The “Like a Girl” ad that ran during the Super Bowl is undeniably powerful, but it didn’t quite sit well with me. After some thought, I came up with three reasons why.
1. There is a basic dishonesty in the premise. Assuming that the video is truthful (not edited out of context), it looks like a group of actors were called in for an audition and then asked to act for a director. “OK, so I’m just going to give you some actions to do, and just do the first thing that comes to mind.” The actors agree and when asked to run/fight/throw like a girl, they create a caricature.
They could hardly have done anything different. From what we can see, each one is being given a chance to sell their acting skills in a brief moment without any context. They then reach for a quick and negative portrayal. The same thing would have happened with most any instruction they were given. If they were asked to speak like they were English, they would say things like ‘pish posh,’ ‘cheerio’ and would talk about tea and crumpets. Those things are certainly stereotypes, but how else would they convey “English’ in a brief moment?” This is true of almost any adjective. If they’d been asked to “talk like a guy” would they have escaped stereotypes?
In fact, think of what would have happened if one of the women had thought, “Well, I’m a girl, I’ll just act normally and play it straight.” They then would have run in place normally and almost any director would have dismissed them as terribly boring.
This wasn’t fair to the actors.
2. It’s not cool to shame children. Look at the boy at the 1:08 mark. He’s what, 10 or 11 years old? He’s asked if he insulted his sister. He says “No, I mean, yeah … insulted girls, but not my sister.” He obviously doesn’t understand exactly how to untie a person he knows well, like his sister, with a wide-ranging stereotype, like “girls.” In time, hopefully, he’ll have a better grasp on this. And it isn’t hard to see how this exact example will help him out.
I have three young kids and they run into these teachable moments all the time. If they see someone using a powered cart at Target, they loudly ask what’s wrong with them. I quietly tell them that it’s not polite to point or yell and then explain what the situation is. This is normal parenting, and you can hear stories like this from virtually every parent.
What parents don’t do is correct their children in a commercial that airs during the most watched television program of the year. Let’s hope that this commercial doesn’t lead to years of teasing and bullying and therapy sessions. This isn’t a fair thing to do to someone that young.
3. The message isn’t quite right. I have a 7-year-old daughter, and I worry about her future. I don’t want her to face a plummet of confidence in her teens, as the ad suggests. But I doubt that making “like a girl” into an amazing phrase will help. In fact, reinforcing her identity as a girl will make her more vulnerable to other dangers. I’m not especially worried that she’ll come home crying on the bus because she couldn’t hit a ball well, but I am worried that she’ll be crying because someone told her that her outfit wasn’t girly enough.
I think that the ad makers’ hearts are in the right place, I truly do. We should all want girls (and boys!) to escape having their spirits crushed as teens. The mistake they make is by trying to fight against this by drawing a line around a group and trying to elevate it. This will always a) reinforce stereotypes within that group and b) create hostility from those outside of it. I don’t want to a) have to tell my daughter to dress a certain way because that’s how girls do it, and I don’t want to b) alienate her brothers by defining successful things as girl-like. Instead of emphasizing her wonderful girlness, I’ll emphasize how wonderful she is as an individual. In the end, that’s obviously the best way forward.
Peder DeFor, of Minneapolis, writes the blog Peder D4.
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