“Like a Girl”

| November 15, 2017 | 0 Comments

This summer I had the pleasure of working at a summer camp (and I use the word ‘pleasure’ loosely, because summer camps like to do this fun thing where they pay you barely minimum wage) at the ropes course. Rock walls, ziplines, swings– you name it, I operated it at some point. It was arguably the coolest job in camp, but it came with one major downside: team challenge.

Team challenge was the bane of every ropes specialist’s existence. Instead of doing cool things like sending kids off the zipline or coaching them up a tough rock wall, you and one other poor sucker had to take a group of kids out into the woods to teach them about taking turns and working together. The real torture of this job wasn’t that the kids didn’t know how to cooperate– it was that their counselors almost always got annoyed and started trying to interfere before they could work it out themselves.

photo credit: ground.zero Mosquetão a vista!!!! via photopin (license)

photo credit: ground.zero Mosquetão a vista!!!! via photopin (license)

“You’re acting like a bunch of little girls,” one of them complained to his group of 5th grade boys, who’d spent the last fifteen minutes arguing about who should go first on the swing. The boys all paused to look at him. There was a pause as I processed what was said, was baffled by the implication that arguing was somehow a “little girl” thing and that, for that matter, being a little girl is somehow a bad thing.

This was far from the first time in my life I’ve heard girlhood and femininity being tied to traits like weakness, cattiness, and being overemotional. My brothers and I all played soccer as kids, and my dad’s favorite catchphrase was, and still is, “play like a man.” He tried, in his own way, to be encouraging, pointing out women’s soccer players that played well and telling me to “look at her! she’s the man!” But, the fact remained that if he told me I was playing like a girl, that meant I was being too “fraca, Bella.” If he told my brothers they were playing or acting like girls, it was clearly meant to make them feel ashamed.

The message my dad was giving me was that my girlhood was on the opposite side of the spectrum to things like strength, skill, toughness, and teamwork. But they weren’t– they aren’t. And I got tired of being told every time I played well that it was because I was playing “like a man.” My dad didn’t seem to realize that I was playing like a girl the whole time, whether I was failing or succeeding. I was always playing as myself.

Little girls are always encouraged to be like little boys. But why aren’t little boys ever told to “play like a woman”? Why are “masculine traits” almost always seen as good, while “feminine traits” are almost always the punchline to a joke? Why can’t we let little boys and girls be as emotional or strong or caring or tough as they please without giving those qualities gendered labels?

Why have I never in my life heard a little boy encouraged to be more like a little girl?

“Why is that an insult?” I blurted.

All eyes flicked over to me. The counselor blinked, and for the first time seemed to realize that a “little girl” had been in charge of the activity he was at the whole time. He gave an awkward laugh that tapered off when he realized I wasn’t laughing back.

The boys, meanwhile, turned back to their arguing, apparently not getting their counselor’s joke either. And it took them another two minutes but, without any more useless comments from the peanut gallery, they figured themselves out just fine.

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Category: featured, Reflections, The (Sex)es

Isabella Amorim

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Isabella "Izzy" Amorim's hobbies include writing for Culture Shock, spending inordinate amounts of time in BU dining halls, and purchasing children's tickets at movie theaters with her baby face. Play the system, kids.

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