Feminine hygiene products aren’t usually known for being empowering. They serve a purpose, sure, and those of us of the womanly persuasion are certainly grateful that they exist in their modern form, but they’re not exactly thought provoking, beyond “Hmmm, is today going to be a Super day or an Ultra day?” This commercial from Always, though, is a little different. It does make you think. And it might just give a little bit of power back to young women who’ve forgotten what it really means to be a girl.
This video doesn’t really have much to do with tampons or pads. Rather, it shows us a kind of sociological exercise: actors are told to perform certain actions “like a girl,” and the results are a little disheartening. Many of the actors perform the actions in exaggerated, stereotypical ways: weakly flinging a hand when asked to throw like a girl, jogging in place with arms and legs flailing haphazardly when asked to run like a girl. Even the young women actors behaved this way in the first segment. Although they are girls themselves, they acted out these normal everyday activities in ways that made them look like caricatures, exaggerated for comic effect.
The younger actors, who appear to be pre-teens, interpreted the instructions differently. One young girl appears as only a flash of color across the screen as she shows what it is to run like a girl. Another, asked to kick like a girl, jabs her leg fiercely and confidently into the air. They are doing things “like a girl,” the way they do them every day.
Somewhere along the way, it looks like doing things “like a girl” comes to mean doing them weakly and ineffectively. This isn’t going to be the case with all girls, of course. My older daughter, a former soccer star, is a petite young lady who likes wearing pretty sundresses and painting her nails. I’m fairly certain that if you asked her to kick like a girl, you’d be in danger of having your head knocked off your shoulders by a well-placed size seven sandal.
Still, I worry about this with Baby Girl– not so much that she’ll see the way she does things as wrong because she’s a girl, but that she’ll change the way she does them in order to appear more “like a girl.” It goes both ways, sometimes. Right now she’s proud of her strong, muscular legs. She’s a dancer, and it shows. When she plays sports with her brothers, she plays hard. But she’s almost 13, and I worry that she’ll start falling prey to the idea that in order to be more “like a girl” she’ll have to downplay her physical strength, start to dislike her athletic build, create a version of herself that fits the popular idea of woman as the weaker sex. I don’t want her to forget that she is beautiful with her strong legs and mind and shoulders, and then create a new, flimsier version of herself. She is absolutely gorgeous, and her strength and skill are part of what makes her beautiful. Her confidence in her ability radiates. I don’t want her to ever lose that.
I’m probably the least athletic person on the planet. I can’t catch a ball, I’m totally uncoordinated, and when I run, I’m sure I look like the sloppy, disjointed characters portrayed in this video. But that doesn’t mean that I do those things like a girl, it means I do them like a person with absolutely no coordination. It means my strength is somewhere else–just where, I’m still trying to figure out. We need to make sure our girls know that it’s okay to be physically strong, and reassure our boys that not being athletically inclined doesn’t mean that they’re “girly.” We have to make sure that we acknowledge our children’s strengths and weakness without defining them in terms of gender.
With all of the body-shaming that goes on these days–from both sides, skinny and fat–and social media having a greater influence in young women’s lives, we need more messages like this one. It’s okay to be a girl, and to do things “like a girl.” And what that means is just to be the best you can be, no matter what you’re doing.