Georgina Guedes

Do it like a girl

2014-07-04 11:59

Georgina Guedes

Sanitary pad manufacturer Always have made an ad "Run like a girl" that has gone viral. The ad shows what teenage girls and young women do when asked to "run like a girl". The results are predictable - the girls come over all limp wristed and naff and flail their arms and hardly try at all.

Similar results are also achieved in response to the instruction to "fight like a girl" and "throw like a girl".

Then, a series of younger girls are given the same instructions. But instead of doing each activity pathetically, these girls just did it the way that they would in real life, as girls - fast, hard, competitively.

"Like a girl" isn't good

The message of the campaign was that girls lose confidence in adolescence as societal conditioning combined with the confusion and uncertainty of teenage years undermines their self-worth. It's powerful stuff (even if you suspect that there was some careful selection or direction that contributed to the final message in the ad).

We examined this notion in South Africa earlier this year when Oscar Pistorius was accused of "screaming like a girl" (among other, more serious crimes). Newspapers went wild with glee and pasted the statement all over the country's streetpoles. They loved it because it juxtaposed this supposedly manly, marathon-winning, gun-toting hero with the insinuation of being, well, a wimp.

The message was clear - doing something "like a girl" is not a good thing.

Talking about girls, to girls

The Always ad made me think about this all over again and acknowledge all the times we use "like a girl" or "like a woman" to describe something negative. A few examples:

"It's like a woman."

- A friend of mine about her lipstick that slid back into the tube when she tried to apply it.

"I throw like a girl."

- Me, when I throw a tennis ball for the dog in the park – and I don't throw so good.

"He loves his children like a woman."

- A group of men talking about a friend of theirs, critically.

"You squeal like a girl."

- A colleague of mine to her husband, chastisingly.

You see! I've done it too. And I have a daughter. And a son. Which basically means that every time something like that passes my lips (although I really try not to now), I'm reaffirming to both of them that girls are less, weaker, more pathetic, more flighty, sillier, more manipulative or meaner.

And when we're told something enough, we start to believe it.

This is why, now, I make a conscious effort to praise them for kindness, athleticism, cleverness, empathy, interest, ambition, problem solving or helping with chores equally, without giving weight to what gender the action has traditionally been associated with.

And if my kids - both of them - turn out to be empathetic, strong, confident, gentle adults, I’ll be the proudest mother there is.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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