Like most of us, I was pretty incredibly stoked about the #LikeAGirl commercial that aired during the Super Bowl this weekend. I actually cried I was so overjoyed watching the girls in the video not playing into what they might already know is expected of them as an insult to other girls, or maybe just not even yet being aware that the world has any lower expectations of them than it does for men. It reminded me of the scrappy, awesome campers I used to lead at what I affectionately refer to as “hippie camp,” aka the all outdoor day camp I was a counselor at for a few summers. When left to their own powers, little girls kick the most ass.
Personally, I grew up in a pretty great family. I used to lament not having a sister, but lately I’ve been reflecting a lot on how growing up with two brothers and no sisters shaped me. I don’t think my parents ever consciously thought about gender undertones in children’s toys, TV programming, clothes, and everything, but being outnumbered by boys while being a girl interested in “girly” things gave me a kind of balance anyway.
When my dad took his kids out into the backyard to play catch, he took all his kids. It wasn’t a question of whether I could throw or catch as well as my brothers. I just went outside with all of them and we played catch.
When Dad showed us how to place our fingers on the football and how to throw a good spiral, it wasn’t a question of whether I could do it as well as my brothers. I just learned with them.
Of course, there were some differences. I liked to play with dolls, not just because my mom gave them to me. I wanted an EZ Bake Oven and I blame my complete lack of skill in the kitchen as an adult on never having one. (Don’t reason with me, I still want that EZ Bake Oven. It wasn’t a “girly” thing. I wanted to be able to make brownies in my room whenever I wanted, even my brothers wanted “in.”) My brothers played with action figures and toy cars. Don’t think we didn’t share though. My brothers sometimes joined me in playing Barbies. I sometimes joined them in playing pretend at Star Wars (and when I wasn’t playing a member of the Rebel Alliance named Jedi Nevie, I most def made sure my designation as Princess Leia was just as kickass tucking and rolling over beds and other vicious obstacles when we stormed the Death Star). We built forts together. We play-fought and rough-housed. We hunted for hidden treasure around our neighborhood together. We played pretend at Dinosaurs and picked out habitats like “the Savannah” to narrow down our choices when we played Animals. We led neighborhood bike rides full of like 20 kids in a pack together. Once we packed up our Red Wagon and drew a map to Maine and tried to run away from home and made it to the cul-de-sac down the block before we decided we wanted Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches.
It wasn’t that we were gender-blind. We knew, from commercials on TV, from TV shows, from the color of the covers of the books we read, what was “supposed to be” a girl’s toy or a boy’s book. We knew that I wore skirts and dresses to church and the boys didn’t. Little girls played with Barbies in the commercials and little boys played with Star Wars Legos.
But on rainy days during summer vacation, I had just as close of a seat to watching the Indiana Jones marathons, and my brothers played a board game called “Party Mania!” with me, which was all about, like, totally like, doing all your chores before like, the really cute boy named Brad’s party that night like OMG.
Eventually we all started playing soccer. I couldn’t run with endurance or do fancy footwork, but I was gritty and tough and smart so I tried my hand at goal keeper. When my two best friends in 4th grade, Angie and Nikki, and I got tired of playing 4-Square and hula hoops, we held a little meeting between the three of us, eyeing the soccer field that only the boys played on every day at recess. “We should be able to play,” we agreed. It wasn’t that girls weren’t allowed by the school. It was just that no girls ever showed up for team-picking that day.
So we puffed up our chests and mustered up our courage and marched out to the soccer field one day at recess. Immediately, the groaning. I still remember the names and the faces of all the boys that protested. We kept our mean mugs on. We weren’t smiling or pleading. We stood our ground. “We want to play. And we’re good.” Knowing they’d lose the fight if we went to the playground aides to complain that they wouldn’t let us play, they begrudgingly allowed us to line up to be picked. I volunteered the information that “I’m a good goalie,” to which I was greeted with skeptically raised eyebrows.
