‘A girl should be two things; who and what she wants’ – Coco Chanel

Can’t I just be a girl?

By Sarah Stone

It’s so hard for girls to be girls sometimes. The pressure to perform like boys is instilled by parents, coaches and boys. Fathers born with a girl often say, I was hoping for a boy who would play tennis. Coaches often compare girls ‘lack’ of skill to the skill they think a boy has. Boys say, you hit like a girl. These are only a few of the many message girls hear, see, and have to digest. These messages give the connotation and make girls feel like being a girl is not good enough. The problem is that parents, coaches, and boys don’t often understand the impact of what they are saying. So, what is the impact?

Impact on girls

Girls don’t often understand the impact of negative messages about them being a girl. Part of the reason why, is because they have been brought up to listen and respect their parents and coaches and not talk back. The other reason girls don’t clearly understand what’s happening is because they are socialized to take the information given by those ‘that know better than me’ and utilize it. What’s the impact? Girls ‘go along for the ride’. They don’t tend to advocate for themselves or ask a lot of questions. They try, in the best way they know how, to do exactly what they think everyone wants them to do. This sets them up for failure. Why? Because they don’t ask many questions, they are never sure what everyone else wants from them and when they don’t meet expectations, they feel like they’ve failed. They feel like they’ve let people down.

This is partially where the cycle of Type A or perfectionism comes from. ‘I need to do exactly what I am told, perfectly, or not do it at all’.

Impact on women

When you have girls, who listen and don’t ask questions, don’t advocate for themselves, don’t have their own expectations and think they should be or need to be perfect to ‘succeed’, that impacts them for a lifetime.

Girls grow up to be mothers who teach their girls to do the same. Mothers take jobs working for men who treat them similarly to their parents, coaches and boys of younger years. Because they’ve been robbed of their self-esteem they take jobs that have less responsibility and pay less money. As coaches, they tend to coach the way they were coached. And so, the cycle continues.

Girls don’t even know what’s happening

As if this isn’t scary enough, the even scarier thing is that as kids, girls aren’t conscious of what’s happening. They get swept up in it. They just think it’s the way it should be. It’s considered ‘normal’ behavior to be put down and compared to boys & men.

Fortunately, not all girls have this experience. It is a small percentage but they are out there. Some can find their way out of the cycle while others are stuck for a lifetime, perpetuating the cycle.

What should be happening?

Girls are NOT boys nor should they try to be. It’s time to figure out how to appreciate girls for who they are and what they have to offer. It’s important to give girls the skills we give boys: how to ask questions, how to advocate for themselves, how to set their own expectations (and meet them), and that it’s OK not only to be a girl but you don’t have to be perfect. And actually, it is healthy not to be perfect.

It’s also important to recognize the language used with girls. You may not think the language you use is a big deal but it makes a lifetime impact. For many, it creates a lifetime of confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding their true identity. Girls are girls and need to be respected for that, not marginalized because of it.

Girls possess a lot of great qualities: drive, passion, tenacity, resiliency, emotion, strength, athleticism, etc. Both boys and girls have these qualities, but girls apply them on more on a methodical level and with a different intensity.

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