By Brock Skinner, Columnist
MOUNT BERRY, Ga. – In my Sports Communication class, one of the many ads we deconstructed was Procter & Gamble’s “Like a Girl”, part of the #LikeAGirl campaign the company’s Always brand used to address what it called the “self-esteem crisis” among young girls.
I watched as adolescents and adults were told to, “run like a girl.” Without having to think about it, they proceed to run as if afraid to trample on flowers, or like the ground had become too hot to bear flat-footed. Watching the ad for the first time, this seemed to me perfectly normal.
About mid-way in the ad, the subjects become pre-adolescent girls. They, too, are asked to “run like a girl.” Because they aren’t old enough to have been taught that girls should run “girly,” these determined young athletes run instead as if they were sprinting for gold in the Olympics.
It was this moment when I realized my own sexism. I saw that society pollutes its daughters and young female athletes who are told from the beginning that they are lesser. I can’t believe it took me 20 years of living to realize this. The ad opened my eyes.
Obviously, no one likes to think he or she has sexist views, but it was hard to think otherwise after my initial reaction to the video.
After this experience, I had two options: Ignore what I had discovered or dive deeper and figure out how to alter my views. I chose to dive deeper. Soon after seeing the ad, the University of Oregon’s basketball star Sedona Prince exposed the lack of attention that the NCAA was giving its female athletes during March Madness. Prince produced a viral TikTok video that showed a rack of 10 dumbbells and a few yoga mats, which is to say the women’s fitness room for the tournament. Prince then showed the weight room for the men’s teams, a space filled with racks, benches, free weights and everything an athlete might need.
When I first saw Prince’s video, I brushed it off. I thought to myself, “Surely she’s not showing the whole picture. There has to be a limited amount of space.”
Why is my initial reaction to try to explain away what is an injustice to athletes who deserve every opportunity, convenience, and accommodation as the male athletes get? Nothing is wrong with wanting the full story, but there comes a point where you have to realize that there are injustices taking place right in front of your eyes.
After these experiences, I realized that there are many who initially thought the same way I did. Furthermore, I thought about what I could do, what as a society we might do to prevent these inequities from perpetuating. Suddenly, gender inequity in sports had become real. I couldn’t just brush off what I now knew. So, what’s to be done.
First, we must continue to do what Prince and the producers of “Like a Girl” have done, which is to call out gender inequities and their results when we see them. More importantly, we then need to act on what we’ve learned.
I thought a lot about what action steps I might take. I quickly realized we need to have difficult conversations. In fact, we need to talk about these inequities often and meaningfully enough that they become comfortable to talk about. Female athletes should no longer be asked to explain this stuff, nor should they continue to be put in situations in which they feel they have to defend their status.
We need to hold organizations like the NCAA accountable for what they do. Prince’s TikTok provided undeniable proof of gross gender inequity on one of sport’s biggest stages. Armed with proof like this, we should rally around champions like Prince in demanding change.
I could not count how many times that my friends and peers have reacted the same way I did to similar situations of what I now know undermined my fellow female athletes. Shrugging it off or acting like it is not a big deal no longer acceptable.
Watching a TV ad didn’t seem all that important or impactful. It was just another minor event. Having thought about it, however, and thinking through its indictment of ignorance just like mine spurred me to action. Now, when I see my female peers struggle or meet with discrimination, I will be ready to join them rather than seek to discredit them. I urge my peers to learn from what I have learned, not only to bring greater attention to these issues, but to talk about them and how to eliminate them. As Sheryl Sandberg said, “We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change it.” And as my professor likes to say, “Treat me the same, as having the same value, but respect my difference.” We can do both.