Tara Anand and Ellie Lee, who are roommates at the School of Visual Arts, New York, felt miffed when a friend said she was not like other girls. It was a reminder of all those times when young women said things like “girls are petty” and “there’s always so much drama”. “Phrases like these are so normalised in society that we don’t even realise the damage they do,” said Lee. “Think about how much hate for your own gender you must have been taught growing up to cast it away like that?”

That’s when Anand suggested they do something to help create solidarity in womanhood. The result was an Instagram art project for women who don’t feel the need to disassociate themselves with their gender. Titled I Am Like Other Girls, the Instagram handle contains posts – illustrated by Lee and Anand – that challenge the stereotype that girls are delicate, overly emotional and obsessed with their looks.

Women for women

They kick-started the series with posts of their own in November – 19-year-old Anand likes to read and she is like other girls, and 18-year-old Lee farts and is like other girls. “One cannot hope to generalise an entire gender so when one says they aren’t like other girls, what does that even mean?” said Anand.

Within a few weeks, the two were inundated with requests from around the world and took on a few more illustrators to help in the project. Four months in, the handle has gathered over 4,000 followers. Anand and Lee aim to draw every single submission.

For each email received, they create a caricature of the sender on a light pink background, and through their illustrations, the diverse nature of these women becomes apparent. Nupur Saraswat, 23, from Singapore writes, “I don’t use make-up and I’m like other girls”, while 19-year-old Emma Depp says, “I play video games and I am like other girls”.

“Women make up almost half the population of the world and so they are an incredibly diverse group in terms of race, social strata, interests, abilities and preferences,” said Anand, who is originally from Mumbai. “Being like other girls doesn’t mean anything specific. Whatever you do or are or like, there are probably thousands of other girls who share this with you, so you are like other girls and you should be proud of it.”

Beyond stereotypes

In a paper on gender stereotyping, psychologist and author Liza Firestone explains that the notion that men and women behave in predefined manners is divisive: “The media is guilty of exploiting the differences between men and women and of exaggerating gender stereotypes of men and women to sell products. The residuals of these sexist prejudices in our lives today portray men as masterful, powerful, paternalistic and uncommunicative, and women as emotionally responsive and communicative, yet childlike, helpless and incompetent. These distortions of the sexes are divisive, and interfere with our being intimate and loving in our close relationships… These timeworn attitudes overstate the qualities that distinguish men and women, and place the two sexes in artificial categories.”

The women featured in Anand and Lee’s posts do not shy away from claiming that they love the colour pink or that they can be an “emotional bitch” who screams when upset. There are those who talk about their interest that are gender-neutral – like listening to 1980s music or being trilingual. “These are just things that people have submitted to us,” said Anand. “However, we do believe that girls’ activities are usually heavily gendered and restricted and so including activities like these reinforces the idea that there are no such things as intrinsically gendered activities, all activities are gender neutral and performing them doesn’t make you different from other girls.”

The handle also brings into focus issues like mental illness, gender identity and sexuality, which tend to make people feel alienated from their friends and family. Evelyn Mae from Ohio wrote: “I am mentally ill and I am like other girls.” Nat B said, “My mental disorder doesn’t make me weak and I am like other girls”.

“We really wanted this platform to be for people to be able to express themselves and not be ashamed of who they were or their gender, said Anand. “Because of this, we do not change or curate any entries. What we post is an authentic portrait of what our audience [members] define themselves as. I think because these posts are personal statements, it’s not so much the audience talking about these issues as talking about their relationships with those parts of them.”