We were in the middle of a hike yesterday afternoon when one of the little boys on the trail, out of nowhere, screamed a very high-pitched scream. Upon further investigation, he wasn’t hurt, he’d merely seen a bug, was frightened, then screamed. The very next response from his father, upon realizing the scream was the result of a mosquito flying too close to his face was,
“You screamed like a little girl!”
Surrounding this little boy and his father was in fact, a little girl – mine – and much to his father’s dismay, me. I sighed, shook my head, and brushed away the same thought that runs through my head every time I hear that statement, What’s the point?
I’ve heard this my whole life. At some point, likely when I had a daughter, I realized how problematic it was. When I speak up, the same thing happens. I’m told, It was just a joke or Don’t take it so seriously or something with the sentiment that suggests I am the problem – not the comment or the commenter, but me. No matter my degree of politeness, assertiveness or anything-ness, I am the issue for speaking up. When we say things like this, we are suggesting that doing something like a girl is less than doing it like a boy and/or that doing it like a girl is just less than in general. While those messages may not be readily apparent for those that spread them, to those that hear them, to those that live them, they are loud and clear. And by those, I mean, little girls. When we hear and live the same messages over and over again, we begin to associate a certain way of being with them. When we see a baby girl in blue we hear, He’s so cute. When we wander the toy store for superhero action figures, we find them amongst the Lego and Hot Wheels, not the Barbies and babies. These are passive messages that tell many of our little girls that they are different – maybe even less than – and that they are not the same as other girls because they do “boy things”, and the things they’re not good at or do wrong, they do like a girl. And these messages of being different are inhibiting, not empowering.
Back to that gentleman…I initially ignored the comment but then he said it again. This time though I made eye contact with my daughter who was now standing next to him, and then my husband, who shook his head and smiled knowing exactly what was about to happen and feeling sorry for this poor soul.
Me: Wait a second…did you say he screamed like a girl?
Him: Well, it’s just that, you know, he screamed really loud because he saw a bug.
Me: Okay? And that’s a bad thing? Did any of the little girls here scream? In fact, I do believe the ONLY people to be frightened by this bug were the three men standing here and your son.
Him: No. I know. It’s just that. Well. You know. He screamed…[incoherent mumbling]…
Me: Uh huh? And? You may want to think twice the next time you say he does something like a girl, because in case you weren’t sure, there’s actually nothing wrong with doing anything like a girl.
Truth? I wanted to be rude. I wanted to be insulting. I wanted to say much more than I did. But in that moment, I needed to teach my little girl that we can speak up, not encourage her to fight insults with insults.
I’ve admittedly taken the path of least resistance many times – staying quiet. But as I’ve grown, as she’s grown, I speak up to hopefully educate. Maybe no one listens. Maybe one person does. Maybe one person understands how detrimental this thinking is or maybe they think I’m rude or can’t take a joke. So be it. I can’t control what others think. What I can control is what I do. I choose to empower my own little girl, and every little girl I teach, to believe that being different (as far as our culture and society defines) isn’t inhibiting. It’s something to be proud of. I take every moment I can to drive that point home. Even in a forest in the middle of a Sunday hike.
These things that you like, these things that you do, they make you, you.
There is nothing more empowering than believing in you.Tweet
And if everything you do, you do like a girl? Perfect. As far as I’m concerned, there’s no better way to be.