I cannot, no matter how hard I try to bend my mind, figure out how ads like the #LikeAGirl one that talks about the strength of girls can be in any way detrimental to men. Or to young boys. Or to old men who have been dead for 100 years or to men who have yet to be born.
What is it about stories in the media or ads like these that prominently display the strength of women that makes men feel less empowered? Why do some act as though something is being taken away? How is telling a young boy that a girl can throw a football in any way detrimental to that little boy’s ability to throw a football? The talk from “meninists” is that these ads don’t speak to boys. But why the hell don’t they?
The problem isn’t that boys aren’t included in these ads it’s that they’re being taught they aren’t being included in these ads. That their story stops being told because there’s a picture of a girl on the screen instead of boys digging in sand or playing ninja swords in the living room.
For years and years and even more years people have bought Tranformers for their girls even if the ad in the magazine showed boys playing with them. They’ve bought detective books that focused on the male detective saving the female in trouble. This was all ok. “Girls can do it too,” was good enough when it was boys selling something. But now that girls are shown doing things well the ads can’t possibly be used to show boys how strong they can be too.
As a man I’ve never felt weaker because of the strong women around me. I’ve been intimidated by women, as I’ve been intimidated by men, because when I’m around people smarter than I am (which strangely happens quite a bit) I get nervous and my words cease to rush to my brain the same way they do when I’m writing a story. But weaker? Never. In fact, these women have made me stronger. They’ve helped me find a confidence I didn’t always have and have empowered me to share my own opinions, no matter what they are, as opposed to going with the crowd.
And my opinion here is that boys can learn from girls too.
In my professional life I’ve had a woman manager in every role I’ve held. And every one of them has made me a stronger person. Not because they were women but because they were excellent managers. Were they better managers because they were women? I have no idea. Were they given the opportunity to be a manager because they were women? I know there are men who would like to believe that’s the case, but no. They were managers because they were smart, creative, problem-solvers and people who made those they manged better people.
So when people respond negatively to stories that empower women, I get a severe case of “the sads.” Why can’t boys also throw #LikeAGirl? For years and years the term has been used to signify weakness. In situations where both physical and emotional strength has been called for, we told people to “man up,” or “act like a man,” or “grow some balls.” Women and men who dared to show emotion have heard that plenty of times and after a while it becomes medically dangerous to have to roll eyes so often.
I don’t know how many young women need to become heads of successful startups or become CEOs of billion dollar organizations before meninists can accept that it’s okay for a boy to look up to a woman as a superhero, as someone they can model their own lives after.
Please let’s not get mad that ads like the one we all saw during the Super Bowl don’t include boys. Let’s get mad that there are people out there who still feel that’s the case. Let’s try and change the default opinion to a place where a boy can watch that ad and say “that can be me too.”