Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is, according to Caroline Bingley, “one of those young ladies who seek to recommend themselves to the other sex by undervaluing their own; and with many men.” Her narration continues by saying that “it succeeds. But, in my opinion, it is a paltry device, a very mean art.”
Never mind the fact that Miss Bingley constantly vyes for the attention of Mr. Darcy throughout the novel. Never mind the fact that Elizabeth steals Mr. Darcy’s heart by being herself and remaining protective of her sister. If there’s one thing you must take away from “Pride and Prejudice,” perhaps it’s this: The so-called “pick-me girl,” and a mocking thereof, has existed for at least 200 years.
I’ve been online long enough to remember when posts proclaiming “I’m not like other girls” were earnest, and I can just as well remember when these posts became the butt of the joke — but I cannot believe that in 2023 we are still having the same discussion about these types of girls that we were having years ago.
A girl who is “not like other girls,” also called an “NLOG,” refers to girls who see themselves as different and often superior to the rest of her gender. An NLOG may claim that makeup or fashion are “fake” or “too girly,” may hang out with only guys because “girls are too dramatic” or just put down something they regard as traditionally feminine and therefore unlikeable.
Here I must also make a distinction between an NLOG and a “pick-me.” “Pick-me,” or “PMAB,” originates from Twitter’s #TweetLikeAPickMe and describes the idea of “wifey” material. A “pick-me” demonstrates her traditional femininity and submissiveness and puts down other women in order to attract male attention.
The “pick-me” stereotype and a sarcastic quotation of “I’m not like other girls” often go hand in hand, but there is a slight difference between the two. Just as a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square, a “pick-me” is an NLOG but an NLOG is not inherently a pick-me. In order to reach the goal of being picked, a “pick-me” must differentiate herself from “other girls.” An NLOG, on the other hand, may not have this goal in mind — they may just simply feel different from other girls.
Here’s the thing: I was a bit of a “not like other girls” girl. I assume that probably every other girl I have known was one as well. This is because the reasoning for NLOG behavior is far more complicated than just the desire for male validation.
Do you remember walking through the toy aisles when you were younger? Do you remember the stark divide between pink and blue, between Barbies and baby dolls and Hot Wheels and Legos? Maybe you, like me, enjoyed the color pink or the Disney princesses or wearing pretty dresses, but you probably didn’t love that you could only choose those specific items.
From an early age, us girls were given an often one-dimensional depiction of femininity and womanhood. Women were meant to look effortlessly flawless, never ugly but also never vain. Women were meant to be gentle and supportive, never aggressive or bossy. As we grew older, we were continually fed these stereotypical messages along with the contradictory ideas that overly feminine women were vapid or cruel. We were taught that there was a fine line between too much and too little femininity, and we had to figure out that balance on our own in order to be respected and “one of the good ones.”
This debacle really comes to a head when middle and high school come around. In a time where everyone is going through puberty and managing the steps from adolescence to adulthood, young girls — and young people in general — are also facing identity crises. As teenagers struggle to figure out who they are as individuals, there’s the added pressure of defining one’s gender identity in an individualistic and misogynistic society.
When I was in middle school and considered myself to be “not like other girls,” it wasn’t really for any sort of male validation, but more so the fact that I felt a true sense of difference. In a pretty conservative town, I was still coming to terms with my queer identity when there were few people that were open about their non-cishet identities. To me, “other girls” were the ones outing me before I was ready or calling bisexuality a grab for attention. Of course, I was like other girls — most girls — for feeling this insecurity about not fitting in one way or another in a time when a sense of belonging matters more than ever.
Though it began with good intentions, the criticism over the NLOG phenomenon is often flawed. For one, it ignores the pressure on women to fulfill a certain expectation of womanhood. While femininity has long been subject to male and female mockery, it’s just as true that refusing to conform in a distinctive way means facing equal or even greater scrutiny. At the end of the day, women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Queer women, women of Color, disabled women and generally any women who are denied inclusion or have no interest in Western beauty ideals have been mocked for their own self expression for centuries. The NLOG narrative that women who aren’t traditionally feminine are the ones putting down those who are does not paint a full picture. Internalized misogyny is a two way street coming from both ends of the femininity spectrum, and we certainly don’t become better feminists when we start commenting on a teen girl’s TikTok that she’s “giving pick-me energy.”
We’ve known it for a while; there’s really no right way to be a woman. If I do my makeup, it’s to look more attractive for a man. If I don’t, I’m just trying to impress one by pretending I’m “one of the guys.” There’s no perfect way to be a woman because every action I take is immediately presumed to be done for male attention, not for myself.
It’s unfortunate that what was once a helpful criticism of the reductive roles laid out for women by a patriarchal society has now become fodder for ridiculing young women and girls — and what do we have to show for it when it only furthers the feeling of being ostracized? At a certain point, this call-out behavior is just as performative as the pick-me behavior being criticized.
When it comes down to it, the “other girl” and the NLOG are only stereotypes. Girls, women and people are multifaceted, and we are bound together by what we share in common and ought to celebrate the things that make us different. Dress as much or as little like a Barbie doll as you please. Spend hours on your makeup, or spend no time at all. Embrace the things that make you different, and find joy in connecting over what you share with others. Be as much like other girls as you wish, but don’t hold yourself back from being yourself for yourself.
Audra M. Woehle is an Opinion Columnist who writes about gender and sexuality in popular culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.