Why the "Not Like Other Girls" Trope Needs to Die in a Fire

If you're a reader of YA books, you've probably encountered that protagonist. The (most often female) main character whose mysterious nature and odd quirks are only matched by her lack of an actual personality. When confronted by other characters about her uniqueness, she smiles and pulls out some variation of the classic line: "I'm not like other girls."

And thus, another manifestation of the much-hated "Not like other girls" trope is born.

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I loathe this trope. But why exactly is it so problematic? Well, to quote the relevant page from tvtropes.org, "By saying that your intelligence, sense of humor, or independence make you "different from other guys/girls," it's implied that the rest of your gender sucks." I think we can all agree that's not the best message to get across.

Obviously, most writers who are guilty of this trope have no intention of insulting people. They simply want their characters to be unique and memorable -- don't we all? However, that brings me to the second reason why "Not like other girls" needs to die in a fire:

It's lazy writing.

Writers shouldn't need to shove their character's uniqueness in people's faces -- it should already be obvious to the reader through powerful character development. A complex, well-written character is never like other girls/guys, because they are an individual, believable person.

Not to mention that most of the time, the trait that supposedly makes the character unique is actually pretty common. Saying "I'm not like other girls because I don't need a man," or "I'm not like other girls because I focus on school instead of parties" completely ignores the fact that thousands of other girls are exactly the same. Therefore, this claim of uniqueness only succeeds in convincing the reader that the character is a) stuck-up, and b) not actually that unique.

Another common theme with this trope is that many authors try to show a character's special-snowflake-ness by giving them quirky physical characteristics or unusual hobbies. It's perfectly fine to have a character who dyes their hair crazy colors or is obsessed with an obscure series of video games, but that doesn't make them special or better than everyone else. Real people have varied interests. It's not that weird.

The final manifestation of the "Not like other girls" trope is when a character is a Mary Sue -- practically perfect in every way. I don't think I need to elaborate on why this is also lazy writing.

Of course you want your characters to be unique and special. But they should be unique and special because of their complexity, development, and actions; not because of some superficial trait. And they certainly shouldn't feel the need to comment on their specialness.

We writers owe it to our readers to create great characters. Let's go out and do it.

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