Friday, December 5, 2014

Like a Girl

This morning I've been mulling over the phrase, "You [blank] like a girl," after seeing it in an episode of a favorite TV show of mine.

I won't drag this out for a long time so you wonder how I feel about this phrase.

I don't like this phrase. I really don't like this phrase. I believe that it does great harm to women and men in the guise of innocent teasing.

Why don't I like this phrase?

First, I'd like to say that it's not because it implies that women can't do what men can do. 

I should clarify. The phrase does imply that women can't do what men can do, but that's not what makes me dislike this phrase. 

While I am very aware that men are still given preferential treatment and opportunities in many areas of life, especially business, I'm focusing on a broader perspective. If gender and race equality is the desired state of this nation, I think we're all well aware that it's a lot father away than we'd like to believe. 

Instead, here are the points that concern me: 

The phrase "like a girl" requires comparison. 

Whether you're a woman or a man, you've probably been told that you [blank] like a girl at least once in your life. Amazingly, actually being a girl in no way excludes you from being told this. 

And it's always negative. And you're told it because you have performed at a level below the desired level. Because you're weak or slow or irrational. 

Hold on to that last sentence. We'll be back to it for sure. 

Once you've been told that you perform or behave "like a girl," you must then compare yourself to the desired state, which is inevitably different than you. And that "different" is seen as more desirable than what you have to offer. 

Let's look at the most common example. 

"You throw like a girl." 

Well, if you've just thrown a ball as hard as you possibly can, then you've just been told that your best is not good enough. If you're a girl or a boy, you must compare yourself to others of both genders, some of whom you're ashamed to be like, and some of whom you dream of being. What ends up being lost is contentment with being you. Being exactly who you were made to be. 

Of course, it's always important to refine, strengthen, and strive to be the best you that you can be, but comparison really doesn't help that. Comparing yourself to another and then striving to be like that only serves to mold you into someone else. 

What else is wrong? Let's revisit that sentence, "Because you're weak or slow or irrational." 

Turning a neutral word into a pejorative warps perceptions . . .

When I was a teacher, my students hated my two most important rules.

My first rule was that students couldn't tell each other to "shut up."

And my second rule prohibited the use of the words "gay" and "retarded" as pejoratives.

Now, I find myself wishing that I'd added "girl" to that list.

In the end, what kind of words are these words like "gay," "retarded," and "girl" replacing? They're standing in for words like stupid, weak, slow, idiotic, lame, gross, etc. And as an English teacher, if I'm going with the simplest explanation, swapping one word in for another without changing the meaning implies that those words are synonyms.

It may be one thing to use"gross" and "spider" are synonyms (and I am sorry if I have hurt anyone's feelings if they feel spiders are beautiful). But it's an entirely different matter to use [stupid, weak, slow, idiotic, lame, gross] as a synonym for "girl" (and also "gay" and "retarded") because you're talking about people. You're talking about an entire group of people. And with the word "girl," you're talking about half of the people on the planet.

*I can revisit the "gay" and "retarded" idea later, too, because I cannot express how strongly I feel about how awful it is to call something "gay" or "retarded."

. . . and the use of "girl" as a pejorative devalues women -- for both women and men. 

It's not a conscious thing that we do when we use phrases such as "like a girl." It's not meant to be anything more than a taunt or a tease to get someone to perform better. 

But, in the end, it's ingrained in everyone's mind that the state of "girl" is the lesser state. It's like a permanent stamp in the brain: To be a "girl" is to be "not good enough." It's a permanent spot on the Second Place podium. Second place is pretty great until you realize that there are only two places. 

And when a woman believes (and knows that others also believe) she is in Second-Place-but-it's-really-Last-Place, it's pretty hard for her to believe the most important thing: 

She is a precious and valuable human being exactly as she is made and should be valued as such by everyone

And when men believe that a woman is a second-class citizen, it can rear its head in ugly ways: misogyny, domestic violence, abuse, rape. Those are the obvious and detestable ways. But there are subtler aspects that hurt everyone. 

What about the boy who cries and is then told to "Suck it up and be a man"? What about the woman whose boss or coworkers make a cruel joke, and when she tells them that it wasn't a nice thing to say, they tell her to "calm down"? What about the husband who sees his wife's tears and immediately wishes she could keep her emotions in control like him?  What about all those jokes that imply women are slaves to their hormones and incapable of behaving "normally" when menstruating or pregnant or menopausal? 

In the end, it's more than a lack of understanding. 

Men who demonstrate emotion are less "manly" than those who are stoic and stern. Telling someone that they've been rude or racist or sexist is less desirable than joining in with the "joke." Women who let tears roll down their faces are instantly irrational. Women are literally born crazy because of their hormones. 

These things indicate so much more than a lack of understanding. Some feminine things have their place, while others should really have no place. And some things labeled "feminine" are actually universal, but should be extinguished if you don't want people to think you're "LIKE A GIRL." 

And what's wrong with being LIKE A GIRL? 

Nothing. Because there's nothing wrong with girls. Or women. They are different than men. Physically. Hormonally. Mentally. 

But "different" does not mean "less than." 

It just means different.  


I hope one day to teach my sons to value and appreciate women for so much more than their looks, talents, and attributes. I hope I can teach them to value women as human beings uniquely made on purpose by God. And that to devalue those aspects that are devalue His creation. 


Deep thoughts today. Keep it real, 

1 comment:

  1. Genesis 1:27 - So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female He created them. - We are created in His image and I am honored to have read this.