Oh, to be labeled an Exceptional Female!
"You're not like other girls," goes the would-be compliment. Because most beings like you -- female beings -- are uncool, mystifying, shallow, petty, untalented, irrational, infuriating, terrifying, dumb, insufficiently sexual, too sexual, louder, quieter, worse, lame. Not you, though. No no. Because you're not like other girls.
If you're anything like me, you hear this all the time. And if you're anything like me, you're probably the only kind of woman any dude I know ever really talks to in his day to day life. So we all hear this all the time. Which is ironic. And odds are good that we like it when we hear it, which is the whole problem, or at least the part of the problem that we as women must confront.
All of us humans love to hear that we're special, and we all really are extraordinary creatures who deserve to be seen and celebrated. And we also want to believe that we buck convention and stand out as independent thinkers, that we've figured out how to be our authentic selves while others fall prey to self-imposed stereotypes and repressive social expectations. But people with no Y chromosome make up more than half of the human species. It is only through a deep systemic misogyny that we are invited to buy the argument that by being decent or competent people we are somehow exceptional... for girls.
I tend to get this type of compliment from the men in my life with respect to my sex-positive attitudes and my unconventional stance on sexual ownership and jealousy in my own relationships. And I'm sure that, when some new girlfriend cries every time an ex-girlfriend sends a harmless text, my male friends really are driven to the end of their wits. Rightly so. Of course, there are plenty of men out there who behave in a similar way, perhaps storming off instead of bursting into tears (or however they express insecurity in their gender-normative reality). In that case, the dude in question is generally labeled insecure. In the other case, the jealous female is simply labeled as behaving "like a girl."
Here's an example of where I'm firmly in the "acting like a girl" camp: I tend to write and speak openly about the egregious underrepresentation of women in the arts and entertainment. I know for a fact that many of the most successful women working in these fields enjoy frequent public and private praise for never mentioning the gender gap. Those women get all kinds of primary and secondary benefits from being "not like other girls." The bitter pill they're inherently swallowing, though, is the logical conclusion of this "compliment:" You're definitely not like other girls, because a girl couldn't do your job.
Sometimes men in my life tell me flat out that they're not "typical" guys. And I always agree, with a nod to Socrates. The trait that truly distinguishes all of my friends and most of my acquaintances is the willingness to live an examined life. Everybody in my circle -- men, women, comics, artists, software engineers, bird scientists, doctors, lawyers, bicycle repair people, farmers, teachers, students, parents, children, friends, countrymen -- has made choices informed by a deep expression of who they are instead of what might've been dangled in front of them by society as the lowest hanging fruit. They've questioned the frameworks of traditional marriage and child-rearing, career, religion, philosophy, life, sex, and everything. None of them is strictly bound by race, culture, gender, tribe, ethnicity, sex, or sexual orientation. We live. We grow. We like what we like. We are.
And so, if you are such a woman, and a man (who also aims to take the road less traveled by) comments on your remarkable individuality in such a way as to suggest that other members of our sex are generally incapable of such transcendence, you must stop him. You must resist the urge to feel elevated, promoted, plucked out, exceptional. You must pause, you must question, you must urge him to formulate his impression in a different way.
Because girls, like boys, are so often remarkable. We make art and write books and formulate philosophies that rattle social conventions and force society to move and change and break and think and grow.
Smart girls and boys know girls are people.