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Like a Girl

Madison VonSosen

Arizona State University

WST 313: Women and Sexuality

Dr. Christine Holman

July 19, 2021

 

Like a Girl

I can remember as a child being told the limiting idea that I could not do something because I was a girl or because I would do it “like a girl.” From the age of 5 until I turned 9, we shared a cul-de-sac with four other houses. The house directly across the street from us had two boys who were the same age as my brother and me. We would play outside for hours almost daily. Whether it was riding bikes, raking leaves, or playing soccer, we would be out there until the street lamps turned on and it was time for bed. Those boys played with me as an equal, they saw me as one of them, and didn’t think twice about the fact that I was a girl.

Sometimes kids from down the street would come and play with us. Whenever we did anything competitive, I wanted to win. I would get on my bike and start racing the other kids, and, without fail, one of the older boys would tell me I could not race with them because I was a girl and that I rode my bike “like a girl.” That lit a fire under me, I would not be discriminated against for being a girl. So, I practiced riding my bike alone for hours becoming the best bike rider I could be. I was determined to prove to those boys that girls were just as worthy to ride and race bikes as boys.  Not long after, we were outside and, even after I was told I couldn’t race, I decided to do it anyway. I beat that boy fair and square!

After my victory I was discouraged to learn what defeating a boy actually meant. It did not mean that the attention was on me for winning. It meant that the attention I expected to be paid to me remained on the boy. The kids would tease the boy who lost by saying “You got beat by a girl!” and “You ride like a girl now!” The victory was completely taken from me. Instead of praising me for being a strong and capable little girl, all the meaning of that victory was still centered around the boy who lost to a girl, the ultimate insult.

The phrase “like a girl” gains negativity as we age. In the Always commercial when the young girls were asked what it meant to do something “like a girl,” without hesitation their answers reflected positivity, strength, and unlimited potential. But when the older girls were asked the same question, their answers reflected weakness, silliness, and inferiority. Children develop at the same rate until adolescence, meaning that both girls and boys are relatively equal in ability until they hit puberty. This is when a heightened awareness of gender conformity begins. Once girls and boys hit adolescence, their bodies start to develop at different rates and in different ways via testosterone and estrogen (Rogol, et al., 2000). All of a sudden, these hormones start to take over and the idea of masculinity starts to physically manifest. The idea of toxic masculinity is introduced to young boys (Kimmel, 1994, p. 147). Girls’ bodies increase in estrogen and, as a result, experience an increase in emotions. At this point social behaviors begin to change, and boys and girls start isolating into gendered groups and stop interacting with each other. Boys become the gender police, looking to unmask anyone they believe to be a “sissy boy” or overly feminine (Kimmel, 1994, p. 148).

The two sexes start seeing each other differently. If a boy expresses emotions he is seen as a girl. If a girl expresses a desire to play football, she is told she cannot because she’s a girl. In the Ted Talk “Language and Rape Culture,” Kayce Singletary & Alexis Stratton talk about The Gender Box. The men’s box is full of words like, strong, aggressive, and dominant. The women’s box is full of words like weak, emotional, and submissive. Next to the boxes are negative words used to describe someone when they veer off society’s poorly built path of social norms. If a boy ventures out of the box, he is called a “sissy”, a “wimp”, or even crude homophobic names. If a girl ventures out of the box, she is called a “tomboy”, or “butch”, and of course “slut” (Sigletary, el al., 2014, 4:22).

Once these children fully become adolescents, physical activities and sports where someone may use the phrase “like a girl” begin to fade out and are replaced. “Like a girl” is a juvenile phrase used by adolescents to establish power. The adult equivalent is the powerful and derogatory word “slut.” Both “slut” and “fag” signal to young people that they are doing their sexuality “wrong” and that there are consequences to their sexual/gender expression. Slut shaming serves the social function of policing the lines of (hetero)normative gender and establishing the “right” way for doing “girl” gender: straight but not sexually assertive or experienced (Payne, 2012).

Slut shaming is a direct product of society using the phrase “like a girl” as children grow up to describe something done poorly, or to put someone down. These phrases plant the idea into young peoples’ minds that girls are inferior to boys. These ideas stick with kids and they carry them through life, evolving as they get older. Feelings stick to words, and words stick to us. They shape us and our perceptions (Sigletary, el al., 2014, 7:50). What if we could change those early phrases, ideas, and taboos?

When a topic, such as female sexuality, is taboo, it is never spoken about, and nobody can learn from it or evolve their ideas and understanding of it. When female sexuality is not thoughtfully and rationally explored and discussed, the subject remains mysterious and the deep-rooted attitudes remain primitive., In the spirit of performativity, when we talk about something, it becomes real and difficult to ignore.

The word “slut” and the phrase “like a girl,” lose their power when women openly reject those social constructs. This can begin in adolescence by teaching children the proper names of genitalia. When we use nicknames in place of anatomical terms, we are implying that there’s something shameful about the anatomical term and that nicknames are OK to use. As children get older, ensuring that they have a safe place to be honest and ask questions without rejection, criticism, or judgement is fundamental. By doing this they will be able to see the value in their peers, whether male, female, or non-binary.

As women, openly rejecting social gender constructs, and being confident in our power, success, and sexuality, will help raise the younger generation to know that women are equal to men.  There is no reason for women to be ashamed of being female or to make themselves smaller to meet society’s expectations. Women and girls are innately worthy. Just as the young girls expressed in the Always video, living life “like a girl” is powerful, positive, and reflects unlimited potential.

 

Works Cited

AlwaysBrand. (2014, June 26). Always #likeagirl. YouTube. Retrieved from  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs

Kimmel, M. S. (1997). Masculinity as homophobia: Fear, shame and silence in the construction of gender identity. http://www.suarakita.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/masculinity.pdf

Payne, E. C. (2016, February 2). ‘Slut’: Gender policing as bullying ritual. HuffPost. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/slut-gender-policing-as-bullying-ritual_b_1952205

Rogol, A.D., Clark, P.A., Roemmich, J.N. (August 2000). Growth and pubertal development in children and adolescents: effects of diet and physical activity. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Volume 72, Issue 2. Pages 521S–528S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/72.2.521S

Singletary, K., & Stratton, A. (2014, March 11). Language and rape culture: Kayce Singletary & Alexis Stratton at TEDxColumbiaSC. YouTube. Retrieved January 4, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tss23dx9KrY

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