For far too long the phrase “like a girl” has been used as an insult, and for young women it is insidious.
The global push to redefine the phrase ‘like a girl’ is powerful and heart warming.
Powerful because it exposes a deeply entrenched stereotype and heart warming because it shows young girls don’t conform to it. They don’t see the negative connotations associated with the phrase.
‘Like a girl’ is a badge of honour to them. They haven’t been conditioned into thinking otherwise. Yet.
Narrow perceptions about girls, women and sport are difficult to shatter.
This weekend another durable stereotype will be on show and beamed into tens of millions of sports-loving lounge rooms around the world.
The F1 ‘grid girls’ – yes that’s their official title – will once again be on display.
As the world’s best Formula One drivers prepare for the serious business of securing points in the first race of the season, the ever-smiling ‘grid girls’ will be there to serve and add glamour.
That is, after all, the role of women on the grid according to Formula One boss, Bernie Ecclestone.
In a letter to Renault F1 chief Cyril Abiteboul in 2013, Ecclestone said grid access passes should be used for “really glamorous ladies”.
When the sun goes down over Albert Park Ecclestone’s really glamorous ladies morph into podium girls, to once again act as ornaments as the champagne flows.
In the ongoing fight for equality and respect, reducing women to garnish does sport no favours whatsoever.
To some this practice is not offensive in the slightest but, as a society, we need to be aware of the message it sends out.
The use of women as decorations is anachronistic – no matter how well dressed they are.
This year the ‘grid girls’ will be wearing crisp green and white outfits with more structure and fabric than past years but it’s not the hemline or amount of stretch in the material that’s the problem.
The problem is the portrayal of women as objects, subservient to men.
When it comes to presentation none are more stylish than the podium girls in world cycling.
Stage after stage beautiful women in matching, tailored dresses “assist” the winners on the podium and offer a kiss, in unison, on each cheek.
Like F1, cycling is hiding behind tradition. It’s time to emerge from the shadowy past. Sport is for all.
The way I see it there are two options – they either start getting men to accessorise women’s sport or do away with the practice altogether. Use ambassadors from diverse backgrounds instead.
I’m not wagging my finger at the women who do this – they have a choice, and an opportunity to work. But I would argue women and men are socially conditioned to perform certain roles. So is it really a choice?
The onus is on the sport to evolve.
The ‘Like a Girl’ campaign shows how pervasive and destructive conditioning is.
In the video, men and women were asked to run, throw and fight like a girl. They responded with flailing arms and timid and feeble gestures – perpetuating the ‘like a girl’ stereotype.
Pre-pubescent girls were asked to do the same and, without hesitation, they responded with strength, co-ordination and energy.
The ‘Like a Girl’ campaign makes me feels optimistic about the future. It allows me to see a future where girls can aspire to become an F1 driver.
Not a grid girl or podium-kisser.