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“She’s just a little girl!” – Breaking Gender Stereotypes

“She’s just a little girl!” the man kept yelling.

I had joined up with my family for a camping trip at the Coast over Labor Day weekend. Our camp site was at an organized family camp, which means there were lots of other campers and a lot of family activities planned. One of those activities was a 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

I was spectating one of the games where there were two teams playing. One was a team of 2 men and a teenage boy, the other was a team of two men and a young girl.

13090-running-girl-basketball-player-stickerAs things got going, it was pretty clear that the team with two men and a teenage boy had a lot more skill and were going to win this game. Because they knew they had the upperhand and because of the fact that it was a friendly family competition, they were giving the other team plenty of fair chances to make passes and take shots. In fact, the young girl on the other team made up most of their team’s 10 points, and the score was 11-10 when things got heated.

All of sudden, from seemingly nowhere, one of the adult males on the losing team threw his hands up and started berating the other team. “Why won’t you let her play?! She’s just a little girl! You’re not letting her do anything. She’s just a little girl!”

“She’s just a little girl!,” he kept saying before and after several more comments about how they weren’t being fair. All the while, the little girl in question (who I found out later is 12 years old) stood there awkwardly, looking embarrassed, not making eye contact with anyone.

After his angry display he ended up forfeiting the game on behalf of his team, calling behind him to the young girl as he walked off, “Come on, we’re done.” And she sheepishly followed.

What exactly was this man’s intention? To allow this young girl to play? To give her more advantages in the game? To make the other team not play any defense or offense at all?

Whatever his true intentions were, the opposite effect was the result. He completely embarrassed this young girl, shook her confidence and left the game without giving her a choice so she was then left with no other option than not playing at all.

“She’s just a little girl.” This is a game that she will never forget. It’s phrases like these that push young girls and women into having to reconcile their dreams and expectations of what they “should” be.

She can’t be great at basketball in her own right. She can’t voice her opinion. She has to have advantages given to her on the court because, “She’s just a little girl.” Mister…you’re not helping anything. You’re part of the problem. Instead of empowering her, you’ve stripped her of her dignity in front of God and everyone and made her feel timid and ashamed. You didn’t look her in the eye and tell her to show these guys what’s up……you pulled her out of the game.

I would imagine that some of you reading may have had this thought:

“Well, men are physically stronger than women, so, it really wasn’t fair.”

Are men typically physically stronger than women? Sure. Men are generally bigger and have testosterone induced abilities to produce more muscle mass. That’s just scientific fact. However…

“There is no evidence to suggest that successful athletes have higher testosterone levels than less successful athletes.”

And whether or not men are stronger than women, isn’t really the point. The point is women are constantly made to feel less, and that’s not okay.

Women and young girls everywhere are bombarded daily with gender stereotypes and messages about what they should look like, how they should act and all of the ways that they should feel bad about themselves.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys by the age of 14. Moreover, according to The Always Confidence & Puberty Wave IV Study girls-lacrossedone this last year, 7 out of 10 girls who quit sports during puberty felt they did not belong in sports, only 1/3 of girls feel that society encourages girls to play sports and by  age 17, more than half of girls (51%) will have quit sports altogether.

“You throw like a girl.”

“You run like a girl.”

“You play like a girl.”

“You ______ like a girl.”

Indicating that you do any activity “like a girl” is supposed to be taken as an insult. Saying, “She’s just a little girl!” over and over again about a 12-year-old girl who’s actually pretty good at basketball and made up more than half of your team’s points……not all that different.

Let’s separate her gender from the equation. She’s either good at basketball, or she isn’t. The other team was either playing fair, or they weren’t. But, don’t discredit her skills or lead her to believe that her gender is a reason for her to be timid, weak or handed a win.

Let’s challenge this mentality. Let’s create a movement. Let’s empower our girls to try all of the things that they want to do regardless of their gender.

And, as a mother of a boy, I will do the same with my son. I will help him find his autonomy, to try different things, to pursue the things that he loves…..and if he ever uses the phrase “like a girl” to insult anyone, he wouldn’t have learned it from me.

Jill

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