What does it mean to do something “like a girl”? For some, it may mean to do that something fiercely, with love, determination, and dedication. For others, it’s an insult, a punchline meant to suggest that someone is “less than” or weak. This dichotomy is brilliantly explored in a campaign by Always that hit big during the Super Bowl earlier this month.
When the Always Like a Girl campaign aired, social media exploded, with shares of the commercial flooding Facebook and #LikeAGirl trending on Twitter. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick recap: adults and older teenagers, of both genders, are asked to run, thrown, and fight like a girl. The subjects do so in a stereotypically “female” way. Then, young girls are asked to do the same. And the collective viewer feels shamed even if we’ve never once thought a girl can’t do anything a boy can do because these young girls perform these actions with gusto and pride—as they should.
Centered on the idea that that confidence among girls takes a nosedive around puberty (you know, right around the time they may need a feminine product), the campaign launched online last summer and was wildly successful. In fact, a study of people who viewed the commercial (pre-Super Bowl) found that 76 percent of girls between ages 16 and 24 say they no longer feel that “like a girl” is an insult and “two out of three men who watched said they would stop or think twice before using ‘like a girl’ as an insult”.
By all accounts, this is a shining example of a successful health communication campaign, and I watched with interest the reactions to this campaign. My beautifully talented and wise 18-year-old niece took to social media, and I read with pride when she wrote the following:
“My gender is not an insult. Ladies, remember the importance of kicking, running, walking, fighting, and being strong #LikeAGirl because you do it better than anyone else! Millions of women around the world are suffering from an oppression and belief that men are superior to women. Girls are being sold as sex slaves, women are being beaten, and rape still isn’t being taken seriously. Stop mocking feminism for your own egotistical ways. Maybe it isn’t happening right in front of your own two eyes but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist”
The fact that she wrote this is a testament to the way she was raised and the kind of young women she is. The fact that she felt compelled to write it is unfortunate and evidence that we still have work to do.
Fortunately, the counter campaign failed as quickly as it flared, with overwhelmingly positive support for the empowering message. So kudos to companies like Proctor and Gamble for sharing such positive and powerful messages about gender equality, and a special shout out to my nieces Rachel, Vanessa, Ashley, and Sarah, who run, thrown, fight, and most importantly love, like girls. And to my six great nieces (all of whom are younger than 13 and most of whom aren’t even old enough to read this), I hope you get to grown up in a world where this post doesn’t make sense!