Questioning #LikeAGirl is Just Like a Girl

While Super Bowl XLIX is now a somewhat distant memory, I can’t get one moment out of my mind…. and no, it wasn’t Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll’s “Super Blunder” when he had his QB throw a pass, “waste a play,” and lose the game. (That was a #LikeADamnFool moment if I ever saw one.)

It was the airing of the #LikeAGirl ad, where grown women, a man, a boy, and some little girls demonstrate what it means to “run like a girl” and “fight like a girl.” There is a lot of silly, limp-wristed flopping around to demonstrate the stereotypical “women are the weaker sex” scenario — sadly conveyed not just by the males in the bunch but also by the grown women, too.

And the of course the little girls, who presumably have not yet been gripped by low self-esteem or subjected to antiquated, un-PC, sexist perceptions, proceed to run hard, punch fiercely, and generally kick ass.

For those of us who like to keep score, this campaign sponsored by Always — the feminine protection product that ironically makes me feel like I want to lay down and take a Victorian-era nap vs. be active and bold in the modern world and use a tampon — has been around for about a year. The intention, which is to bolster self-confidence in teen girls, is awesome, albeit a little cloying.

(I personally have mixed feelings about advertisers like Always and Dove that poke a woman right in her most private parts, aka her emotions and feelings of being “less than,” to drive sales. Then again, as a marketing person myself, I say bravo for scoring a direct hit because it sure worked on me! I’m freakin’ blogging about it, for Pete’s sake!)

It didn’t take much digging to find out more of the impetus behind the campaign with this quote by Lauren Greenfield, the filmmaker and director of the #LikeAGirl video. “In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes firsthand,” she said  “When the words ‘like a girl’ are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly disempowering. I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women. I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine ‘like a girl’ into a positive affirmation.”

Loads of peeps agreed with Greenfeld. From the Twitterverse:

He told me I swim like a girl. I told him if he swam a little faster he would too. #LikeAGirl

— iSwim™ (@iSwimWithIssues) February 3, 2015

Inspired by this #LikeaGirl advert today. Girls can do anything they set their minds to. — Malala Fund (@MalalaFund) February 2, 2015

P&G’s #LikeAGirl Ad Scored The Most Social Buzz During Super Bowl 2015 by @sarahintampa

— TechCrunch (@TechCrunch) February 2, 2015

Still, as an old-school communications major, I can’t help but think about Marshall McLuhan’s observation, “The Medium is the Message.” In this case, showing a dumb ass dude “fight like a girl” in a year where the NFL has been addled by horrifying cases of domestic violence and child abuse at the hands of its players, I couldn’t help but feel manipulated by the airing of the #LikeAGirl spot.

If you dig deeper into the psychology of abuse, shame is the root cause and net result. The very point of #LikeAGirl is to shrug off the embarrassment of being “the weaker sex” and present an empowered self to the world. So the irony is pretty rich, especially given the context.

And then of course there was the H8tr backlash with the #LikeABoy tag. Apparently there’s a “meninist” movement, too:

Yo lets get #LikeABoy trending please — Meninist (@MeninistTweet) February 2, 2015

Sometimes I don’t listen to a word my girlfriend says when the tv is on. #likeaboy

— Max Hernandez (@maxitois4real) February 2, 2015

I liked this one:

RT @PrettyAllTrue: Looking forward to the #likeaboy campaign sponsored by Trojan condoms. Genius — Karen Hohman Almeida (@krinhoh) February 2, 2015

When I think about why I’m so activated about this is probably because not only am I a vagina-totin’ American, but I’m also a parenting one. My daughter has never once thought about what it means to run, hit, or do anything like a girl, because she’s smart enough to know that her gender has nothing to do with her ability to perform on a sports field. And the way she plays is hard, competitive, and always amazing… #LikeAPerson.

That leads me to another aspect of the campaign that rubbed me the wrong way — when it says at the end of the ad, “Let’s make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things.”

Oh, you mean like having the ability to squeeze a several pound creature out of our tiny, centimeters large cervix? Wait, I think that that’s called MIRACULOUS, and it’s a super fun party trick that only X-chromosomal beings have the capacity to do.

While I’m all about joining ANYONE (even Always) in championing self-confidence in girls, I’m also intrigued that Always’ tagline is “Rewrite the Rules.” In a land where legislators work to keep gender inequality institutionalized, up to and including insisting that a woman’s right to chose — a law that has been on the books since 1973 — is chronically debatable, the task of shifting society’s perceptions of what females can and can’t do is an undertaking that perhaps only Wonder Woman could handle. And while she’s at it, maybe she could address the gender-wage gap in sports — while Title IX has gone a long way in leveling the collegiate playing field in terms of scholarships, even sports like tennis, which has an equal amount of fans watching both men and women play, show the ladies as making nearly 24% less in prize money in most tournaments than their male counterparts.

As a feminist, a meninist (cuz I have a boy too) and perhaps most importantly, a humanist, I really do believe that the conversation about treating all people equally is important. I loved what some of my MALE Facebook friends had to say about the ad:

“Saw the ad previously on the Internet, and as a father of two girls, I thought it was awesome. Teared up a bit watching it during the game.”

“Liked the concept thought the execution was poor.” (NOTE: I like when women writer/directors enjoy the same scrutiny as male ones.)

“I like it because my daughter kicks ass!” (FULL DISCLOSURE: My #LikeADad hubby wrote that one.)

This particular ad didn’t make me tear up (although many do), but it did clearly stir some powerful emotions up in not just me, but in the 114 million people whose brains were zapped with a super blow to the current belief that #LikeAGirl should no longer be thrown around as an insult because girls are people, too. This kicks the taunt “like a girl” — which is to say wrong or incorrect vs. the “right” way, which is presumably as executed by boys and men — directly in the ‘nads. (More on this note in this excellent article from Jezebel, “Always Ad About ‘Like a Girl’ Taunt Will Make You Cry Like One.”)

Ultimately, flipping the switch on “like a girl” is as good for boys as it is for the little ladies. Because it’s the Y-chromosomal humans that are most often disparaged by being compared to females, be it how they run, fight, act, or look. In a world where #LikeAGirl means amazing things as Always urges, then we are taking care of everyone, regardless of gender.  See how that works?

So if you see me replaying the #LikeAGirl ad so I can really consider all angles, just know I’m not wasting a play — I’m taking this conversation and running with it to advance the cause of gender equality. And I’m doing so for a lot of reasons, but especially because I am currently yards-deep in the second half of raising my daughter (and you’ll know what I’m talking about if you read this great, viral piece by Whitney Fleming on Huffpo, “To My Daughter, At Halftime).  Perhaps if Pete Carroll had thought #LikeAGirl, he’d have realized that letting go in the final seconds of the last quarter is not an option — you gotta take that ball over the finish line to make sure the playing field is leveled and you’ve really, finally won the game.

If you haven’t seen the ad, here’s the extended dance-mix version of what aired during the Super Bowl:

#likeagirlalwaysLauren Greenfeld