Recently I overheard an extremely harassed mother complain that her son was doing a particular task ‘like a girl’ and of course I had to see what he was doing so brilliantly. I mean, as we all know, girls are so amazing and wonderful that whatever he was doing was bound to be of such great talent, strength and skill that it surely warranted a nosey. Right? Wrong. The poor lad was trying unsuccessfully to work the costume dryer machine in the changing rooms after his swimming lesson. He wasn’t pressing down on the lid hard enough so it wasn’t kicking in. And this was making his mother furious. Not just because a queue was building up behind him and this was clearly upsetting him. Not just because she was in a rush, and hot and needed to get home to make dinner. Not just because a wet costume in a gym bag is really annoying and likely to make everything else wet too. Oh no. Because he was doing it ‘like a girl’. With no strength. No ability. No common sense. Like a girl?!
I have there girls, and crucially I also have a son who I would like to grow up with respect for girls. It starts at home. Whatever he can do, they can do too. However strong he is, they are equally so. Whatever chores they have, he has them too. In our house, ‘like a girl’ is in no way an insult. It’s praise. It’s observation of a job well done. It’s… something we never say. But if we did, it would be a compliment. So I have to wonder when exactly did it become such an insult?
Not long after this incident, someone told my son that he was doing something ‘like a girl’ and I have to say that I crumpled a little. Now. Being like a girl is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it should be seen as an amazing thing. But it’s not. And what’s more, telling my son that he is somehow inferior to his gender because he is doing something ‘like a girl’ is just as bad as telling my daughters they are not as good as boys too. And on top of that, this is my son being told that he is superior to his sisters. That by behaving as a girl would behave, he is disgracing his manhood. That he should want to be a man. That he should always consider himself better.
There is so much wrong with the phrase ‘like a girl’ that I really don’t know where to start.
Who wants to be like a girl? We all should! Girls are born with the power. Girls are born with between one and two million tiny eggs in their ovaries, ready for when they are women and able to reproduce. Girls grow into beings capable of making, carrying and delivering people for goodness sake! If that’s not incredible, I don’t know what is. Girls are not superior to boys. Boys are not superior to girls. And my children are their own people. If they do something in a particular way, then they do it in a ‘Luka way’. Not ‘like a girl’. Why do we use this phrase as an insult? Because we find girls and women and how they perform tasks to be of lower ability than boys and it has to stop.
For my son, growing up with three sisters he needs to know he is every bit as special as them, but he also needs to know he is not more special. Or superior. Or better. He is him, and they are them. And we need to let that be. He needs to know that being shy, or hesitant or sensitive is not a bad thing. And to my four year old who questioned what it means to be ‘like a girl’: it means awesome, sweetheart.