A common adage heard throughout childhood: “You throw like a girl.”
“No one, male or female, throws like a girl. They either throw like someone who has had ample instruction on how to properly throw, or like someone who has not.”
Rick Paulas from vice.com sums this up nicely. It’s absurd that imagined social constructs are lifted from society and placed onto young girls, thus discouraging them from sports before they can see what women can do in sports.
The adage that we probably all heard as a kid has drastic implications: what does it mean to throw like a girl? Could “girl” be replaced with other nouns? How might that change the power of the sentence? Throw like…_____? Imputing race would be atrocious. Cultural references, too, abhorring. Imbecile? Idiot, moron, freak? Isn’t that what we’re saying? But the phrase isn’t amplified to much degree in society. It maintains social ideals for boys and girls which were based off of incorrect biological assessments in the 1920s: a “medical report was a reaffirmation…of constitutional overstrain…By compounding the social with the biological, the discourse of the report shared the ruling class’s moral concern for social progress and national welfare” (Hargreaves 7). Women in sports used to be unheard of.
But women can be hurt, injured. Their bodies can’t handle it. They shouldn’t be exerting themselves. They must “conserve [the body’s] energy for the great work before it” (Elliot-Lynn).
So from the time girls are born they should be stowed away to be protected? Sports are dangerous but being a kid isn’t?
Obviously, times have changed and women’s participation in sports, as it went long unrecognized, broke those “biological limitations.”
Instruction, too, has to be incorporated (for the most part, some people do have natural talents) for anyone to become skilled at something.
Take, for instance, handstands. Typically sequestered within gymnastics–often considered a sport appropriate for girls–handstands require flexibility and strength: motor skills are needed to balance the inverted body stacked over the shoulders, and the shoulders have to be flexible and strong enough to support the weight. Since girls are seen as “more” flexible than boys, couldn’t girls torment each other in the gym? You handstand like a boy. Sounds ridiculous, of course.
A handstand is a good example, I think, of a somewhat standard form of fitness that is also able to strip itself of typical constructions of gender upon the body. Gender expectations collapse within it as it requires a “masculine” trait of strength (to hold the body up) and a “feminine” trait of flexibility (to invert the body). This combination of gender “traits” creates a “gender-neutral” movement at the same time as it removes gender performance from the body. Many men can do handstands, even handstand push ups (whether free or kipping against a wall), and handstand walks. Oh, and women can, too.
The 2013 CrossFit games had a handstand walk as a part of its final event. The walk not only strips itself of gender, it even warps our common views of how the body moves. Watching people handstand walk can be strange; we don’t see the body move like this every day. The lower body is on top, and the legs often bob this way and that. The handstand walkers move their “feet” in stiff, awkward movements. The walk itself demonstrates the skill needed to maintain a handstand and the strength to mobilize the body in that position. The handstand walk is a movement that is strange to be in, and strange to watch. And that’s what I think has the chance to change the representations of the body and how gender is created out of it.
Once we realize that the body doesn’t have to move according to strict, rigid demands of gender (women are graceful, men are strong) I think we can begin to move past gender (inequality) within sports.
Hargreaves, Jennifer. “Olympic Women: a Struggle for Recognition” Women and Sports in the United States. Eds. Jean O’Reilly and Susan K. Cahn. Lebanon: Northeastern University Press, 2007. 3-15. Print.