Saturday, December 3, 2016

The outright insult of being told you do something “like a girl”

The #LikeAGirl, a movement brought about by Always, aims to redefine the blatant insult associated with doing something “like a girl”. This video, orchestrated by the company that designs sanitary towels, displays the varying opinions that doing something “like a girl” entails, specifically comparing the answers of young, prepubescent girls with those of young women. A very strong message portrayed by the advertisement is that the girls whose self-esteems have not yet been affected by growing up have much greater confidence in their abilities than the girls that are that bit older. The New York Times reports that, in a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, 60% of girls in elementary school are confident in themselves. This figure drops to a mere 29% by the time they reach high school. Why the massive decrease in self-assurance?

Adolescence is a time when girls become women. They develop breasts, menstruate for the first time, and grow hair in places they were previously bald. This period of great change (excuse the pun) can be very distressing for young women and they end up looking to others for acceptance. The unfortunate aspect of this is that the characteristics that are approved of by society are often those traditionally attributed to men. If society is only going to value the male characteristics then of course to do something “like a girl” would be taken as an insult every time. 

The insult is usually directed at a boy who has, by some misogynistic standard, acted in a feminine manner or carried out some manly task poorly. For example, the boy in the playground who cries after falling over is told to “stop crying like a little girl” or the boy at practice that is shamed by his coach for “throwing like a girl”. One thing that bothers me about these non-chalant insults is that they are not directed at those to whom they are said. They are, instead, directed toward all females. Young girls are growing up in an atmosphere where they are taught that to behave “like a girl” is wrong and something of which they are to be ashamed.

While on the topic of throwing like a girl I would like to touch on this light-hearted Mythbusters episode where they tackle the same subject. They carry out a number of experiments studying the way in which boys and their female counterparts throw a number of balls at a target. The conclusion of these trials demonstrated that overall the girls performed no more poorly than the boys!

I believe the Always campaign to alter the meaning of what it is to do something “like a girl” is exactly the kind of education for which society is begging. There are almost 7 billion people in this world, 50% of whom are females, 50% of whom are talented human beings, fully capable of achieving equally with their male counterparts, 50% of whom are doing things “like a girl”.


Louise Trainor said...

Julie, I love your breakdown of this perceived "throw-away" comment which is sadly well established in our diction. I agree with your statement that the use of the phrase "like a girl" is more of a back-handed insult to all females than it is an offense to the boy himself.
In a time where is so much dialogue on the over-all power of women, e.g. their representation in Government, it is easy to forget the more subtle sexism which continues to permeate our society.
This song "Hard Out Here" by English artist, Lily Allen, ties in well with this post. She humorously turns the "grow a pair" phrase on its head and challenges men to walk in a woman's shoes for a change. It's well worth a listen and is very catchy too!

Louise Trainor said...

Joan Maya said...


Your blog post reminds me of a different phenomenon that has the same insulting quality to women - women being told, especially in the work force, that "they can't act like a girl". I feel like I have seen this trope over and over again in movies, television shows, and in real life. When women are in the work force, if they show any form of emotion, they are often told to stop acting like a girl. This problematic on so many fronts - it shows how the work force has been built around and for men, it tells women they have to conform to acting like a man, that some how acting like a woman in the work force is inappropriate, and that men do not and should not show emotion. We saw this in North Country when Josie, the main character, would get upset when the men harassed her - she was told she couldn't act like a girl and get upset, she had to take it without emotion "like one of the guys". Looking into this issue quickly online I found this Forbes article ( It cites a study by Dr. Kim Elsbach (a professor of management at UC Davis!) who found women are more likely to cry at work because of socialization - boys are taught early on not to cry and to hold back as a reflex!

I hope as time goes on, showing emotion and crying at work isn't seen as taboo, and won't be automatically associated as something that women do.

Earnest Femingway said...

Julie, these sort of efforts are exactly the type of approachable, every-day improvements that any person can utilize. The problems of such a gendered put-down are easy to grasp with minimal critical thought, and the target audience (here, children) is open to persuasion. I think identifying and supporting campaigns similar to #LikeAGirl is important to spreading popular appeal of social causes. There is also symbolic power in reclaiming pejorative terms and misconceptions like this one that in turn renders the negativity powerless.