Being a girl is hard. They are told all the time by those around them, parents, peers, and teachers alike, what they should like, how they should act, and who they should be. At the same time, they are also faced with countless outside messages that tell them what they can and can’t be. Stereotypes about women and math, driving, and beauty send devastating messages to girls who see these messages and internalize them, holding them as truth without question.
This year a Super Bowl advertisement put on by Always highlighted this phenomenon and showed the negative affects it can have on girls and women. Promoting their Like A Girl Campaign, the commercial showcased video of boys, men, and young women over the age of thirteen and asked them to demonstrate what it looks like to run, fight, and throw “like a girl”. As predicted, each person played into stereotype, flailing their arms like noodles as they ran, touching up their hair as they went, and threw an imaginary ball that would have only travelled inches. After this segment of the commercial, it is clear how stereotypes have negatively affected what it means to do anything “like a girl”. Acting like a girl in American culture implies weakness, lack of athletic ability, and a ridiculous sense of fragility, sending out the message that acting like a girl basically means being completely inept.
However, when Always asked young girls to perform all the same actions, they got a completely different response. These girls had not yet been affected by stereotypes about being female, but rather acted naturally and ran, fought, and threw just like any other normal person would. To these girls, doing anything like a girl doesn’t mean acting differently. All they know is that, yes, they are girls, but that they also are swift runners, tactful fighters, and powerful throwers, and being female is not seen as a disadvantage. Being a girl does not simply define them or their abilities, but is part of their identity, alongside being an athlete.
During and after its run on the national air, the Always commercial has ignited conversation about the implications of “like a girl”. The hashtag #LikeAGirl began trending on Twitter and brought out countless supporters. People of all kinds commented on the necessity of the campaign and how important it is that the video was showcased on the national level. Raising awareness and opening discussion for this issue, the Always commercial is hopefully just one of many campaigns that will help eliminate the way we talk about being “like a girl”.
There’s no definitive answer as to when the connotation of “like a girl” turned negative, but it is adding to the deterioration of our girls’ self esteem and the increasing oppression of women as a whole. The Like A Girl Campaign aims to eradicate these negative stereotypes and tell girls and women that they can do anything they want. Giving girls confidence in their abilities so that they can grow up not feeling excluded or lesser is more important than ever. Being a girl is nothing to be ashamed of and by changing the language and the cultural context of “like a girl”, we can create a less gendered and more inclusive society where being a girl or even acting like one makes a person a second-class citizen.
Madeline Gallegos can be reached at email@example.com.