How Hailee Steinfeld’s “Most Girls” Pushes Back On Toxic Female Competition
“You’re not like most girls,” a boy tells Hailee Steinfeld in the music video for her latest single, “Most Girls.” He tells her this sincerely, but ignorantly; Hailee gets visibly uncomfortable by this “compliment” and tells him that she has to go. She rushes away from the unnamed, now irrelevant man.
The man, like so many other men who have uttered this classic backhanded compliment, doesn’t understand why it would make women cringe. They don’t see the hidden bitterness in those words because on the surface it seems sweet to tell a girl she is unique. But this “compliment” perpetuates the toxicity of female competition. It maintains that in order for a woman to be great, she must be distanced from every other woman—specifically elevated above a perceived uniform group of other women. It both assumes that all women generally have a generic personality and that a woman can only be ideal if she is placed on a pedestal above every other woman.
This unhealthy distancing doesn’t just persist in terms of women’s romantic lives. We are taught to bash other girls from a young age to elevate ourselves in all realms. We are taught that there is no such thing as being “pretty,” or “smart,” or “funny,” but only the possibility of being “the prettiest,” or “the smartest,” or “the funniest.” And to reach these superlative goals, we need to waste our time kicking other women (the perceived “most girls”) off the ladder entirely so we can reach the top. Only one woman can make it to the courtroom, we’re taught. One woman in the laboratory. We often hear stories of women who have “jumped through hoops” to get where they are today; to compete with every girl she has ever come into contact with and to use them as indicators of how much she needed to jump to reach the top.
And when we hear a woman has become the “one” in any space, we applaud her. As we should. But we should also question the unspoken rule that there is only spot available for women and girls in these spaces, and question the “hoops” they had to jump through to get there. We should question why the other girls and women who didn’t make it to that coveted position just dissipate into the background. Why we allow them to become “most girls.”
This is why Hailee Steinfield’s subversion of the concept of “most girls” is meaningful. She picks apart the phrase and breaks it down by acknowledging the nonsense of negatively collectivizing women given how different they all are. As she sings, some wear tiny dresses, some wear sweatpants, some keep their physique private, and some wear jeans so tight because they feel so right. Steinfield pairs each of the references to “some girls” with phrases like “feel best,” “looking like a princess,’ and “just celebrating life” before returning to the infamous phrase of “most girls,” implying that there is no such thing as this mythical monolith, especially not in negative terms. She wants to be like “most girls,” she claims because she defines the phrase as a collectivity of diverse resilience and beauty. She sings in the chorus that “most girls are smart and strong beautiful” and “most girls...are unstoppable.”
Though Steinfeld’s message may seem cheesy or hackneyed on the surface, it is still wildly important to recognize that especially because we still live in a world where women are objectified by men, women should not resort to objectifying other women as well. Instead, this song argues, empowering one another and coming together is the key to personal and collective success. Hopefully, the more women who publicly band together, the more spots and opportunities will open for more women as we realize one, elevated spot in male dominated spaces is not nearly enough.
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