Run like a girl


A girl running. Drawn by Gita Majumdar.

“Show me what it means to run like a girl,” the project director asks a group of adults and one young boy. They all followed the prompt, however, what we see is a bunch of flailing limbs, bouncing hair, and giggles. The prompt is repeated, “throw like a girl,” “fight like a girl.” The results are always similar.

The director is Laura Greenfield, an award-winning filmmaker. All footage is part of a video shared by the #LikeAGirl ad campaign with Always (a feminine hygiene company), that aims to redefine the phrase “like a girl.”

In the next scene, Greenfield asks multiple girls, all under 11 years old, the same questions. What we then see is strength and athleticism. They run, fight, and hit like anyone would despite the added phrase “like a girl.” “It means run as fast as you can!” One young girl says.

The first group’s actions are disheartening, however, it is incredibly eye opening to see at what developmental point girls change their perception of the phrase “like a girl.”

Imagine a young girl out at recess with a group of kids. A boy goes to kick a soccer ball and his friend yells out “you kick like a girl!!” Imagine how that sounds to her. “What does that even mean?” She might think. Often used in a negative manner, the phrase implies that’s the wrong way. If you kick like a boy we’re proud of you, you did well! But if you kick like a girl, you have failed. In a world that glorifies men, specifically masculine strength and perceived superiority, females are placed at an inferior rank on the societal totem pole beginning at a very young age. Once she realizes this disheartening truth it will more often than not pull her self confidence down immensely.

Society has ingrained the idea that doing things “like a girl” means weak, cutesy, clumsy, etc. While many girls (and boys) run the way the first group demonstrated, it should not be seen as a bad thing or ever used as an insult. Girls are disproportionately less encouraged to partake in sports as actively as boys are; the subsequent lack of experience often results in the action of “running like a girl.” However, to the girl, she is doing her absolute best. More experience would mean better form, but the phrase “like a girl” can cause her to halt her progress. Many young girls see themselves as strong, they feel confident until suddenly they are told that they are not supposed to be tough. This view is deeply harmful because in this time of their lives where everything is shifting, all these voices suddenly start telling them they are not supposed to feel the way they do.

“You see this division [in interests] around five, six, seven, and eight and it only gets exacerbated when they hit puberty…girls want to fit in and sometimes that means being “girly” and falling into those old stereotypes,” said Aricka Sóuter, a pop culture and parenting expert.

As girls try their hardest to fit into our society they’re often pushed into a corner filled with princesses and everything pink. It’s a case of stereotype threat- by adhering to the stereotypes, they are perpetuating the same views that lead women to be seen as “less than” in society.

Stereotypes are difficult to break, but the smallest changes in action can help. Sóuter said “It starts with us [parents]. We have to, you know, compliment [girls] not just on how pretty they are, but how smart they are, how capable they are, how talented they are. If they’re interested in digging in the dirt and digging up worms and looking at rocks, don’t just say ‘don’t get dirty.’”

We need to empower girls, not hold them back with outdated ideas and views. However, we also cannot paste names like “tomboy” on the foreheads of girls who hate skirts and vastly prefer baseball and tree climbing. At first glance this may not seem like a problematic phrase, shouldn’t we be embracing the scraped and bruised, doll-hating-tomboy as a feminist icon? But the name goes deeper than that. The term was coined in the 1550s in England for a “rude boisterous boy.” In more recent years its meaning wasn’t necessarily about acting like a boy; it was about not acting like a “proper” girl. Do not tell a girl or boy what they are, let them figure it out for themselves.

No one should ever be ashamed to be a girl. As one of the women in Greenfields’ video stated, “Yes, I kick like a girl, I swim like a girl, I walk like a girl, and I wake up in the morning like a girl, because I am a girl. And that is not something I should be ashamed of so I’m going to do it anyway.”

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