Pad company Always has taken a page from Dove’s playbook, releasing s short video (above) aimed at confronting gender stereotypes and empowering girls and women to love themselves.
Titled “#LikeAGirl,” the video has racked up millions of YouTube views since it was posted last week and it’s making the rounds on my social networks, perhaps on yours, as well.
#LikeAGirl is shot like a casting call; a series of (thin, conventionally attractive because of course) female twentysomethings, plus one twentysomething dude and a pre-teen boy, are brought in before a blank background, One by one, they’re asked by a director to “run like a girl,” “fight like a girl,” “throw like a girl,” and “hit like a girl.”
Each of them pantomimes the requested actions. Without exception, each does so in a stereotypically ‘effeminate’ way (i.e.: ditzy and pathetically unathletically).
Next, a series of prepubescent girls are brought in and asked to do the same thing. This time, however, the girls run, fight, throw and hit without any traditionally female-coded affectation.
This is the a-ha moment. The video cuts to its provocative question: “When did doing something ‘like a girl’ become an insult?”
I think this is supposed to be a rhetorical question but I can answer it:
When your culture devalues women, anything associated with being female is devalued, too — and make no mistake, our culture definitely devalues women.
It’s why words for female genitalia are used as slurs. Even pet names ostensibly meant as terms of affection are insults if levelled against men; I’ve been told by male hockey players that calling one’s opponent Muffin is a good way to get under his skin. (Sweetheart, one imagines, would carry a similar sting.)
In our culture, to be female is to be less-than. Weak and incompetent. Laughable. At times, not even human (case in point: the widespread objectification of women’s bodies, whether used as props in fashion spreads or as inspiration for furniture, urinals included).
You don’t have to live in the world a long time to pick up on the messages our culture promotes about what it means to be female.
Asked whether “being like a girl is a good thing or a bad thing,” one of the younger girls in #LikeAGirl astutely observes: “It sounds like a bad thing – it sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone.”
Another insight comes courtesy of the pre-teen boy, who offers a great example of the cognitive dissonance many of us experience when trying to wrap our heads around the love we feel for the girls and women we know in our personal lives when, at the same time, that love occurs within a misogynistic cultural context.
The boy is asked: “Do you think you just insulted your sister?” He replies: “No. I mean, yeah, I insulted girls – but not my sister.”
Always’ video invites us to reject the notion that there’s anything wrong with being “like a girl.”
It’s a noble goal and overall, I like the video – though I did take issue with the emphasis on individual culpability for a systemic problem.
For example, its subjects are allowed to reflect on their performances and several of the women are shown to be contrite, almost embarrassed.
Here’s your discussion question: Should they feel ashamed? Didn’t they do exactly what they have been culturally conditioned to do?
Also: why might girls not throw or fight as well as boys? COULD IT BE THEY ARE SOCIALIZED TO AVOID SPORTS AND PHYSICAL VIOLENCE AND, THEREFORE, HAVE LESS PRACTICE AT SUCH THINGS?
Near the end of the video, we meet another twentysomething woman. She confidently point out that being a girl is not something to be ashamed of and girls should just “keep doing it ’cause it’s working” and also, “it doesn’t matter what they say.”
Except, of course, that it DOES matter what “they” say. In fact, the whole reason this video was made is because it matters.
Patriarchy hurts everyone.
When we indulge in gender stereotypes, we limit the potential of all humans to be their authentic selves — whether they identify as male, female or somewhere in between. We perpetuate the idea that a girl can’t throw a baseball or a boy can’t play with a doll; that a woman should cook and desire babies, and that a man should be the breadwinner for his family and never cry.
In reality, when French dancer/choreographer Yannis Marshall and his crew dance to a Beyoncé medley in six-inch heels they’re not dancing ‘like girls’ — they’re dancing like men (and killing it) because they are men.
Our society likes to frame gender as a rigid set of rules to be followed OR ELSE. But that framework is wrong. Gender is nothing more than a cultural construct. Freedom is ours.