The small boys were screaming—nay, shrieking—on the playground. It was all in good 4-year-old fun, but dang, it was shrill. It was headache-inducing. Anyone with ears would have wanted it to stop.
Including the dad volunteer (this was a co-op preschool setting) who approached them. “Hey,” he said, “hey, cut it out. Are you boys? Or are you little girls?”
Oh, HELL no. He did NOT just do that.
But yes, he sure did. And you know what? It worked. They stopped their screaming, shrieking banshee game on a dime. Quicker than children that age can usually be persuaded with ice cream, Pixar, or the threat of punishment. Know why?
Because in our world, the worst thing you can call someone is a girl. It is the most profound insult you can sling at the male of the species, regardless of their age or stature. Even a 4-year-old boy picks up on the deeply undesirable nature of being perceived as feminine.
I’ll go out on a limb and say that this dad—who took time out of his day to volunteer at his kid’s preschool—is probably not an uber-sexist neanderthal type. And yet, even he made this off-hand comment like it was nothing. As if there were not actual little girls nearby… playing happily and NOT screaming, and not yet realizing that being a girl is some sort of punishment or handicap that God dealt them at birth.
Stop this madness, guys. Stop it right now.
In recent years, there’s been a productive movement to cull the “r-word” from our cultural vocabulary, because it is hurtful to actual people with special needs. We’ve also made significant strides in eliminating ‘gay’ as a negative adjective. So why do we still just accept it when otherwise kind and intelligent people sling ‘girl’ around as the ultimate existential defeat?
It’s not just dads on playgrounds. It’s coaches on football fields. ‘You guys are playing like a bunch of girls!” (Except they are more likely, in those cases, to use crass euphemisms for female genitalia. Which is ironic, considering how most of them entered the world.)
And it’s not just coaches on football fields. It’s CEO’s saying ‘man up,’ when what they mean is ‘step up and lead.’ It’s churches urging their men to ‘be men,’ when what they mean is ‘be responsible for your family.’ (Because women don’t lead? Because women aren’t responsible?) It’s the father watching in horror as his small son playfully tries on a pair of girl’s shoes. “NOT MY BOY,” he bellows angrily. While his daughters wonder, ‘what’s wrong with my shoes?’And ‘what’s wrong with my shoes’ quickly evolves into… what’s wrong with ME. What is so wrong about the state of girl-ness that (many) men find it utterly repulsive?
A thousand little jokes on women every day make their way into our collective psyches… through the airwaves, the newsfeed, the buffoon in the cubicle next door, or maybe even the well-meaning dad on the playground. It starts right there.
Harmless, most people would say. A joke. The natural order of things. And yet… women still make 77-cents on the dollar. Women are still grossly underrepresented in every sector of public leadership. And ONE IN FOUR American women—this number has not changed since the first heart-stopping time I heard it—one in FOUR will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime.
That $^*t starts on the playground, people. And it runs deep.
Stop telling boys that a girl is the worst thing they could possibly be. And stop telling girls that being a girl is the worst thing that ever happened to them. It’s just really that simple.
I could go on with the ‘for instances.’ So could you. But…let’s not. Let’s stop this right here. Tell everybody you know that “girl” is not a synonym for weak, slow, loud, pushy, hard to please, unreasonable, cowardly, mean, or underachieving.
Look at all those words. All those words that we call girls, every single day.
The thing is, ALL THOSE WORDS can mean exactly what they say. All by themselves, with no analogy. If someone is being loud or pushy, tell them they’re being loud or pushy. Somebody moving too slow, (driving like a girl), or acting weak (throwing like a girl)? Then just use the words ‘slow’ and ‘weak.’ It’s just that simple.
If ‘girl’ is the only negative descriptive word you can think of, then you really suck at metaphors. You should read more books. You should learn more words.
Because words matter. Every single day, in every place from the playground on, words matter so very, painfully much.