We all know the true test of awesomeness comes down to three skills: Running, throwing and fighting. Doing any of these activities while appearing to be female is cause for mocking, according to all-star world champion experts in those divisions, AKA, boys.
But rather than let that verdict stand, a new ad from the Procter & Gamble-owned Always, self-proclaimed world leader in feminine protection, has set out to tackle this longstanding dustup in a new commercial. Helmed by documentarian Lauren Greenfield, who did the excellent doc Queen of Versailles, it asks grown ups to demonstrate running, fighting, and throwing "like a girl."
The results are what you'd expect: A grown woman running like an idiot, a grown man pawing at the air like an idiot, a grown woman throwing a punch like an idiot.
I say idiot, because this is really what we mean when we say someone does something "like a girl": It means like someone who doesn't know how to do it, or does it like someone without skill or self-control. Flailing arms, poor form, general stupidity. Weak sauce.
Then, the commercial asks actual girls to do the same things, and they do, only rather than exaggerate a cartoonish version of ineptitude, they simply run, throw a punch, or fight, because duh, they are people and girls can throw, punch and run.
The you do X thing like a girl taunt is not really a direct taunt about gender, it's a taunt about gender differences. This seems like a minor distinction, but it isn't. When you tell a girl she throws like a girl, what you're usually telling her is that she isn't really throwing correctly, but correctly is defined by throwing like a boy, which usually just means knowing how to throw because someone taught you to do it a jillion times as if one day you would be a pro baseball pitcher.
But throwing is throwing.
If throwing lands the object at the desired location, you threw it.
If running gets you from point A to point B, you ran.
If you land the punch, you fought.
Too frequently, we don't even teach girls how to do the things we teach boys, and then we use that lack of knowledge to justify the differentness. The first time a boy throws, he also throws like shit, too. It's practicing for hours every day that makes anyone a good thrower, but somehow we forget all the work and just seem to believe that boys are innately better at the very things we prop them up to be better at. It's a mind-fuck.
Then we go and value the things boys do and that we teach boys to do, so that the advantage remains. If the tables were turned and little girls were the dominant jerks, they could say things to boys like, "You menstruate like a boy." Meaning: Not at all. Get it? What a riot.
Also, we divide sports by gender, shuttle women into "girl sports" like volleyball and softball, then designate them to cheer for more "important," i.e., "boy" sports rather than playing them. (Then we hash out whether the cheering even gets to "count" as a sport or not. Verdict: Nah.)
It's a vicious cycle. Not to mention the fact that, hey, if you're trying to prove one gender is innately more awkward at puberty, there are just as many reasons to mock boys, who get pimply faced, squeaky voiced, gangly as fuck, and boner-plagued. #nothanks
Lady empowerment ads are all the rage right now — Dove wants us to feel beautiful, Pantene wants us to stop apologizing, monthly tampon subscriptions want us to celebrate our periods with a wink.
While all ad companies are bullshit liars to a point, willing to do or say whatever it takes to get your money, I would rather have empowerment cheese over shame-based guilt, which seems to be the two usual suspects in a capitalist economy.
The exception of late are those period ads, though, because they manage to strike a tone in the middle: understanding that aspects of girliness and femininity can be both awesome and empowering, while also being perfectly embarrassing and gross at times, and that it's ours to decide how to feel about. This is not an easy tone to strike.
The Always ad opts not to strike it. In fact, by setting us up with that mockery of what "like a girl" means to boys and grown ups, we are primed to feel uplifted when we see real girls unfazed by it, yet filled with dread as we register what fate awaits them, the plummeted confidence that comes with puberty.
It's the Upworthy uplift instead of the in-the-know wink. A friend who saw the ad suggested that they could have cut the entire first half and simply shown girls running, fighting, and throwing, and added a tag about being "like a girl" being awesome.
And yet, the ad still made me a little teary (like a woman), because I have a 4-year-old daughter who has unassailable confidence right now to run fast, throw fast, fight hard, and try anything, but on the daily, we correct innocuously stereotypical ideas about how boys with long hair "look like girls" or that boys "can't be pretty" or what girls can do or boys can do, all while trying to give her the space to come at femininity however she chooses.
It is impossible to know now whether what we do makes a difference. It is disheartening either way, and feels Sisyphean, and yet, you wake up, grab your shovel, and scoop away the avalanche again. So it's interesting that the ad asks those adult women to re-do their conception of "like a girl," and then they just run.
And this is the message at the commercial's end:
"Keep doing it 'cause it's working. If somebody else says that running like a girl, or kicking like a girl, or shooting like a girl is something that you shouldn't be doing, that's their problem. Because if you're still scoring, and you're still getting to the ball on time, and you're still being first, you're doing it right. It doesn't matter what they say.
I mean, yes, I kick like a girl, and I swim like a girl, and I walk like a girl, and I wake up in the morning like a girl because I am a girl. And that is not something that I should be ashamed of, so I'm going to do it, anyway. That's what they should do."
Here is hoping it is that simple.