I wish I could say I thought of it, but like a lot of my commonly used words (see this blog title, for example) it comes from the extremely awesome Ruthzilla. I love her. She is rad.
So what's this got to do with the Highlander, that seriously cheesy fantasy movie series. Remember the tag "In the end there can be only one". Then think about all the movies, tv shows, books, bands with the one of these things is not like the others bass players, etc. where it's a bunch of dudely dudes and one chick. One chick in Oceans 11. One chick in Smashing Pumpkins. One chick in The Hobbit. One chick in the first season of Avatar The Last Airbender (and I love the fuck out of that show- mind you they fix the Highlander problem in season 2 when they meet Toph). One chick in the first season of Angel. Maybe in the second as well. I can't remember when Fred shows up. Then there's video games. OFFS video games. I am told that in Fable III, if you aren't playing as the princess, there's only one chick in the whole party.*One chick in a sea of fucking dudes.
This tends to bleed over into other areas. One chick on the panel at the math conference, for example. And I can't tell you how many times I've been the one chick in my places of employment- but it's not a negligible number. Being the exceptionalist girl with a bunch of dude friends (yep- been that chick too. In order to be perceived as exceptional, you have to be pretty shitty about "typical" girl behavior.) In the end, there can be only one!
Highlandering marginalizes women so that we are either ignored, or places into super shitty, bow to the patriarchy competition with each other in order to be considered equal. But there's nothing equal about being the single lady in a group of men. It's the opposite of equal. It's just another shitty version of the hierarchy that fucks all of us over.
And when Highlandering happens in media, it means that us lady types have fewer and more narrowly defined characters to try to identify with. If you want to be the hero, or the scoundrel or even just the main character in your own life story, there aren't a lot of fictional (or well known non-fictional) choices to pick from. And it means that it's harder for men to see us in any roles that don't fall under the standard "hookers, basketcase or doormat" trope. It means that since the only movies that dudes see more than one lady in are craptastic rom-coms, that stupid idea that women are out to trap a man into marriage and babies persist.
And that shit ain't right.
*Video game reference supplied by Ouyang Dan, who when I asked for an example of Highlandering in video games she said "All of them except for Bioware games". Perhaps if Highlandering wasn't such a fucking issue, I might be willing to play something other than puzzle games.