First "Girl Box" Experience: "Hit Like A Girl"

I was very fortunate growing up, I had two feminist parents encouraging me to be an athletic, independent kid.  They made a point to emphasize that I was just as strong and capable as any boy, and pushed me to participate in physical activities– I played in the mud, climbed & jumped out of trees, caught bugs, played sports (could throw a  football, basketball, baseball & swing a bat accurately) etc.  My stay-at-home father was exceedingly proud when I would conquer the next physical challenge, like riding my two-wheeled bike at the age of three, or learning to swim before the neighbor boys.   In fact, we were in “competition” with the other kids, one boy in particular, my best friend.  My father was determined to prove his daughter could do anything a boy could do… and possibly better.  This did wonders for my self esteem, having my father as my cheer leader while I tried out new actions.  However, the interactions he had with other parents also brought into drastic focus the fact that this scenario was unusual.  I became aware very young that what I was achieving was not “normal” for little girls.  It made me proud, but confused.  Why weren’t girls expected to do the same thing as boys?  I was athletic, I was strong, I was capable.

The “girl box” concept always infuriated me.  I’m grateful to my parents for having taught me I didn’t belong in any box, gender-specific or otherwise.  But that girl box follows you anyway.  My peers and other adults tried to put me in that box constantly.  Boys on the playground were always telling me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.  While I took pride in proving them wrong, they didn’t accept it long-term or let me play with them. (perhaps because of their own parents teaching them girls shouldn’t do those things – I was “weird.”)

I remember one incident in 6th grade that brought mixed reactions.  We were playing baseball in P.E. that semester, and had just started the first day of the activity.  The teacher/coach marched us out to the diamond, divvied up the teams, and sent the first group to bat.  Each time a girl stepped up to the plate, boys would groan (“she hits like a girl” they would murmur).  I can’t blame them because most of the girls were barely able to grip the bat well, and their awkward, wimpy swings were driving me crazy too. None made contact with the ball. Yet I also felt allied with them, as a girl, and angry that the boys were poking fun at them.  When it was my turn to bat, they all let out the obligatory sigh and comments.  Except, this girl was different.  Her grip on the bat was confident, her stance set. (I stood there thinking, I HAVE to hit the heck out of this ball..for all girls!)  As the pitch was made, I pulled back and swung as hard as I could!  I missed, and spun myself completely around.  But, instead of making fun of me, they all gasped in disbelief, and said: “This girl can hit!”   So even though I hadn’t made contact with the ball, the power behind my swing had impressed them.  The second pitch I made contact, and it flew into left field.  I made it to first base.  The sense of accomplishment in that moment was SO great, I stood beaming on the bag thinking, “yea, I swing LIKE A GIRL!”  Some of the boys were very impressed and remained so throughout the semester.  Others seemed to resent this twist in their reality, that I could possibly be good at baseball.  This wasn’t their fault. Just like it wasn’t the other girls’ fault that they couldn’t hit well. Society was dictating the gender expectations. I”m sure they grew up in families that didn’t place value on girls athleticism and so they never learned.  And therein lies the very problem with the “girl box.”  It is deemed innately so, as if girls are born inferior (not just athletically.)  But gendered behaviors are taught.  Those girls didn’t stand a chance.

I wish every little girl had a parent willing to raise them with no limits to their potential.  Thank goodness my father understood.

A story my father likes to tell:  I was climbing the domed shaped monkey bars (age 4 or so), climbing next to a little boy beside me.  Our parents stood watching us.  His mother was visibly anxious as I climbed higher and higher, surpassing her son’s ability.  When I reached the top, the mother said to my father: “You shouldn’t let her climb so high, she could get hurt.”  My father just smiled, knowingly — he was preparing me for the many challenges I would have to overcome as a girl.  He was encouraging me to keep climbing, despite what others would tell me I was capable of.

 

Nooriel Nolan works as a CME Assistant & Committee Liaison for the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, but her true passions are writing and positively impacting the lives of children.  She is particularly passionate about girls/womens’ issues, which drove her to seek her BA in Women’s Studies from the University of Florida (a focus that provided her the opportunity to study gender and how societies produce gendered expectations of children.) In her spare time, Nooriel enjoys running and spending quality time with her husband and 11 year-old stepson.