Friday, March 11, 2011

The Denigration of Girls, Part Deux: Privilege Edition

Kyrie did a great job of writing about how teenage girls are too often seen as frivolous or silly. It got me to thinking, and I want to address another way girls - teenagers or otherwise - are denigrated in our culture.

A few months ago, I was involved in a Facebook conversation in which Some Dude posted something like "This baseball team losing to that baseball team is ridiculous, like getting beat up by a girl."

Deep breaths, right?

A couple of other feminist types got involved in the conversation as well. We weren't trying to be mean, but we had to point out that this is an insanely sexist thing to say. Instead of having a thoughtful response (because, probably, there isn't really one to the "like a girl" line of thinking) he basically told us all that we shouldn't criticize anything he says, ever. Because sometimes he just wants to say things that might offend someone else, and those people just need to deal with that. We'll come back to that idea in a minute.

First, I want to get into why the "like a girl" thing is so offensive. Kyrie and I both play roller derby. Derby is a full contact sport. People get hurt - I broke my ankle at derby practice in October. Clearly, we are not holding ourselves back because we think we, as women, are delicate flowers. And, have you seen Serena Williams? Or Mia Hamm? That's her at the top of the post. Want to tell me those women can't handle themselves? I'm not even talking about getting into fights, here. I'm not a violent person, I don't do the whole bar-fight thing. But I also don't think I am less able to defend myself because I have a uterus.

Furthermore, little girls are just little kids. They are vulnerable to the extent that male children are vulnerable. This idea that little girls scare more easily ("I screamed like a little girl") or are especially humiliating to lose to in a fight (I've never heard anyone say "it's like getting beaten up by a little kid," much less "by a little boy") is 100% socialized. Because societal norms hold that girls should not be taught to fight, they also hold that girls should be bad at fighting. Maybe we shouldn't teach boys to fight, but boys will be boys, amirite? They're going to fight no matter what, or so the patriarchy would have us believe. In reality - sing it with me if you know the words - there is as much variety within a given gender as there is between genders. Some girls like to punch people, some boys like to avoid conflict at all costs. The human experience is wide, and it bugs me that we try to put little people, children or not, into these boxes.

Point the Second: Words have meanings. Sometimes those meanings hurt people. If I tell you that your use of "[little] girl" is offensive, and you consider yourself someone who cares about social justice and equality, you need to think critically about that and not just dismiss it. I've had to go through this, too: I had to learn to not say "retarded." It's embarrassingly recently that I stopped saying "lame." If I can do it, you can, too. If you think the way Some Dude does, you need to check yourself for privilege. Everyone has to, sometimes. I'm white, cis, able-bodied, thin(ish), over-educated, and married. All of those things bring privilege. I can't make that privilege go away, but I can be aware of it, and be sure that I am not wielding it over another person and thereby perpetuating unfair social structures. So if you can think through why you don't believe using the "little girl" line of criticism is unfair or sexist, and you want to tell me what your thoughtful, reasoned, feminist reason for using it is, please do feel free. I'm interested in hearing it.


  1. As an avid footie fan, let me merely add that the U.S. men's national soccer team is mediocre at best (currently ranked by FIFA as 19th), the women's national soccer team is a world power with several Olympics and World Cup wins under their belts. The reason - Title IX. It's as simple as that. With the exception of Brazil - a traditionally footie-mad nation - all of the other nations with strong women's national soccer outfits come from countries (many in northern Europe) that have generally progressive political climates that include commitments to equitable funding for sports and other aspects of life. My two cents.

  2. I've long wanted to see what would happen if we held a coed tournament with the US teams.

    It bugs me that women's teams can have male coaches but men's teams never have female coaches.