It wasn’t until seventh grade when I found my love for running during one of my middle school basketball games. I would have other parents come up to mine and show their amusement by commenting how speedy I was on the court. I loved getting these compliments because they made me feel that I was being judged by my own abilities. And it wasn’t until 8th grade when I had my gym teacher mention how I should join cross-country when I finally decided to join. I have been passionate about running ever since.
During high school, I decided to run a half marathon with a male friend of mine. I was very eager to run this half marathon because it took place on the trails! Although I didn’t train at all for this race (dumb I know), I was pleasantly surprised with the results.
After crossing the finish line with my friend, an older man came up to us while we were in the midst of rehydrating ourselves. While chuckling, this older man told us that either my friend runs like a girl or I am a very talented runner …for a girl. He was obviously referring to the fact that my friend and I finished at the same time. I honestly didn’t know what to say. I was also too preoccupied on getting fluids back into my body so that I didn’t collapse. However, I do know that this man meant it as an insult and compliment to either one of us depending how you look at it. Basically, if my friend ran like a girl, it meant he was slow enough to finish with me. But if I was a talented runner “for a girl”, it meant that I was surprisingly so skillful enough to keep up with a boy (gasp!). I was not flattered. It was an insult no matter which way you look at it. I was able to catch a glimpse of my friend’s face when he said that, and it seemed he was offended for being compared to a girl.
Why do we say these things? Why is it that feminine characteristics is the default setting for being considered inferior in this society? The phrase “like a girl” shouldn’t be an insult, but it always seems to offend males whenever they are compared to one or are called out for displaying feminine qualities.
In the Always advertisement, children were faced with questions of “What does it mean to [insert verb] like a girl?” The first group responded by acting out silly stereotypical gestures that are influenced by the media to make fun of girls. This included arms flailing in the air, clumsy feet, and unconfident facial expressions. When completing tasks, masculine traits seem to be more desired over feminine traits.
But what exactly does it mean to be masculine in this society?
“Masculinity means this-to avoid anything that might be considered feminine or girlish. A good part of being masculine, then, is to show that you are not one of “them.” In requiring distance from things considered feminine, the dominant masculine model has forced boys and men to mask emotion and compassion and to avoid the appearance of weakness, fear, or vulnerability” (Henslin, 2011).
In the same advertisement, the second group shows younger girls being asked the same question as the first respondents. This time around, they do what they were asked to do in the way they would normally do it. They responded with realistic gestures of punching in the air, running confidently with speed, and throwing a ball with power. This right here is what it means to do things like a girl. These younger girls have not yet been heavily influenced by the pressures of society. The media and society’s unrealistic expectations of how each gender should be like can start to affect anyone at any age, but will most likely start affecting those in adolescence. And we all know that adolescence is confusing enough without all the pressures society puts on us.
Young women are already facing body-image issues, eating disorders, suicide, and self-harm due to unrealistic expectations from the media. Yet, society feels the need to attack people based on their gender. And when males start showing even a glimpse of a trait that society doesn’t deem “manly”, they are hit with names that are typically associated with being a female, and are meant as insults.
We as a society need to quit using the appearances or qualities of women as subject to hate. It’s time to reclaim and turn the phrase “like a girl” into a compliment that boosts self-confidence instead of demeaning someone. I run like a girl, I fight like a girl, and I throw like a girl because I AM A GIRL.