Have you ever been told you do something “like a girl,” or heard it said to someone else? For example: “You throw like a girl” or “hit like a girl” or “run like a girl.” How did it make you feel? If you’re anything like me, I’m guessing it made you feel embarrassed, weak, sad, or maybe even angry!
That’s because “like a girl” is usually used as an insult, to suggest that whatever the person is doing is not good enough.
If you want to say that someone is doing something poorly, you can say “like a girl” and everyone will understand what you mean.
What we are really saying is that doing a bad job and doing something “like a girl” are the same thing.
Other words and phrases are used in the same way: “don’t be such a girl” or “girly” or “wuss” or “pansy” or other demeaning term. Have you heard boys or girls saying this to each other?
This bashing of all things female or feminine (“girly”) is so common in our culture that many parents, coaches, and kids don’t even think about what they are saying, and what message they are sending to everyone about what it means to be a girl. That’s not good!
Because the message is that girls aren’t as good as boys. This just isn’t true!
We girls are NOT inferior to boys. We are strong, smart, athletic, and capable of anything boys are!
Luckily, there are people working hard to change the way we see girls. Like the Pink Helmet Posse, a group of skateboarders proving that girls can skate too!
Good for them! Yet, those of us who go out and prove, like Pink Helmet Posse, that girls can do anything boys can do often get another phrase thrown at us: “for a girl.”
For example: “You’re strong, for a girl,” or “You throw pretty well, for a girl.” What’s the message here? The message is: Females are worse than males at this activity, so compared with most girls, you are good, but compared to most boys, you would not be good.
So, even when girls are GOOD at a male-dominated sport or activity, our show of skill is used as ANOTHER chance to put girls down!
I had this phrase said to me as a kid. Growing up, I was athletic. I was proud of being able to throw a football, swing a baseball bat, run fast, and climb trees. Generally, I was praised for my abilities.
But HOW I was praised was also insulting! I could throw a football pretty well, “for a girl.” Or I could play baseball pretty well, “for a girl.” Part of me took pride in being told I was good at something, but the other part was ANGRY that people thought girls couldn’t do any of those things as well as boys.
I remember one day of 6th grade very clearly. Our gym class was scheduled to play baseball. We were divided into teams, and my team was up to bat first. One by one, as each girl got up to bat, the boys would groan, “Oh no, it’s a girl. She’s not going to hit.” This made me furious!
Sure, some of the girls weren’t very good at baseball. But neither were some of the boys. And THIS GIRL (me) could hit! I couldn’t wait for my chance at bat. And when I got up there, I swung as hard as I could at that first pitch. The boys all let out a collective, “Wow, this girl can hit!” I felt vindicated, yet still angry that everyone expected me to fail, because I was a girl.
In the end, even though I was good, I was not seen as “good”: I was seen as “good, for a girl.”
Will we ever stop this casual bashing of girls? Will I ever be seen as “good,” PERIOD?
That’s part of the goal of a new commercial produced by Always. The ad demonstrates how the phrase “like a girl” carries negative messages about girls that make many of us—males as well as females–see girls as the weaker and less capable gender.
What if we equate “girl” with “strong, athletic, capable”? The hashtag #likeagirl, also by Always, has people flipping the usual “like a girl” insult right on its head to change the way we talk about what it means to be “like a girl”. Thankfully, girls and women all over the world are proving every day what it really means to do something “like a girl.”
We can too! Let’s support each other to be ourselves, and to show the world that girls are strong, capable beings.
Hopefully, someday we can be seen as simply strong, like a human, PERIOD, no other explanation needed. Because we are all strong, in our own ways. And that’s worth celebrating!
Nooriel Nolan is passionate about advocating on behalf of children, particularly girls. Her personal experiences growing up a girl in this boy-centered society inspired a desire to change the way we raise our kids. Thus, she pursued a degree in Gender Studies, and has served as a teacher, middle–high school tutor, youth mentor, & board member for her local Girls on the Run Chapter. She dreams of a world where girls and boys will be treated equally, compassionately and valued for their true selves.