“I’m not like other girls.” It’s a common phrase many may have heard, especially from girls describing themselves. Often these girls separate themselves from things commonly associated with femininity: the color pink, dresses and even other girls.
Rebecca Jennings, an internet culture reporter at Vox, said this phenomenon is closely tied to how women are portrayed in history and by the media.
“If all you’re exposed to is this idea of other girls that you see often in books and movies … it’s easy to be like, ‘Well, I’m not like that, I’m a real person,’ ” she said.
However, the problem of the “not like other girls” phenomenon extends beyond how girls interact and perceive one another. It transcends socioeconomics, race, careers and positions of authority. And when girls are made to believe they can’t participate in certain areas and roles, their voices are often silenced and pushed down further, said Candice Flint, chairwoman of the newly established Santa Fe Women’s Commission. That, according to Flint, is why elevating women’s voices is so important.
“I think when [girls] don’t see representation of themselves, they think that they can’t do it,” she said.
Meghan Kaschner, a senior at Sacramento Country Day School in Sacramento, Calif., agreed, telling Generation Next: “The only movies I saw played in school were like Disney princess movies. And for me, that was pretty harmful because I didn’t want to be a princess. So how am I going to imagine my future if I don’t really have someone to look up to?”
And while media portrayals may seem like a trivial problem, the messages media send is a double-edged sword: When used correctly, the impact can be amazing.
“With my traditions, I’m taught [that my] place is in the kitchen,” said Ashlyn Tenorio, a senior at Santa Fe Indian School. “I feel like media would help with that, if women were portrayed as if they could just do it on their own, that they don’t need a man. I feel like that would have a huge effect on women.”
Isabella Oyler Vermooten, a junior at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Kan., told Generation Next when girls see themselves in the media, they see a message: You are not alone.
This can often be especially true for people of color, said Indira Tho-Biaz Wilder, a senior at The MASTERS Program.
“I know I have a lack of representation in the media and my own community because there’s no Black population here. I don’t see myself reflected really anywhere,” she said.
Wilder said an important part of coming to terms with differences has to do with seeing and talking to others with similar identities and experiences; this can help inspire girls to embrace their differences.
The portrayal of women in history is also closely tied to their lack of a platform; Flint says men often predominantly occupy positions of power, making it so women have less say in the changes and regulations that are enforced.
“Traditionally, men have been in power, so they control more of that narrative,” Flint said.
This often means the contributions of women are overlooked, Vermooten said. She pointed to examples in history like physicist Marie Curie, whose husband received the majority of recognition for her work; he had to complain to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences that she was not credited in the team’s original nomination for a Nobel Prize in 1903, ultimately making her the first woman to receive the award.
Lila Quezada, a sophomore at New Mexico School for the Arts, has observed this lack of representation in her own educational curriculum.
“I feel like in history books [we] are really taught about everything that men have done,” she said. “There’s hardly anything about what women have done throughout all of history.”
That’s because often when women explore new roles or even excel in traditional ones, they aren’t taken as seriously as men.
“Society places a huge amount of reverence for sports, tech and business, whereas we ridicule things that we think of as women’s spaces,” Jennings said. “Even cooking is only taken seriously when it’s done by [male] chefs.”
Jennings said this applies to teenage girls as well and takes a toll on their self-image as well as their perception of their peers. Girls are often made to feel as if they can’t enjoy anything without being ridiculed for it. One such example Jennings described is the idea of VSCO girls, a subculture of mostly middle-class teenage girls who are ridiculed for wearing big T-shirts and scrunchies, and even their personal interests.
Despite the fact there is still a long way to go in terms of equal representation of women in media, Flint said she is optimistic about the direction in which the representation and elevation of women’s voices is being taken; she points to the first female vice president and the first female referee for this year’s Super Bowl as examples of the broad range of careers women are entering.
“These are two very different arenas and areas of influence,” she said. “And girls will watch the Super Bowl today, and they’re going to think, ‘One day, I can do that, too.’ ”