The Clique and Being Not Like Other Girls
The phrase ‘not like other girls’ has been so painfully run into the ground that women get accused of having this mentality based on every seemingly nothing. But what has been left out of this discussion, if it can be called that, are the girls who are in some way actually othered.
Treating the mentality of feeling like someone is not like other girls like something embarrassing or something to grow out of implies that eventually girls who feel ostracized will eventually realize they actually are like all of the other girls. It also implies that the othering of oneself is entirely a choice, rather than the product of a society that punishes women and girls for failing to behave in line with the behavioral expectations given to them. Yet again, girls who exist outside of the appropriate behaviors for women and girls are punished for experiencing hurt, rather than meaningful change occurring.
For many girls, specifically queer girls, the option is never provided to become one of the Other Girls. Before I even realized I was a lesbian, there was no amount of makeup I could apply or shit-talking I could participate in that would lessen the burden of feeling as though I just was not like other girls. However, I could, and obsessively did, consume media that presented the Other Girls for me to observe. For girls like me, The Clique acted as a voyeuristic way to see how the dynamics of girlhood were meant to be played out, and to observe girls and their relationships that felt entirely unattainable for a girl like me. A girl who wasn’t like other girls.
The Clique series followed four popular mean girl twelve year olds, Massie, Dylan, Alicia, and Kristen, who call themselves The Pretty Committee. Claire moves into Massie’s family’s guesthouse after her father loses her job, and after being relentlessly bullied by Massie throughout the first book, they eventually come to some sort of common ground. While Claire is clearly meant to be the audience surrogate character, she was rarely the character I found myself interested in. I already knew how it felt to be ostracized, I had no idea what it was like to be in.
I read The Clique at the age of twelve. A few years before I began to worry if I liked girls in the way Other Girls liked boys, but many years into realizing that there was something fundamentally wrong with the type of girl I was. I was an Othered Girl. A girl that Other Girls could clock instantly as someone that was not like them. Someone who had something missing, something extremely important, that meant I needed to be excluded from girlhood in one way or another. I don’t blame the Other Girls, but I do think that Othered Girls blame their most available antagonist rather than the system itself. If you can’t even comprehend what it means to be gay, you obviously cannot comprehend how sexism pervades the society you live in.
I had friends who were girls, but I had friends who were girls that also all later came out. Friends who also all devoured The Clique books. If the “not like other girls” stereotype is to be believed, we would have mercilessly mocked these girls for wearing makeup, or whatever it is that is perceived of girls who are othered. Instead, we were obsessed. We set up scenarios where we pretended to be The Pretty Committee, no one fighting to be Massie as each of the girls felt equally unobtainable to us. For us, I don’t think being the queen bee was the dream for us. Rather, it was playing pretend as girls who had access to a level of girlhood that we didn’t.
Mean Girls portrayed a clique of popular girls who hated each other and sent a clear message that popularity was not something to be sought after. Instead, The Pretty Committee portrayed the meaningful relationships that I observed in the popular girls I knew. The difference between me and the popular girls I knew wasn’t their ability to form meaningful relationships, it was their access to a part of girlhood I could never be a part of. Reading The Clique and witnessing the dynamic these girls had when they were not at school made me feel as though I was gaining access to a space I was not allowed into, not that I was being told by an out of touch adult that I should feel superior to them.
For queer girls, there can often be a troubling time in adolescence before we have fully realized that we like women but at the same time where girls our age are seeking out relationships with boys. It’s alienating. For me, it felt as though I could not find meaningful relationships with boys, but had no idea why. Any possible bargaining chip I could use to gain access to the space of popular girls was lost, as they continued to find ways to portray ideal girlhood and I was further left behind. For girls, boys finding you desirable is used as social capital. For girls who both feel undesirable and cannot find it within themselves to desire men, there’s an ostracizing realization that girlhood and therefore womanhood will never be fully available to you. At least not how it was meant to be experienced.
Consuming media that felt like it was made by and for the Other Girls was a way of gaining back power that was denied to unpopular girls. It was a sneaky way of looking in on their world, learning their secrets, gaining access behind their back. Reading The Clique felt like a way to be fully dropped into their world, pretending to understand the world of Other Girls without that feeling that it wasn’t made for me. If I can study the way they act, if I can attempt to understand the complex dynamics that girls who understood how to be girls had with each other, maybe it would allow me to feel less othered.
The way Othered Girls bond together is by mimicking the behavior we presume girls are meant to display, yet understanding within ourselves that none of us are doing it quite right. We all have our girl costumes on, consuming our Girl Stuff and behaving in ways that girls are supposed to behave in. We can recognize authentic girls, the Other Girls who seem to fully perform girlhood without recognizing it is a performance. However, the only way to blend the Othered Girl with the Other Girl is through fiction. Through watching the downtrodden loser character become accepted by her more popular peers, yet study the popular girls mannerisms in order to stop being on Claire’s side of the interaction. The Othered Girl never expresses desire to be the Other Girl, but she wishes to understand the Other Girl in order to escape the othering.
I had a neighbor friend in the summer who was the Other Girl. She was popular, pretty and well accepted by our elementary school peers. But in the summer, we would talk about The Clique, we would play a game where we would pretend to be popular girls and insult each other, we would dress up in each other’s clothes to play America’s Next Top Model. Our imagination was full of beauty, full of womanhood. Recently, my friend told me that she saw her on her Tinder feed. I can’t help but wonder if she ever felt like she was performing, putting on her Other Girl costume while being unable to purge herself of that Othered Girl that lived within her all of those years. More than anything, I hope she’s doing well.