Of course, Angie, Nikki, and I were all picked last by the two boy team captains that first day.
Then Nikki scored a goal. Angie knocked some boy down stealing the ball. I cleared the whole field in one punt after a save in goal.
The next day, we marched out to the soccer field again. We lined up for teams to be picked. It was maybe 25-30 kids broken up into teams of 10-15. After the first round of picks, the first boy “picked,” a kid named Anthony, tapped his captain on the shoulder and said “Get Nevie, she punts good.”
In the 8th grade I had a gym teacher named Mr. Parrish, who coached girls’ field hockey up at the high school I’d soon be going to. (You may remember him from this post.) I’d also had him as my gym teacher in the 6th grade. In middle school gym we rotated sports every unit. I was terrible at running. I was terrible at tennis. I was terrible at basketball. I was terrible at lacrosse. I was decent at field hockey, and Mr. Parrish started suggesting I should come out for the high school field hockey team when I was in the ninth grade. I was awesome at sit-and-reach, and I think the only person who ever sat-and-reached farther than I did was like, a trained ballerina named Cheryl.
But then came the football unit.
I threw the best spiral on the football in the class. Not just out of the girls – the whole class.
Papa B hadn’t spent any less or more time teaching me where to place my fingertips on the laces for throwing that spiral than he had for my brothers. They hadn’t left me out of sports in the backyard.
Of course there were days where my older brother had his older dude friends over and maybe didn’t want his kid sister tagging along insisting she join in on catch, and maybe that’s where my “just because I’m a GIRL doesn’t mean I don’t BELONG HERE” lifelong attitude started being shaped. That and the boys in my 3rd grade class who teased me for playing soccer and assumed I was bad at it, before Angie, Nikki, and I had stormed the soccer field the following year at recess and made room for ourselves in the lineup. And the asshole in my gym class named Caleb who was so steamed a girl threw a better spiral than him that he began finding any reason he could to make fun of me for the rest of the year, until I threw a spiral right into his crotch.
My friends know I’m a feminist. I won’t go into a long rant here about why I think “being a feminist” should just be implied if you are a person who believes in equality. And no, I don’t believe in this “it should be EQUALISM” bullshit, which I think the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie sums up pretty well here. Feminism is the celebration that women are just as capable and powerful as men in the face of a society that says otherwise, and it’s also a celebration of that which has been stereotyped as “feminine,” a celebration that empowers men, who feel like they can’t be seen as feminine because it implies weakness, to be able to express emotions or sentiments they might otherwise hide. (Why do more men commit suicide than women? Might have something to do with the stigma against men feeling like they can’t ask for help or talk about their feelings.)
So now that that’s out of the way. Feminism rocks.
So my friends know I’m a feminist, like I said. So when they see me gearing up for a race in a sparkly skirt or tutu, I often am asked, “why?”
The answer is simple: I have nothing to prove. The sparkly skirt and the tutu don’t make the runner. The grit and determination and hard work make the runner, and I’ve got that in spades.
I could go on. Whether you agree with their politics, statements, what have you, these are women who know how to get shit done. They are fighting to make the world better. They are smart, they are tough, and they are strong as all hell. From the fierce compassion of Ms. Lopez in fighting for better opportunities for her students, to the upbeat optimism of Ms. Larkin in curing childhood cancer even after the loss of her son, to the no-bullshit intellectualism of Ms. Warren in the bullshit world of politics, to the spitfire energy of Ms. Williams in an artistic genre dominated by misogyny, to the literally life-saving global efforts of Ms. Yousafzai, Ms. Makoni, and Ms. Jan, to the racial awareness and brilliant conversations brought on by the words of Ms. Walker and Ms. Giovanni, there is no denying that women fight just as hard, if not harder, and to effective ends.
So whatever you do, whether it’s run, pitch, tackle, design, teach, engineer, lobby for change, sing, rock, write, speak, program, plan, analyze, research, experiment, paint, love, live… take a cue from the women around you, and do it #LikeAGirl.