“I get along better with boys.”

I can remember declaring some version of these words when I was a little girl who spurned little girl things. No New Kids on the Block for me. No pink scrunchies or kitten-adorned Trapper Keepers. I was into sports, climbing trees, and catching frogs. You know, boy stuff.

These days, playing sports and climbing trees are for boys and girls, and the term “tomboy” has basically gone out of style. However, many have kept the grown-up version of the tomboy mentality, insisting, “I’m not like other women.” Perhaps they get along better with men, or find they aren’t into cooking, jewelry parties, or Pinterest crafts that dominate some female social circles.

As often as I hear women profess to feeling different from most of the women around them, it seems like a paradox of sorts: How is it that all these women never find one another? Wouldn’t they be great friends? Then again, I don’t think that’s really the point. This expression isn’t usually about yearning for female companionship, but quite the opposite. Underlying this belief that “I’m not like other women” can be a deeper need to feel set apart, to establish a distinct identity, and to feel special.

I can’t help but wonder if this mindset is one of the many consequences of the self-esteem movement, of our tendency to tell children again and again how exceptional they are. I say that as one of those children; I grew up in a loving home with parents who always affirmed my potential. Somewhere along the way, “special” became my identity. It shaped the way I saw myself in relation to others, reinforcing the belief that I must be different than ...

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