the pursuit of them.
I saw firsthand that being a “pick me” girl hindered my relationships. When behavior such as this is normalized, it also reinforces the worst stereotypes about women. The idea that women are unintelligent, weak, or deceptive emboldens misogyny and legitimizes violence against women – it justifies the belief that women should be forced to live up to the expectations of men.
There are also more subtle consequences of women putting down women in this way. Elle magazine presents the idea that “I’m not like other girls'' behavior trivializes femininity. In other words, by latching on to even seemingly harmless digs against women, girls are dismissing the complex aspects of femininity. This is a disservice to all people, not just women, who can benefit from their own femininity and the femininity of others.
A Missing Piece
The Elle article is self-admittedly “harsh” towards women who exhibit this behavior because of how damaging it can be towards other women. Yet, I believe that simply calling out “pick-me” behavior is a disservice to the women who are caught up in it. This pejorative rhetoric also brings up harmful portrayals of women naturally being catty and vindictive towards one another.
What the Elle article and much of the online discourse on this topic seem to suggest is that this behavior is some display of territory-marking that we should expect from women. What is less often talked about is that women are pitting themselves against one another because it has been ingrained in us that attention from men should be a priority. We are further taught that the best way to secure that attention is to be less like the women men find distasteful and more like their ideal of a woman. Put simply, “pick me” behavior is a knee-jerk response to internalized misogyny and toxic masculinity.
Identifying as “not like other girls” defines a woman's self worth in the terms of men. Instead of promoting this attitude, we should encourage women to find self worth in what makes them them. Future Female describes this process as one of “unlearning and learning”, one in which we look away from the role models we admired because they shunned femininity to be different (think, Taylor Swift in “Love Story”) and turn toward those who express who they are without putting down other women.
I began to grow when I realized that the women around me who were most themselves were the most immune to “pick me” behavior. With this in mind, I started to break down the barriers I had forged with a persona that didn’t represent what I stood for. I looked for new friendships and deepened those I already had, building foundations based on honesty and shared experiences. In being more honest, I stopped being agreeable for agreeableness’ sake — a trait that true friends appreciate.
It is hard to realize that being yourself is the answer when you don’t even know who you are yet, but it is a worthy lesson nonetheless. I hope to continue to learn about who I am and who I can be as a friend, as someone honored to be like other girls.