“I’m not like other girls!” and Pole Merchandising

Can. We. Just. Stop.

If you’ve posted about pole dance on Facebook even once, you’ve probably seen one of those super ad-keywordy t-shirt companies advertise something like this to you:

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…and I’m sick of it.

The “not like other girls” narrative is toxic as hell.

Pick-me (Noun)

1. A person who constantly begs for attention, acceptance or inclusion with another group, most commonly the opposite sex.

Example:

A: “Unlike all those other girls who party every weekend and hook up with randos I’ll be at home with pizza, Netflix and my cat. I’m sooOOOoo quirky lol”

B: “A, stop being such a pick-me ass bitch”

Otherwise known as being a pick-me, the concept of being “not like other girls” has sprung up from a hell of a lot of internalised misogyny.

In other words, it’s attempting to demonstrate that you are better than other women because you don’t fit the misogynistic stereotypes of women or have typically masculine traits.

And unfortunately, it feels like a lot of women who display this kind of internalised misogyny often don’t even realise they’re doing it.

Hell, when I was a teenager, I was a huge pick-me.

A lot of my time would be spent thinking things like “ugh, all these girls in class wearing their makeup and going out underage drinking. I actually pay attention to what’s important, like grades and World of Warcraft”.

…yeah. Criiiiinge.

As I got older and learned about feminism I started to realise that this attitude actually came from the internalised misogyny I was raised with as a young girl. Makeup was seen as a thing that dumb girls obsessed over and middle aged women used to convince people they weren’t ageing. Anything that wasn’t to do with my education was dumb and pointless, and clearly not important in life. Yup, even my obsession over World of Warcraft was apparently a super healthy thing for a teenage girl and made me fun and quirky and “not like the other girls!”

It took college for me to see that I was feeding into this toxic narrative.

My friendship groups for the vast majority of my life in education could be categorised as the ‘outcasts’.

When I started doing my A-Levels I understandably gravitated towards people who shared interests with me, and these were the people I spent pretty much every day with during my two years at college.

Unlike in secondary school where the ‘outcast’ group were actual social outcasts from the silly hierarchies teenagers create, my college friendship group wasn’t really anything like that at all.

We all had a shared love of science fiction and fantasy, sure. A couple of us were keen writers and wrote fanfiction together about the shows we loved.

Fanfiction that has burned in the fires of time and will never be seen again. Oh boy.

But as I learned more about feminism, the more I learned how much misogyny was behind what I thought I knew about being a woman.

One woman who shared some classes with me came into college with a full face of makeup every day and had ambitions of going into social care to help kids going through trauma.

I couldn’t be arsed with makeup and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; I only knew I liked writing.

The women who went out partying over the weekend were just as academic as those of us who spent their weekends at home, surrounded by tea and cats.

We all had dreams and ambitions, and we all applied ourselves to those regardless of how we presented our femininity.

I learned that actually, I am like other girls – and that’s not a bad thing.

The kind of people who say they’re “not like other girls” often do so because they think presenting themselves as “other girls” do – typically shown in these instances to be very feminine – is inherently negative.

For the longest time I didn’t take any interest in how I dressed, wearing makeup or caring for my skin because I’d grown to learn these things were vapid and shallow, and clashed directly with intellectual pursuit.

Obviously I know now that my female brain is more than capable of creating killer winged eyeliner and taking an interest in psychology at the same time.

Like other girls, I enjoy wearing makeup – but I don’t think this comes attached with some bullshit moral value.

I don’t think wearing makeup makes me better than people who don’t, nor do I think only wearing makeup when I feel like doing it makes me worse than the people who wear it all the time.

Over the years, the concept of femininity has come bundled with a whole load of assumptions about the people who present that way.

If you’re a cis woman then you’re weak, vapid, submissive and shallow.

If you’re anything but a cis woman you’re clearly gay, confused, or downright weird.

It’s no wonder that, in order to avoid the misogyny that follows femininity, some people go out of their way to distance themselves from that.

So how does this relate to pole merchandising?

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As I mentioned before, we’ve all probably seen t-shirts, mugs, or various other things with prints like this.

Prints that seem to equate the fact that pole dancing makes you “not like other girls”.

I think the worst offender is this:


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Look at it this way: on the left you have the ‘bathroom woman’, or the symbol of a generic woman that graces the likes of public restrooms and changing rooms. On the right, you have a more realistic image of a woman.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a problem inherent to pole dance, and presents a wider problem of not only women pitting themselves against each other, but spouses of women doing the same thing too.

“But Emma, aren’t you taking this all a bit too seriously?”

I mean, maybe.

These kinds of products are intended to be funny, after all, and are the kinds of things pole dancers may buy their significant others as a joke.

At the same time though, I have to question why it’s funny in the first place.

There’s a certain level of possessiveness I feel comes with t-shirts like these, jokey as they are, because they feel like a way of signifying that their partner is in a relationship with the “cool girl”, while their friends aren’t.

To me, they say “My girlfriend/wife isn’t like other girls”.

It’s saying “My girlfriend/wife is better than other women because unlike the stereotypical vapid nature I think comes along with femininity, she has hobbies like a real person”

And it annoys the hell out of me.

There is an argument to be made that this kind of merchandise is made for spouses, but 90% of the time I see products like this advertised to me because various algorithms have picked up that I am a pole dancer.

So I am actively being advertised products that encourage me to try and make myself seem better than other women – does this seem fair?

Just because you do a hobby that’s not traditionally feminine doesn’t mean you’re “not like other girls”.

This is really the crux of the matter, and goes back to what I was saying earlier about how in today’s society we often denounce anything specifically feminine.

Having hobbies, interests and loves is normal for anyone, regardless of gender identity or how they express that.

Loving makeup and spending hours playing with new techniques is just as valuable as spending hours conditioning for and practicing your inverts, if that’s what makes you happy.

If you don’t get the appeal of contemporary or lyrical pole dance but love exotic or stripper style, it doesn’t make you any better or worse than other pole dancers.

I think it’s about damn time we realised that there’s no such thing as this mythical stereotype that everyone wants to get away from – and if women enjoy doing things like wearing Uggs, getting their eyebrows on fleek and going for brunch, who the hell are we to say they shouldn’t do what they love.

So instead of following the ridiculous conflictive narrative of things like this:

How about we all be a little more like this:


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