I have been practicing the martial arts for more than ten years of my life. When I was nine years old, I received a flier for lessons in karate from my folder at school and thought, “well, this sounds WAY better than soccer or basketball. I want to try it!” Thus begins my greatest “sports love affair” with the martial arts. The focus, control, and independence that I gained from embracing this lifestyle has carried me through my uncomfortable middle school years and up to my stressful high school and college years.
Aside from me baring my soul and my personal life to the internet, I have a reason for introducing this blog post in such a way. It surrounds the meaning of the phrase “like a girl“. As many of the culturally-aware readers might guess, the phrase bears a pejorative connotation in which any action performed in the manner of a girl is a sorry imitation for what is considered correct and efficient. We all know what “running like a girl” and “throwing like a girl” looks like, am I right? Body mechanics and coordination take a sudden downhill turn, and all concepts of effectiveness are abandoned for excessive clumsiness and embarrassment.
One Saturday morning during my seventh grade year, I was training at my karate dojo and we were practicing hand-to-hand sparring. It is a very physical activity and the fighting is co-ed; that morning I fought all boys, ranging in both age and size. It was after an exceptionally interesting sparring match (in which I used one of my larger, heavier male opponents as a human pinata), that my Sensei roared with laughter and said,
“You boys aren’t sparring at all! There’s no point in saying that you all punch like girls, because they are doing better than ALL of you put together!” He looked at me and said, “I don’t think they deserve that compliment today, do you?” He smiled, and I felt the satisfaction of knowing that I impressed my 8th-degree-black-belt of a sensei when I was only a little middle schooler. Now, as a teacher of martial arts, I have noticed that those girls who stick with the sport and make a commitment to it can match and surpass the boys in agility, body mechanics, and fighting strategy. I was not the exception to a rule — there was no rule to begin with!
An intriguing video posted by the company Always talks about the distinction made between doing things “like a girl”, with young girls and older young women show what they think it means to do things “like a girl”. Regardless of one’s opinion on the company’s campaign for girl’s confidence, I feel that everything they say bears witness to the truth behind what young girls face as they grow up in a culture that has a vice-grip on what defines acting like a girl and the efficiency and purpose of their bodies.
Keep the expectations of young girls alive, and let’s make “like a girl” neither insult nor compliment, but an old and ill-fitting phrase that belongs anywhere but in our modern vernacular.