I believe that I may be a little late to this trending topic of “play like a girl” that Always presented last summer in their campaign to help raise teenage girl’s confidence, but last week I saw the phrase used in action. Almost exactly a year ago, the ad hit the Internet, and to date, the YouTube video has more than 58 million views. The ad sparked lots of communication about the phrase, its effect on young girls, and how they feel about themselves.
Play Like A Girl
Katie Ponce I June 30, 2015
I believe that I may be a little late to this trending topic of “play like a girl” that Always presented last summer in their campaign to help raise teenage girl’s confidence, but last week I saw the phrase used in action. Almost exactly a year ago, the ad hit the Internet, and to date, the YouTube video has more than 58 million views. The ad sparked lots of communication about the phrase, its effect on young girls, and how they feel about themselves. The campaign has also sparked other trending topics like Soccer Girl Problems trending hashtag this summer for the World Cup, #screamlikeagirl. Positive or negative, I never thought much about saying or how it made me feel. All the buzz about turning this once insult into an empowering term for young girls didn’t seem all so relevant in my life in my life until last week.
Summer has started, school is out, and camps are here. The Boston Breakers summer camps are popping up all over Eastern Massachusetts. As a player and coach, I have started working these summer camps, spending mornings with boys and girls all interested in getting better at playing soccer. With the mixture of boys and girls from ages six to 14, there were lots of different ranges of skill levels. For this particular week, I was in charge of the older group, with boys and girls from ages 12-14. This group of early teenagers impressed me with their skill, made me laugh with their resistance to do anything that might hurt their cool factor, and surprised me when “play like a girl” was very much in their vocabulary.
Growing up as an athletic girl who could keep up with the boys, I didn’t have a personal battle with feeling strong enough as a female until, like the commercial, I was a teenager. Starting in second grade, I played soccer every day at recess with a group of boys and thought my biggest accomplishment as a 10-year-old was coming in third place in the timed mile of the entire elementary school. I don’t know what happened on my way to middle school, but suddenly it wasn’t as cool to chase boys on field as it was to in new mini skirts and too much makeup. I was still an athlete, but as a teenager I stopped playing with the boys and was only an athlete at practice. The same progression seemed to be true through the camp.
At ages six through eight, the kids scrimmaged each other, boys versus girls, and besides for the sting of the loss, the boys had no problem with the girls who could beat them in a game. At the other end of the field, my group of kids would tease a teammate and laugh anytime a boy would get beat by a girl. Probably the most interesting part being that it wasn’t just the boys laughing. Boys and girls, no older than 14, laughing at a boy getting beat by a girl. Fourteen. We are not talking about full grown men and women, because trust me I understand my physical capabilities and am not arguing that I am stronger or faster than men my age, at my level. But as teenagers a lot of girls were still bigger than the guys, so why is it a joke when the boys were beat by girls.
The upsetting reality is that whether it’s the boy being teased for not being manly enough or the girl being domineered because she is expected to “play like a girl” it all plays a role in an individual’s development. I hate to think that society’s gender roles had anything to do with my development as an athlete, but it seems pretty likely. The tomboy on the field at recess pushed to be the best no matter what and hadn’t met this idea of limitations. Now that she’s grown up, I think this me could use parts of her sometimes.
So how do we fix it? It’s out there. We all see the problem with using the phrase “play like a girl” and what it does to young girls’ development. The question is how we change it so that in generations to come playing like a girl has no attached definition other than the obvious. We are girls, so we play like them. At the very least, how do we make it so that at a kid’s most vulnerable stage, sports are not another outlet where they are influenced by these gender stereotypes. I, for one, am going to be a part of the change.
In the upcoming weeks, I am going to be at camp with a lot more boys and girls of these same age ranges, similar skill levels, and what I expect to be the same vocabulary. Last week before I got to thinking about this topic, I didn’t do a single thing to change the language at camp. I heard them use the phrase and I saw the awkward smiles of kids who were involved with the teasing, but I didn’t do anything about it. Not even as a coach, but as an aspiring female professional athlete, I think it is my job to be a part of the discussion for change. It doesn’t need to be a lecture, but a voice to simple say, “just play like soccer players” and that action of leadership for young people to see will do the issue justice.
While these words might not be extraordinary genius or call tremendous action on how to start a campaign to influence young lives, I hope it speaks to all of you. We don’t need to change the world to make a difference. The world is made up of billions of people and when we all do our part it’s going to affect those around us.
The Breakers want your boys and girls to play like soccer players all summer long. Join the #BreakersFamily and come out this summer to one of our camps. Coached by Breakers players like myself, we hope to make a difference for our campers this summer. Sign up here or learn more by following us Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Always #LikeAGirl [Advertisement]. (2014, June 26). Retrieved June 29, 2015, from Youtube website:
Soccer Grl Probs. (2015). Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://soccergrlprobs.com