Monday, June 30, 2014

Like a girl

This is an ad—no mistaking that. Sure, it’s doesn’t try and sell a product, but the idea it sells is meant to help promote the product. I don't think that matters—except in a good way.

This video is about how the phrase “like a girl” has such a negative impact on girls themselves, encouraging them to internalise the very idea of girl-like as a negative. I think the video does it very well—but I think it’s only half the story.

When I was a boy, the worst thing a boy could be called was something feminising: “You throw like a girl” or “You run like a girl” or even “You’re just like a girl!” To be “accused” of being “like a girl” was absolutely the worst thing imaginable when I was a kid. In those kinder, gentler (so called) days, no one used words like “fag” or “homo”, and yet we knew that was the implicit meaning.

Years later, anti-gay slurs would pop up in my life, but it turned out it was in the exact same context: Emasculation. Anti-gay slurs were, in other words, part of the tool-kit of bullying and belittlement to which sexism also belonged.

Except for me: I was never bullied or belittled in this way and, to the small extent I ever was, it was because my dad was a preacher—ironically, the very same thing that, I’m convinced, protected me from anti-gay bullying.

To be totally honest, I have no idea why particular slings and arrows were directed my way but others weren’t. In my mind’s eye, I was pretty damn good at passing for straight, but it’s not like I’d actually know. Regardless, I was terrified that I might be identified as gay, and that began even earlier, even before I really know what it meant to be gay, when I was desperate to NOT have other boys say I did anything “like a girl.”

So, I think that anything that makes people stop saying “like a girl” as if it’s a bad thing is good. It’ll help countless girls to live up to their full potential. But the unspoken truth here is that it’ll help countless boys, too.

Allowing all children—girls and boys alike—to reach their full potential, to allow them to grow up without self-loathing or fear of how they might be perceived by others—these are very worthy goals. And if it takes a commercial to help achieve that goal, I’m absolutely okay with that.

Nowadays, if someone wants to say to me that I do something “like a girl”, I’ll take that as a badge of honour. I’ve had some pretty awesome women in my life, after all, and to be compared to them would be an honour, not a curse. I just want that to be true for all kids, girls and boys alike.


rogerogreen said...

Saw this one this a.m. Right on, and it's interesting how much the older participants had already bought into the stereotype...

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I thought that was interesting, too—and more than a little depressing. Words are extremely powerful, and I think that this just reinforces the harm they can do.