Like a girl

When I was a child I never had any sense of not being able to do the things the boys could do.  Living on a big housing estate, we would roam around in big groups; climbing trees, playing football, playing games on the Sega Mega Drive, skateboarding, playing Manhunt and generally getting up to mischief.  I could climb trees just as well as the boys, play football just as well as the boys, destroy them at Street Fighter (Ryu, always), and I was pretty good on my old-school skateboard from Argos.  My Dad was away a lot because he was in the Royal Navy, and so I remember setting up the computers and TVs when we bought new ones, and taking books out from the library to learn how to make up codes in MS-DOS.  Neither of my parents ever made me feel as if there were things I should or shouldn’t be doing as a girl.

>>img credit – kate parker photography, found on huffington post

My main hobbies when I was younger were karate, reading, listening to music and playing football.  I had no interest in clothes – I remember wearing my Reebok basketball trainers to a school disco because I didn’t have any ‘girly shoes’.  I wasn’t in the popular crowd so when I saw all the ‘cool girls’ wearing earrings, heels and rolling up their skirts at school, I just remember thinking that I was glad I didn’t have to put all of that effort in.  I remember seeing all of the things they had to do – hang out in the park in the evenings in tiny strappy tops, BnH cigarettes hanging deliberately from lips smothered in Rimmel Coffee Shimmer lipstick and just thinking, ‘it is really hard work being a popular girl’.

My earliest memory of being limited by being a girl was when I was in Primary School.  I was really keen on playing football and could obviously play on lunch breaks with the boys, but I wasn’t allowed to play in the football team because it was ‘boys only’.  I remember being really frustrated because I knew I was just as good as the boys, but because of an arbitary, pointless rule, I wasn’t allowed to play in the team.  It made no sense to me.  I used to occasionally go to football training at the weekends and I remember once winning a ‘best player’ trophy after a weekend football camp and hearing a group of boys say under their breath ‘she only got that because she’s a girl…’  I didn’t play football as much after that.

I think I was lucky that I grew up in the 90s, when there was no social media, and mainstream media didn’t focus quite as much on saying what young girls should or shouldn’t do, and making women feel inadequate all the time to sell products.  Even now as a 30-year-old (when in theory I shouldn’t be quite as impressionable), I still look at the celebrities in magazines and then compare them to the person that looks back at me in the mirror, wishing I had a flatter stomach, wishing I was a bit taller, wishing I was good at putting on liquid eyeliner, wishing I was more tanned, skinner, etc. It worries me that, if I think that now, it must be almost impossible to be going through your most impressionable, vulnerable years of learning who you are when there is so much pressure to be perfect, pretty, girly, and do and to be the sort of girl that boys like.  I genuinely don’t know how I would have coped (not to mention having everyone else’s lives plastered all over Facebook at the same time, with every photo of you up for comment).

That’s why I am 100% behind the lastest global feminist campaign from Always – #likeagirl ‘Unstoppable’.  As part of the campaign, Always conducted research to find out the extent of how society’s expectations of girls and women have a damaging effect on their confidence, particularly as they go through puberty.  They discovered that almost nine out of 10 (88 per cent) UK girls feel pressure to conform to how girls ‘are supposed to feel and act’.  Girls are also twice as likely as boys to say they don’t feel comfortable doing certain activities at school because of their gender.

Always have partnered with documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, and launched a new video where girls and women of varying ages and backgrounds were asked if they were ever told they should or shouldn’t do something because they’re a girl.  You can see their answers in the video…

This year, Always has also launched a global partnership with TED-Ed to produce a series of educational videos that will be spread worldwide.  TED has committed to helping Always to teach confidence to young girls at a critical stage in their lives.  I watch TED videos so much for my own learning and exploring of new topics, and I love the idea of girls much younger than me – in schools or at home – feeling excited and inspired about their futures in the same way I do when I watch their videos.

I also love the idea of reclaiming the phrase ‘like a girl’ and making it something positive and inspiring, rather than an insult.  It frightens me to think that if I was a girl growing up now, that I wouldn’t have had the confidence to play football, go to karate, climb trees, play sports, and so on.  I definitely think I would be a completely different person if I had felt as if I couldn’t do those things, and had felt pressure to stay at home looking through Heat magazine and wondering if I’d ever be pretty and skinny enough to bag a footballer boyfriend.  I think anything that can be done to make girls feel like they can do whatever they want if they put their minds to it is a great thing, and we all have a responsibility to challenge our own (and others) limiting beliefs that they are things we can’t do because we’re girls, or women.

Have you ever felt limited by being a woman? What does it mean to you to do things ‘like a girl’?

*this post is part of a PR collaboration, but I genuinely think this campaign is AWESOME