Like A Girl

Taking a break from my blog this week.  I didn’t want to leave you without reading material so I dug into the Funatical Runner archives and pulled out this post from August 5, 2014.   I updated it just a bit.  Happy New Year!

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 – except the young girls – 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.  But the demonstrations by the young girls showed skill and coordination.  It makes me wonder when the switch in perceptions occurs between young girls and adult women.  When do they start viewing themselves so poorly and why does it happen?

Finally they were asked what “like a girl” meant. Everyone recognized that it was an insult. At the end, even the young boys 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.

Anyone Can!

It was pretty hot this weekend for my long run.  I wanted to avoid the heat as much as possible so I got up super early.  There were quite a few other runners who had the same idea.  For some reason, all the runners I saw seemed to be friendlier than usual, greeting each other, smiling or just nodding.  Maybe we recognized that we all are members of the same crazy fraternity of runners who had to get their miles in no matter what the weather.  Normal people would be staying inside their air conditioned homes.

I was running the last mile of my 13-mile run on a long straight part of the trail.  I could see over a mile down the trail.  I saw a young woman runner approaching me from the opposite direction.  This runner was a bit heavier and moving a bit slow.  I noticed that when someone passed her, she avoided eye contact and looked down at her feet.  As I came closer to her, she glanced up.  I smiled and greeted her.  Her apprehensive expression softened and she smiled back at me.

My encounter with this runner made me remember reading about a study done in the United Kingdom (UK) by the House of Commons’ Health Select Committee on exercise.  The committee found that while 56% of men do not get the recommended level of weekly exercise (2 1/2 hours per week), an alarming 68% of women don’t.  The committee found millions of women are reluctant to exercise because they are afraid of being ridiculed for how they look.  This is just as bad as that whole “Like a Girl” thing.

Many of the women that they interviewed explained that they did not want to be seen as someone out of breath and “struggling at the back” of an exercise class or a running group.  The report found that girls as young as ten avoided physical education class because of their concern over their body image.  Some of the women reported that they ran on a treadmill in a shed behind their house because they did not want to be seen in public.  It makes me sad that women are so self conscious about their appearance while exercising that they don’t, or go to great lengths to hide when they do.

I am certain that these feelings are not unique to the UK.  If they did a similar study in the US, the results would probably be the same.  When I first started running, I felt out of place.  The image that I have always had of the perfect female runner is a girl with her hair in a bouncy pony tail, short boy shorts, long skinny legs and a crop top displaying flat abs.   That will never be me.   Perhaps the young woman I saw on Saturday felt the same way.  I didn’t let my preconceived notions of the ideal female runner stop me.  My shape is different and always will be.  That is ok.  These feelings of inferiority are really not unique to women either.  I know men who have felt intimidated by other men who appear more trim and athletic to the point that they won’t get out to exercise.

Sport England, in partnership with other organizations, started the “This Girl Can” campaign in the UK to help “inspire women to wiggle, jiggle, move and prove that judgement is a barrier that can be overcome.”  The campaign encourages women to go out and exercise no matter how well they do it or how they look.  If it were me, I wouldn’t limit this campaign to women.  I think the message should be for everyone – men and women.  We all can!

Running on the trail is not just for the 10 percenters (I mean body fat, not wealth).  It is for everyone, regardless of your sex, your shape or how fast you go.  I wish I could find the young woman I saw on Saturday.  I would tell her to keep her head up and keep on going.  She looks great!

This fun video is part of the “This Girl Can” campaign.

Like a Girl

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.