NLOG: Why Being Not Like Other Girls is Actually Okay
Hey, you. Are you NLOG? No? Of course you're not (that's for Other Girls). But you've surely encountered one, right? Imagine your typical YA heroine. The most brazenly stereotypical thing you can think of. I'm talking about the demon lovechild of Bella Swan, Hazel Lancaster and Tessa Young. She's sweet, in that girl-next-door way, and she's probably hiding a Dark Secret. How do we make her interesting?
Firstly, most female leads in YA love reading, so let's kick that up a notch. Does she read Hamlet at the school dance? Does she - gasp - love Victorian literature? Play video games? Does she roll her eyes at the thought of make-up? Climb trees? Skateboard? Does she have a niche interest in something that isn't social media, make-up or shopping? If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, congratulations - to an increasingly loud minority she's Not Like Other Girls.
This phrase has been batted around so much it is largely devoid of its original nuance. It is now used to paint any woman who acts outside the agreed upon norm of female behaviour as attention-seeking, and frames her actions as a slight against the wider female population. Its original meaning was sarcastic - picture the rebellious teen declaring she is not like all those Other Girls because of her copious use of eyeliner and the colour black. Crucially, our teen girl considers the Other Girls as mean, vapid and lacking in the superior mental prowess that she herself is endowed with. And that's fine, when it's used that way. However, over the past three years or so, it really, really hasn't.
In fact, I have seen NLOG applied scathingly to women (by other women!) who are performing either one or more of the below:
Wearing flannel shirts
Not caring about one's weight or diet
Not wearing makeup
Being close to one's brother
Playing video games
Having a strongly-held opinion
Not studying hard
Dressing differently to one's peers
Being in a male-dominated industry or hobby
Having mostly male friends
Not engaging in casual sex
Engaging in casual sex
Having high-functioning autism (yes, I know.)
If you're scratching your head in confusion, I understand. It used to be that displaying the above was simply an indication of one's personality, or, more cynically, a way to demonstrate that #NotAllGirls like dolls, shopping and the colour pink. However, along the way we've lost this nuance, and the result is any girl displaying a smidgen of unfeminine behaviour is assumed to be secretly hateful of those Other Girls, whom she is not.
Put simply, NLOG assumes that all girls (or women) have a set of clearly defined behaviours that make them so. By rejecting them, you are betraying all those Other Girls (presumably because you think yourself so much smarter), as you flounce off to Maintain the Patriarchy whilst the long-suffering Other Girls struggle to dismantle it. It puts women in a no-win situation - you're dismissed as NLOG if you balk at the idea of a one-night stand, but you're also NLOG if you sleep around with wild abandon. I'll break it down some more - the former claim is because you, the NLOG, consider yourself so much purer than the orgiastic masses and therefore intrinsically better; for the latter, the NLOG veers into 'cool girl' territory where sleeping around is obviously a shrewd political choice rather than an expression of personal sexuality.
Likewise, you're NLOG if you love reading, because everyone knows Other Girls can't read, but you're also NLOG if you hate reading, because, wow, I bet you think it would suck to be like those Other Girls and their sappy novels, right?
In writing, it is the perfect insult to replace 'Mary Sue,' which everyone decided was deeply problematic despite highlighting a key problem in the female-dominated realm of Fanfiction (and yes, the male versions of Mary Sues are now routinely dismissed as male power fantasies by the great and the good, so everything's fair).
Dubbing a woman NLOG doesn't require any further thought, because everyone already knows what you mean - an uppity woman with ideas above her station. It doesn't matter if she is a deeply religious Christian in a long denim skirt or an atheist aromantic pansexual wytch; she'll be compared against the amorphous blob of 'Other Girls' and considered a defector. Nobody ever explains who these Other Girls are, because they are anything the user of the phrase wants them to be. When NLOG is used so broadly, it devolves into just another phrase used to attack women for being ever slightly different to whatever idea we've built up in our heads.
I believe, readers, that we are approaching classic crab-and-bucket mentality here. I cannot count the number of times I have heard NLOG uttered disparagingly against other women by so-called feminists and the (ahem) progressively educated. Are you annoyed by a female character but can't quite place a finger on why? Simple, declare that they are trying to be NLOG, and dismiss them as handmaidens to whatever the particular villain of your life is.
At the risk of getting a bit postmodern, by declaring a woman NLOG one ironically declares themselves NLOG, because they, and only they, have seen through the NLOG's charms to reveal her true nature. No more can she fool others into thinking she was any different to the masses, no matter how good she is at World of Warcraft. She is exactly like us, the Other Girls, and there she must stay. Declaring women as attention-seeking NLOG's the moment they stray from ideological purity is, ironically, the very definition of the much-hated Pick-Me (another phrase I loathe, but that's for another time), except they are vying for the affections of their feminist peers.
This is particularly prominent in fiction, where, in some circles, a female lead's interests are picked apart and held up against some sort of feminist gold standard, the definition of which still remains a mystery. Whereas the term Mary Sue denoted a character that was simply too perfect (and whilst the term was abused, at least everyone could agree with what it meant at its core), you need no prior qualifications to declare a female character NLOG - only a sneaking suspicion that she is out to differentiate herself from, and take down, the Other Girls.
NLOG becomes simply another tool to beat women down for not living up to another ideal crafted, not necessarily by the dreaded patriarchy, but by some women's responses to it.
For some women, every single action needs to be wrapped in several layers of irony or (gag) 'discourse,' lest she is perceived to fall victim to patriarchy's creeping tendrils. A woman cannot simply have mostly male friends without being accused of either sleeping with all of them or being so full of internalised misogyny that she cannot extend her friendship to other women, depending on who you believe. And if, God forbid, the woman doesn't care and is unwilling to sit down and carefully dissect how she went wrong, then she's not just NLOG, she's also stupid (or problematic, or -phobic).
The only way we can crawl out of this is by writing women unapologetically, as characters rather than exercises in point-scoring. Yes, it's fun to dissect hidden themes, and everyone knows the thrill of discovering something within a text that aligns perfectly to your worldview and proves, once and for all, that you are correct/vindicated/on the right side of history. But when you're elbow-deep in conspiracy about Hermione Granger's Yule Ball dress being used to prove she's trying to be NLOG and deeply problematic, perhaps it's time to put down the laptop and walk outside.
So write your nerdy women. Write your nasty women. Write your resentful, loyal, narcissistic, enigmatic, difficult, brave, condescending women. Make them love Maths. Or hate it. Make them hit the cocktail bar in leather boots and a PVC skirt, or wander into a pub wearing a band shirt and order a pint. Make them obsess over Jane Eyre, or make them declare never to read again outside of high school.
And if that makes them NLOG - good. They should be. We all should be. The 'Other Girls' don't exist.