For as long as I can remember whenever my Dad and I went to the beach on vacation we played football. I do not particularly like football at any other moment. I think the NFL is ridiculous and I think football is just plain boring to watch. But when I am at the beach, hanging with my Dad, soaking up the sun, football is our go to pastime.
I grew up playing sports with my parents and friends and would still (kind of) consider myself an athlete. When I actually try I can throw a football pretty darn well. Side note: it took me way too long to figure out how to write that sentence. I was worried I would sound conceited. Suddenly I realized that my own internalized sexism was holding me back from confidently talking about my ability to throw a decent spiral – goes to show how deeply embedded this shit is within all of us!
Anyhow, during my last visit to Florida I would say Dad and I spent about 75% of our beach time playing football. I am not sure if any of you realize this but a young woman possessing the ability to throw a football is apparently earth shattering.
The first person to comment was an older woman passing by. She went up to my Dad and was pointing at me and laughing. At first I was not entirely sure what tone their conversation had. After she left my Dad came toward me to tell me what happened, because of the waves and other general beach noise we would have to convene in the middle to report what had been said.
His first words were, “you’re not gonna like this”. Why I inquired. Turns out this woman told him that I “didn’t throw like a girl!” She explained that she was a gym teacher and could tell that I was an athlete and did not throw like a lot of girls do. I was not sure what was worse – the fact that as a woman she buys into the “throw like a girl” trope or the fact that as a gym teacher she was passing this on. We laughed it off, people can suck but she had meant well so that’s what matters….right?
Next up was an older man who went up to my Dad to comment on how well I could throw a football. I was starting to wonder if I should put this on my resume, the way everyone was acting. Maybe under special skills: “throws a decent spiral…for a girl”.
The next beach trip created even more of a fuss. A few more men started to tell my Dad how well I could throw:
“She gives you a run for you’re money!”
“She doesn’t throw like a girl does she?”
One of the best was, “She should play in that women’s football league!” (You know the one, where conventionally pretty women are put on display in barely there uniforms to wrestle each other for male pleasure) My Dad promptly replied, “No she would play in the men’s league”. The poor man was taken off guard by this and just kept walking.
We started keeping track, it was becoming quite ridiculous.
Perhaps it was because it was men commenting now, or maybe because it was after numerous instances, regardless something suddenly struck me. Why are they telling him and not me? I’m standing right there. They both walked by me to tell my Dad how well I could throw.
I pointed this out to my Dad and we realized that the inherent idea of talking to the man about this instead of me, the subject of the conversation was bizarre. I felt like property, or better yet an animal, being discussed at an auction. Some men reading that analogy are no doubt thinking I’m being dramatic but there is also no doubt that some women reading this can directly relate to this feeling.
The last man who commented actually said something directly to me. What a gentleman I thought as he approached me, he wants to give a real compliment directly to me, hooray! Then he opened his mouth, “You don’t throw like a girl do you?” I looked him in the eye and said, “yes I do”. He just stared, clearly confused. I continued, “I am a girl so obviously I throw like one” (I thought about also commenting on how I am not a “girl “ but a young woman but I was afraid his brain might just explode).
He continued walking without another word. My Dad and I walked towards each other to do our ritual meeting in the middle. My Dad asked what did I say to him that made him walk away. I explained how I merely told him the truth, I was a girl, and therefore I threw like one. Not rocket science here people. He laughed and we continued playing for the rest of the afternoon.
Do not get me wrong, compliments feel great, who doesn’t like getting rewarded with a genuine compliment? But these ones came with so many stereotypes attached it was hard to feel good about them. Could not just one person walk by and say (to me, not my Dad) “nice arm”?
Also let us take a second to think about throwing a football. A skill that like anything else takes technique and practice. Some have a natural affinity to throw a great spiral and some probably will never master it. That is just fine, there are bigger fish to fry in the world. At the same time though throwing a football does not take a college degree. The way people reacted to my ability to throw a decent spiral pass was such that I should be in the circus. I imagine headlines – Watch the Amazing Carly Throw a Football – She’s a Girl! Perhaps if we believed more in the ability of young girls to throw a football or throw a baseball more would be confident in their ability. When we assume they are incapable they assume it too.
This phrase is so deeply rooted into our culture that when teenage girls are asked what it means to throw like a girl they pretend to throw as if they are feeble and weak. The same goes for young boys. Don’t believe me? Check out this Always advertisement. Young girls are the only ones in the video who have not yet given into this phrase as insult. We have to make sure they never lose it.
We are constantly reminded that girls are just as athletic as boys. For those of you fast-pitch softball fans you’ll know that pitchers Monica Abbott and Jennie Finch show how throwing like a girl can be pretty badass. Jennie Finch even wrote a book called, “Throw Like A Girl: How to Dream Big and Believe in Yourself”. In 2014 little league all-star pitcher Mo’ne Davis challenged, “the ways we think about athletic excellence”.
Young girls suffer from alarming rates of eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and negative self-image that often relates to issues self-esteem. Stop using young women’s bodies as a tool for insult and start celebrating their power.