1. “Don’t throw like a girl.”
2. “Take it like a man!”
3. “Stop whining; you sound like a little girl!”
4. “Big boys don’t cry.”
These are examples of things I recall being said throughout my childhood, and no one thought anything of it. However, recently, I’ve been hearing these things again, and it’s really disturbing. It is a reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done in how we express what we value, especially to our children.
I live in Asheville, NC. I don’t know how much you know about Asheville, but it’s a hippie, liberal kind of place filled with folks who are consciously trying to evolve. I say this only because it is such a stark contrast to what I am about to tell you.
Let me share the two incidents that are the reason I am now writing this post. The first happened in my own home a few weeks ago and the second occurred just a couple of days later.
Incident #1: “Stop screaming like little girls!”
My husband, Jeff, and I were standing in the kitchen talking with our daughters, Ella (6) and Cassie (5). I don’t remember what about, but I do remember that they were being obnoxiously loud, laughing and screeching in pure delight. Right as I was about to say, “Let’s take it down a notch,” Jeff beat me to it. He blurted out, “Stop screaming like little girls!”
Now, I wish we had this on video because his words did in fact stop the screaming. All three of us turned, looked at him like he’d lost his mind and then Ella said, “Dad, We AAARRRE LITTLE GIRLS! Ha, ha, ha!” And, the craziness resumed because her dad’s remark sounded so absurd, she didn’t think he could possibly be serious.
Score 1 for “little girls” everywhere.
Incident #2: “Don’t hit like a girl.”
It’s a random afternoon. We’re hanging out with some of our very favorite friends. Approximately eight kids (all girls and one boy ages seven and younger) are running around like maniacs and the adults are talking in between trying to tame the madness. After a while, the kids decide to grab some bats and hit some balls. Think age-appropriate, brightly colored toys. Noise-level increases, the crazy-factor goes up, and the fun continues until, for me, it stops.
As I am getting ready to toss a ball to someone, I hear one of the fathers say to the only boy in the group, “Come on buddy, don’t hit like a girl.”
I think it’s important that you know the tone was not shaming or condescending. It actually had a singsong rhythm. The words could have been replaced with, “You’re so silly. I know you’ve got more in you than that. Show me what you’ve got!”
The little boy smiled at his daddy, looking a little shy and a little devilish all at once as if to say, “Gee, dad you caught me. Ok, I’ll give it a real try next time.”
During this brief exchange it felt like everything around me was moving in slow motion as two worlds collided – the old and the new. As the words, “Don’t hit like a GIRL,” registered with me I literally felt myself flinch and my mouth fall open in shock. Who knows what kind of expression I had on my face. I looked around for reactions from all of the “little girls,” and seeing no one stopped in their tracks, I diverted my eyes from the adults knowing they’d give me away.
Sorry to disappoint, but there’s no epic line or drama about how I spoke out on behalf of girls and women everywhere right then and there. Instead, I vowed to write about the experience in hopes that it would be a much more productive way for a greater number of people to become more aware of actions that seem harmless, but in fact are not.
So, what is the big deal if comments like this slip every now and then? The big deal is the message we are sending to our children about what we and the world values in them and from them. The message is that the masculine is superior to the feminine. That being strong, fast, tough, while always calm and cool is better than… well, anything else. I don’t know about you, but that’s not what I believe. And, it’s not the message I want my daughters or their future partners to receive.
You see, the men who made these statements are loving dads with great big hearts who want the best for their children, like we all do. I know: I am married to one of them. But, we all have blind spots that require awareness before we can change.
There is a song by Dar Williams, “When I Was a Boy,” that illustrates how much little girls and little boys have in common, not because they are children, but because they are human beings. As we grow into adults, we seem to lose a bit of that shared humanity as we learn what society expects from a man and what it expects from a woman.
But, let’s stop for a moment and imagine. Imagine a world where these restrictions and limitations are lifted. Rather than attributing feelings and behaviors to one gender or the other, image a world where men and women alike are able to integrate both their feminine and masculine energy. Imagine a world where we all express ourselves in ways that reflect our most authentic nature. That’s the kind of world I want for all of our children.
And, so, THAT’s the big deal.