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“You Throw Like a Girl”

Gym class, first grade, it’s time for baseball.  Outside on the field boys and girls are sprawled out around the four dirt-covered diamonds and grass.  Half the kids are at bat and half are waiting anxiously for the ball to come towards them. The batter hits a fly ball and one of the boys in the outfield catches it. He throws to the first baseman, but the ball does not quite reach him. The kid yells at the boy, “You throw like girl!”

This phrase and many others using the keywords “like a girl” have been used as insults for decades. The movie “A League of Their Own,” about a developing woman’s professional baseball league, takes place in 1943 at a time when men and women were not considered equals in the sporting world.  The women were teased and made fun of because of the absurdity of girls playing on a baseball field. Noticeably, they threw like girls, quite different from how men were throwing the ball around the field.

“The Sandlot,” a film about young boys filling their summertime by playing baseball, recognized the phrase as one of the worst insults imaginable. As two teams of boys are arguing, putting each other down back and forth, one boy stops and pauses and then comes out with, “You throw like a girl!” That proved to be the winning comeback because both teams split up after it was said. It was, apparently, unacceptable to throw like a girl.

But the question remains, do girls throw differently than boys? A political philosopher, Iris Marion Young recognized that “throwing like a girl” is an observable phenomenon among many girls. The “girlie throw” results from a restricted use of lateral space coming from the localized hand and forearm. Girls do not usually use the whole arm, body, or extended space around them when they throw.  Young says inner strength has nothing to do with efficient performance, but has to do with women’s social, political, and aesthetic history of not using the entire body for the task. Women learn to be hyper-focused on their bodies and, consequently, they concentrate their effort on those parts of the body most immediately connected to the task.

Ok, so (some of them) throw differently, but does that mean it’s an acceptable insult?

The crew from the TV show “Myth Busters” wanted to see if there was a distinct difference in the way guys and girls throw a ball. To analyze peoples’ motions, they had the subjects throw with their dominant arm first, then repeat the task with their non-dominant arm.  The results showed that there was a distinct difference in the way guys throw a ball versus the way girls throw: Men throw more horizontally, and women throw more vertically. The Myth Busters BUSTED that myth that throwing like a girl is an insult by determining that “different” does not mean worse, and therefore, should not qualify as an insult.

Continuing to bust perceptions, Always has started a campaign called #LikeAGirl to challenge the idea that doing anything like a girl is a bad thing. In a series of videos, Always shows how after hitting the vulnerable ages of about ten to twelve years old, girls start to learn that they are lesser than boys. People are asked a series of questions about being a girl. Boys, and older men and women answer by doing motions that show girls are weak, vain, and don’t care about the task. The younger girls are asked the same series of questions and answer by showing how they would complete the activity using full power and strength .

The Always videos ask girls of all ages to challenge their own (socialized) beliefs, first, by writing on boxes the negative messages they receive, then kicking or punching down the stacked cubes at the end.  The last video ends showing girls and women in action performing amazing activities ‘as girls,’ like rock climbing, equating numbers, and throwing baseballs. I commend Always for making a film that not only supports positive media messages, but encourages people to stand up for who they are.

So many product advertisements give the impression that we are not good enough the way that we are, that we need to fit the beauty standard–which many people call ‘the thin ideal’—and then when we do, we are accused of being weak and vain. Exposure to such messages can lead to body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behavior1. Shifting the media focus to realistic images and positive messages may make a difference in the lives of so many who develop eating disorders. Companies like Always, who send the message of self-acceptance and empowerment, are one of the catalysts of the change that we strive for every day.

Thoughts to Consider:
What does “throw like a girl” mean to you?
How has Always inspired a positive media message?
What do you perform like “yourself”?

1Thompson, J. K., & Heinberg, L. J. (1999). The media’s influence on body image disturbance and eating disorders: We’ve reviled them, now can we rehabilitate them?. Journal of social issues, 55(2), 339-353.

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