Iwas at a function recently where an aunt left me with a two year old and the words, “Don’t worry, she’s not like other babies.” She was on her way to lunch before I could ask what other babies are like that the one in my arms is not. In the thirty minutes I spent simultaneously watching a video on my phone and the baby on the floor I realised that the former was possible only because the baby was absorbed in her toys like I was in mine and did not cry for her grandmother. So ‘not like other babies’ meant unlike those who cry. But surely there are other babies who don’t cry, so the one in question here is certainly like other babies if the stereotype of crying babies was to be struck off for good.
While waiting for my baby-watch to be over I spent a considerable amount of time giving thought to how the same applies to the ‘other girls’ phrase. “You’re not like other girls!” is used frequently as a compliment and a whole lot of women take pride in saying I’m not like other girls, or any of its variations, to imply that they identity more with the boys as in the case of ‘I have more guys as friends than girls’. We have all definitely said it or heard it from those around us. It’s happened to me too - the compliment, and for years I did not want to be ‘like other girls’.
I can’t choose which is worse between being complimented for not being like other women, and hearing women say, “I’m not like others”, because they both stem from the notion that a typical woman is dramatic, emotional, superficial and cares only about appearances or men, and thereby inferior to those who are uninterested or disengaged from all things ‘feminine’. The underlying tone of these statements that the girls who are unlike ‘other girls’ are in fact ‘better’. Young women imbibe that it is not good enough to be like other women, and grow up with hate for their own gender. In a society that endlessly compares women, categorising them as good and bad and in a culture that thrives on pitting women with each other, how much choice do women really have? Very little.
But a little google search brought me to a widely popular and much written about Instagram account called I am like other girls run by visual artists Tara Anand and Ellie Lee. Crowd sourced caricatures fill the page each from a different woman, all beginning with a thing they do and ending with ‘I am like other girls’. ‘I make the first move and I am like other girls’ says one, ‘I am a foodie and I am like other girls’ says another, and as one scrolls down further and further, it is to become aware that a gender cannot be generalised, and however different you are, that there are more people out there like you.
The page puts a spin on ‘I’m not like other girls’, to say ‘There are other girls like me’ building solidarity from difference and empowering through diversity. I wish Anand and Lee made a book of this project that will be in every home and school library, till womanhood has no typical and no others. I may have had little choice, like other girls but I now have hope, like so many other girls.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton