For as long as I can remember, I have heard people telling someone that they do something “like a girl” when they want to insult them. It can be used for anything – run like a girl, throw like a girl, hit like a girl, cry like a girl (usually directed at men). Bottom line, it is not meant as a compliment.
I was surprised recently to come across something written in 4th century BC that could be the first written evidence of the perception of girls being less capable. I was reading a historical commentary called “Aineias The Tactician How to Survive Under Siege” by David Whitehead. Aineias was one of the earliest Greek writers on the art of war and “How to Survive Under Siege” is his only surviving work. His book was based on tactics that were used at the time and probably was a very useful handbook on how to defend a walled city given the type of weapons available. Some of his recommendations seem pretty obvious like using passwords and having pre-arranged signals so you can tell a friend from an enemy.
Aineias also described ruses that could be used. One of those is what jumped out at me. According to Mr. Whitehead’s translation of Aineias’s work, when one city was under siege and dangerously shorthanded, they disguised women to make them look as much as possible like men. These women carried jugs and bronze utensils to look like helmets and shields and walked along the wall that was most visible to the enemy. In the dark, that probably worked pretty well (this was before fancy telescopes and night vision goggles). The women “were not allowed to throw anything, [however]: a woman is recognizable a long way off by the way she throws.” Yes, Aineias probably started the whole “throws like a girl” prejudice.
Always, a division of Proctor & Gamble, recently kicked off a campaign to stop the negative perception associated with “like a girl”. They created a video where they asked women, men, young girls and boys to demonstrate running like a girl, fighting like a girl, hitting a ball like a girl. All of them pantomimed someone who was uncoordinated, had poor form, and lacked ability. It was pretty sad to see how people demonstrated what they thought a girl would look like running. I know I don’t run like any of them, even on my worst day. Then they were asked what “like a girl” meant. Everyone recognized that it was an insult. At the end, even the little kids realized that “like a girl” should not be something bad.
There are plenty of female athletes who have demonstrated that “like a girl” is just stupid, including Joan Benoit Samuelson and Shalane Flanagan, two tremendously talented distance runners. In fact, it was a woman, Paula Newby-Fraser, an 8-time Ironman World Champion, who trained Hines Ward, former Pittsburgh Steeler and Super Bowl MVP, to complete the 2013 Ironman Triathlon in Kona. No, I would say that “like a girl” isn’t bad.
If you would like to watch the P&G video, click on this link.