Taking Pride in Being “Like a Girl”

By Sabrina (Bong) Bartels — Like many disgruntled Packers fans, I turned on the Super Bowl for two reasons:

  1. I wanted to see the Seattle Seahawks lose in some sort of humiliating fashion.
  2. I really, really wanted to see the new commercials.

Maybe it seems silly that I love watching the commercials, but I love seeing what new, creative techniques people come up with to market their products. Need to talk about life insurance? Use a heartbreaking story about the children you may leave behind. Want to sell a snack? Use a puppy!

However, when I think back to Super Bowl Sunday, one commercial really stands out in my mind. It was created by Always (a brand many of us women are familiar with!) It starts off simple enough: people were brought into a studio with a simple backdrop and a few lights.

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In front of the camera, they were asked, “What does it mean to fight like a girl? Run like a girl? Throw like a girl?”

The next few seconds show clips of adult men, women, and a teenage boy pretending to run, throw, and fight like a girl. Throughout the commercial, it is evident what these individuals think: that fighting like a girl means flailing awkwardly, that throwing like a girl involves throwing something less than a foot in front of you, things like that. The commercial then asks, “When did doing something ‘like a girl’ become an insult?”

Now, I was raised to believe that I could do most anything a boy could do. I was aggressive on the soccer field (almost more so than any other boy on the team) and could outsprint anyone who tried to race me. For me, it was never a question of whether or not I could do something as well as a boy. Was this true for every girl?

Curious, I decided to replicate what the commercial did. During my self-esteem group, I asked the girls to show me what it meant to “fight like a girl.” Two girls immediately giggled and engaged in a “slap-fight” where they simply batted each other’s hands. One girl suggested that fighting like a girl means gossiping and starting rumors. The fourth girl agreed and said that fighting like a girl meant rolling your eyes and being mean to other people. And when I asked them to “run like a girl,” they all began to do a really goofy run, complete with flinging their hair back and forth and taking tiny shuffling steps.

“Is that how you run?” I asked them.

“No,” they all responded earnestly.

“Then why are you running like that? You’re all girls.”

And then, one of the girls looked at me and simply said, “Because that’s how we’re supposed to run.”

It broke my heart to hear that. For the rest of the session, we discussed what it “really” meant to be a girl. We talked about different Disney movies that portray women as heroes (Mulan, Brave, and Frozen, to name a few,) and celebrated things that girls are good at. We also talked about powerful girls that are in the news, such as Mo’ne Davis, who was a pitcher in the 2014 Little League World Series. My students were shocked that a girl was able to pitch better than some boys they knew! They said they were inspired to try new things and be “as good as the boys.”

Seeing this commercial really made me think about how I want to portray myself as a woman and potential role model for my students. I never want my girls to sit around thinking that they can’t play sports or be as good as the boys. I want my female students here to embrace what makes them unique, and be proud of the fact that they are strong, independent young women. I want them to walk out of middle school holding their heads high, secure of the fact that being a girl means that they are limitless and full of potential.

Take a look at the commercial for yourself:


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