Mo’Ne Davis is challenging many people’s ideas about what it means to “throw like a girl.” The 13-year-old pitcher for her little league baseball team has a 70-mile-per-hour fastball.
You read that right.
Mo’Ne Davis and her team will be playing in the Little League World Series that starts on Thursday. While many are celebrating her amazing sports prowess, she has certainly faced some critics. One person commented on the ESPN video of her performance that she should be proud of her work but
“she took the spot of another male player, and while she was obviously better than any other male that would have replaced her, no male would ever be allowed to join a girls team. Politically correctness has gone too far. Men and women are different and that's all there is to it.”
While a number of people disagreed with the post, these sentiments capture the views that are unfortunately held by many in our society and which can and often do lead to the devaluing of girls and women.
The phrase “like a girl” has long been used by boys to insult each other. During my time working at a therapeutic boarding school for adolescent boys I often heard boys saying some version of this to each other during games of capture the flag or ultimate Frisbee (e.g. “you run like a girl!” or “you throw like a girl!”). You can be sure it was never intended in a positive way. As one of the few “girls” (I was an adult woman at the time) around, I asked the boys if they ever thought about how it might make me feel that they were insulting each other in that way. They were genuinely shocked that I called them out on it and tried to explain to me that it had nothing to do with me. I explained to them that it sure did.
Tony Porter, the co-founder of A Call to Men: The National Association of Men and Women Committed to Ending Violence Against Women recently said in a Ted Talk: "If it would destroy [a 12-year-old boy] to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?"
The lessons that girls learn from this practice are not much better.
Always recently unveiled their “Like a girl” campaign, in which they asked older girls and adult women to do things “like a girl” including running, throwing, hitting, etc. Most of them performed in ways that were overly clumsy, goofy, or intentionally incompetent. One girl was asked directly “Is ‘like a girl’ a good thing?” In her response she said, “It sounds like a bad thing. It sounds like you are trying to humiliate someone.” Younger girls were asked to do things like a girl and they are strong, fast, and try their hardest. It is evident that girls are given messages throughout puberty that doing things like a girl is a problem. It is something they learn—not something they are born with.
There have been some important critiques to the Always campaign and others like it, calling into question whether advertising that is trying to capitalize on girl power is effective and warning of possible dangers of co-opting messages of empowerment in order to market something.
But I have to say, if you keep watching that video you just might not care. Watching young women be challenged about their internalization of the devaluing of doing something “like a girl” and seeing them embrace their own strengths is pretty amazing. It made me think about the ways in which I have internalized that same message, despite all the work I do around gender equity. That video makes me cry every time a watch it.
Just like a girl.
-Britney Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.