Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Like A Girl

Howdy, folks,


While drinking the obligatory cuppa this morning, I came across this article and  was moved to drag this essay I wrote out of mothballs and share it with you.


I wrote this post some years ago, but this is subject matter that, unfortunately, does not become irrelevant. Whether you watch the Superbowl or not, it’s impossible to not know what ads get run on that Sunday, as they shape the course of conversation for weeks to come. I thought it was beyond great that this particular ad was run, and that so many people saw it. It was also crushingly disappointing (but not at all surprising) that it was considered “controversial”, and that it caused so much ugly backlash.

Anyways, you all know posting commentary on news is not something I do here. But this is a subject...maybe the subject...that I am the most passionate about of all. So I thought that seeing how the water cooler talk this week seems to include this subject, I might share my thoughts and observations. So please indulge me this, and I will see you all again on Thursday. Have a good week!


Here’s an observation from the Field Day I volunteered to help out at my  kid's school. I was in charge of organizing and supervising the kids on the giant bouncy slide. The protocol was “one kid up the ladder while one is coming down”.

Well, the ladder leading up to the top was a steep, slippery incline with barely-there toeholds and ropes on each side to use to haul yourself up. It was not an easy climb, and we spent a lot of time yelling encouragement and cheering when a kid made it to the top. It was fun but challenging. Each class would cycle through the slide as many times as they could before the timer went off and they moved on to the next game.

While I was there sending class after class after class of first graders through this thing, I noticed a few things.

The first thing I noticed was that the girls consistently out-performed the boys. Now, at this age, nobody’s really got a ton of upper body strength, and everyone’s roughly the same size, more or less. But the girls, in most cases, managed to make it to the top in a fraction of the time it took for the boys to do it. I even had one girl with her arm in a sling, who went up the thing like a squirrel going up a tree.

After a while, I realized it had nothing to with athletic aptitude and everything to do with mindset. The girls were simply trying to quickly and efficiently get to the top. An overwhelming number of the boys were more interested in showing off. In their defense, it looked easier than it actually was. And when they failed to show the world that they were, in fact, Spiderman, they became flustered so that they then were focused more on saving face than they were on solving the problem.

As a dweeb with two left feet and no athletic ability whatsoever, I’m not gloating or laughing at this ineptitude. Nor am I sitting here making any sort of commentary about what gender is more athletic. “Girls rule” is not the punchline to this. I’m simply giving you a little backstory as to what came next.

Cue the moms coming along with each class shouting encouragement to their flailing, floundering sons.  Do I have to tell you what a large number of moms were saying? I bet I don’t. I bet you know.

“Oh, come on. Even the girls can do it.”

Now, let’s pick that apart apart a bit. This wasn’t dads saying it. It was consistently the moms.

I may have made a few snarky comments along the way, such as “Oh, don’t feel bad, he’s no worse than any of the rest of the boys.” or “He’s not climbing like a girl. If he was, he’d be up there already.” I might have said those things, because I am an insufferable smartass...but my memory’s not the best.  I digress. First of all, really, Moms? You’re a woman, and you were, presumably, a girl...and now you’re teaching your little boy that girls are inferior and that he ought to be able to beat their time simply by merit of the fact that he’s got a penis (which, interestingly enough, nobody thought to use as a climbing appendage that day, anyways)? Really?

Furthermore, nearly the entire female half of the class was consistently outperforming the boys, and we’re all witnessing this all morning; and you’re still going to relegate the performance of girls to the absolute bottom rung of what is considered competent? Because they’re, you know, girls? And regardless of what we’re all seeing, regardless of what’s happening around us under a bright and illuminating sun on a clear day, regardless of cold, hard evidence, your boy still ought to be able to do better than a girl because hey, he’s got a dick (which I can’t stress enough is not an appendage one uses for climbing)?

“Even the girls can do it”? I think that’s what offends me the most, you know? The inclusion of the word “even.” Because I know what you mean when you say it, moms. Do you know what you’re saying? If you don’t, I’ll translate it for you: “Hey, girls, nobody cares htat you’re better at this. You’re still the worst of the worst, because you’re a girl.” and “Hey, boys, girls are inferior, and any skill level they show is a baseline you ought to be able to easily beat. And if you can’t, there’s something wrong with you.”

Ladies. You’re trying to shame your sons by saying they’re less athletic than a girl. First off, it shouldn’t be an insult to be called less than an athletic girl. any more than it should be an insult to be called less than an athletic boy. We are what we are.  Are you telling me you were okay with idiots saying things like “stop acting like a girl” or “you throw like a girl” or “even girls can do it” when you were a kid? How did that not make you incandescent with rage as a child? How can it be coming out of your own mouths now?

Secondly, lay off. Some people are more athletic than others. Little boys trying to have fun don’t need to have their manhood called into question in front of their peers, least of all by their mothers. The last thing we need is more misogynists with mommy issues out there, so stop trying to turn your kid into one. Maybe if he wasn’t being pressured by this sort of horseshit, he’d be spending more time tackling his challenges and learning how to excel than he does trying to show off and prove his superiority and what an Olympian he is. Maybe if he was allowed to simply fall down a slippery incline, bouncing and laughing, for as many times as it took for him to figure out his own way, he wouldn’t have to save face with his ears burning with embarrassment that his own mother just emasculated him in front of his entire class. Maybe he’d be more inclined to think out problems if he wasn’t terrified of failing.

So I guess what I’m saying is for heaven’s sake think about what you’re teaching boys...and girls. Do not think they don’t hear it and internalize it. Yes, it was offhanded comments, from people meaning no harm. But you know what? It’s the little things. The little tiny chips and dents. It ain’t the big things. It’s the things that nobody notices, that “don’t mean anything.”

Language means something. Especially when it’s coming out of the mouth of the most important person in the world.



Pam Slice said...

Life would be so much better if we all thought before we spoke. Gender inequality gets indoctrinated into us at an early age. I'm so glad that there is a movement to change that.

Gina Shelley said...

What leaves me breathless is how deeply ingrained it is into the very language and the way we communicate. People who don't even think this way say things like this. I have said things like this without a second thought. It's like air and landscape.
That's got to change.

Ryan said...

The problem here is that a degree of inequality does indeed exist between boys and girls. Not on an elementary school level of course. As you said, at that age, the differences in physical capabilities between boys and girls are marginal at best.

Once you get to high school age and beyond though, dreadfully unfair though it may be for the girls, boys do develop certain physical advantages which mean that in any kind of physical contest between (equally athletic) boys and girls, the boys will usually emerge triumphant.

With such a demonstrable difference existing, it is oh so very easy to consider girls and women inferior. It is also very, very wrong to do so.

Regardless of whether or not an athletic girl may be able to compete against equally athletic boys (and completely trounce the vast majority of less athletic ones), you can be certain that their effort, commitment and determination are not one iota less than that of the boys and every bit as deserving of our respect and admiration.

Gina Shelley said...

You're right, Ryan. Most of that is true, although I would say that your assertion that usually can't beat a man in a sport is not entirely true. I think it depends on the sport. Women on the average are not usually as strong as men, but they can certainly be as fast or balanced. So it depends on the sport.

But really, that's not my point. My point is more about the way language and casual put downs can erode a person, and can become acceptable to the point of going unnoticed. And are so pervasive that they trump hard evidence.