In July of 2014, the feminine hygiene company Always launched an online commercial called #LikeAGirl that quickly made the rounds of the internet, showing up on websites and Facebook feeds across North America.
The commercial shows a casting call in which random participants are asked to model certain behaviours, including running, throwing, and fighting “like a girl”. The participants, both male and female, respond by acting like a stereotypical helpless and inept girl (visions of clueless blondes come to mind). The director then asks them why they acted that way, allowing the participants to reflect on the stereotypes they portrayed.
If you haven’t seen it, stop reading right now and take a look. It will give a proper context to what we are saying here.
There’s a reason why this video went viral: it’s very well done. What mother or father or brother or sister or husband or partner or friend or acquaintance wouldn’t want to see the daughter or sister or girl or woman in their life become more empowered and confident in who they are? And so thousands of people watched the video, were inspired, and shared it on social media. The campaign succeeded and the Always brand is now attached to a popular and positive message.
Our culture has a long history of taking women at face value. Females experience huge social pressure to be physically attractive; however, an attractive woman often has her intellectual capabilities questioned. It's a damaging double standard, and we are still fighting it in the twenty-first century. So crafting a story around this idea is, to be frank, extremely easy and effective.
However, this commercial works because it touches on a universally human experience: being judged by our appearance. This happens to EVERYONE, male or female, gay or straight, fat or thin, old or young. Think of Susan Boyle, Stephen Hawking and Marilyn Monroe. Think of a homeless person, a teen mother, or a child with Tourettes Syndrome.
All of us have been judged by our appearances and we deeply resent that. We want to be known for who we are rather than who we appear to be. The #LikeAGirl commercial shows us that process of being known for who we are and it is liberating. All of us shared it because we want others to experience that freedom of being known for who we are, even if we only experience it vicariously through a commercial.
However, given that Always is reflecting a universal human experience in its commercial, we wish they had pushed that idea a little farther.
Go back and look at the video again, but this time pay attention to the males. What is their role? They model the stereotypical behaviour, their enactments of “like a girl” are identical to their female counterparts. After a couple of these caricatures, a 10-year old boy, having just thrown “like a girl”, admit that he had “insulted girls, but not my sister”. This was the last appearance of a male, leaving the viewer with the impression that males perpetuate negative stereotypes and admit wrongdoing. And that’s all.
The difficulty with this commercial is that we never see the boys/men move beyond the “like a girl” stereotype and that’s a shame, because Always has allowed another cultural stereotype to remain in place: the stupid and unenlightened male who is shown up by the superior and intelligent female and then magically fades away into irrelevancy. Aren’t they interested in what that 10-year old boy said afterwards? What made his sister different from other girls? When challenged, did that 10 year old boy articulate the exact same message that Always was trying to convey: that no one should be taken at face value?
As much as we need strong and confident women, we need men whose confidence comes not from belittling other people, but from an understanding of their own inherent value and respect for others. We are in desperate need of men like that.
Always did a great job of pushing the viewer to look beyond social and cultural stereotypes. They just didn’t push those boundaries far enough.
At Signal Hill, we’re interested in helping young people develop relationships grounded in mutual respect. One of our most popular talks is Free to Love. It helps teens understand what healthy relationships are and how they can experience them. Visit our presentations page for more information about it as well as our other workshops.