When I was young, I was an active user of the phrase “like a girl” – I would yell over to my brother across the sports hall, “I can’t get the ball to reach you! I kick like a girl!”, and I would pout as we played Rounders at the annual church picnic, “I wish I could be pitcher, but I throw like a girl”.
Before that, there was a time that I thought, girls can throw, girls can kick – but then there was a moment, shortly after that, when I realised that I, as a girl, couldn’t. I, Bethany, am admitting in this very moment that I am not good at sports, and even though people of all genders, ages and races are not good at sports, as a child, I assumed that I wasn’t good at sports because I was a girl, and not because of the real reasons: I didn’t enjoy it, I didn’t like it, I was never particularly active to begin with.
In my mind, I equated being bad at sports to being a girl, and I would say it over and over, like a girl, like a girl, like a girl – as if doing anything like a girl was inherently the wrong way to do something.
But – and this may come as a shock to some of you – being a girl doesn’t make you bad at anything. Your gender (or lack thereof) does not affect talents, skills or interests. Being a girl doesn’t mean that you’re bad at football – in fact, women’s football is becoming a larger and more important sport daily – in the same way that being a boy doesn’t mean that you’re bad at cooking – the majority of head chefs in upscale restaurants are men, and claiming your lack of cooking skills is down to what’s hanging between your legs is simply lazy.
As a woman, I’ve grown up around the sentiment “like a girl” – I’ve grown with it being a bad thing; as if being a girl was the reason that some in my class were bad at maths, or that I didn’t have a clear grasp of science. I’ve been taught – and I’m sure some of you have, too – that doing things like a girl means that they’re not going to get done right; projects, jobs, throwing the runner out at third base and colour coding spreadsheets, of all things. This is the ideology that we have grown up around; this is the worldview that has been shoved down our throats from day one – from my brother sleeping fitfully as a toddler, and so sleeping through the night becoming sleeping like a girl.
This is what we know; whether it’s for supposed good traits, like cooking, singing, dancing, art – or the supposed bad; not having a talent at sports or STEM subjects, “like a girl” is meant to demean the person it’s referring to.
Whether a little girl is trying to throw toilet paper up to their parent at the top of the stairs, and it only makes it half way, and they’re told they throw like a girl, or it’s a young boy whose work is done in cursive, being informed that they write like a girl – it’s meant to say the following:
“Girls do things worse.”
The phrase “like a girl” is meant to tell you that doing things that way is doing things the way the lesser gender would do them.
But that’s just not true, is it?
When I throw a softball and it goes way off base, rolling far away from the target, I am not throwing like a girl. I am throwing like a girl who doesn’t know how to do it – like someone who hasn’t practised, or trained, or ever actually had a particularly good throwing arm nor aim. When the girl who sits opposite me in my sociology class throws, however, it will go directly where she wants it to, and it will be a fantastic shot. She doesn’t throw like a girl, she throws like a girl who has been practising.
When a boy wears clothes that aren’t traditionally male, they aren’t dressing like a girl, they’re dressing like a boy who likes that goddamn shirt. They’re dressing like a boy who doesn’t let gender norms define their actions.
The term “like a girl” is a cage; it keeps us trapped and imprisoned in a worldview where doing things the way a girl would is the wrong way to do things. But, like with so many other phrases that have been used in the past to oppress, “like a girl” is something we can reclaim.
When a ten year old female (Nishi Uggalle) is told that their IQ is higher than that of Albert Einstein’s, that’s being clever like a girl. When four teenage African women (Duro-Aina Adebola, Akindele Abiola, Faleke Oluwatoyin and Bello Eniola) figured out how to generate electricity with their own urine, that was them being amazing and intellectual like a girl. Nicola Adams, the first ever woman to win an Olympic boxing title, being strong and powerful like a girl.
We can redefine this term and show the qualities that have been overlooked for so long; we can take back this phrase that has been used to categorise women as naturally worse. “Like a girl” doesn’t have to mean bad, slow, stupid, like so many seem to think it does.
“Like a girl” can mean what we want it to; it can hold the same traits and qualities that we know women do, too. “Like a girl” can mean intelligent, strong, fierce, aimed well, kicked well, made well, loved, beautiful, powerful – because girls are these things.
When I do badly at sports, I do it badly like a person who hasn’t practised it in years. When I do well at my job, I do it well like a girl does. I do it well like a person who can sell those goddamn live albums to the masses; like a person who can charge a card payment in ten seconds flat, who can bag products quickly and can explain the deals eloquently.
I do these things like a girl, because that phrase doesn’t have to mean anything bad.
“Like a girl” can mean the opposite; it can mean like a person who knows what they’re fucking doing.
You can find out more about Bethany on her author page.