Like a Girl

As I watched the Always #LikeAGirl commercial during Superbowl XLIX, scenes from decades past flooded my mind; scenes that shaped my self-image and defined what it meant for me to act like a girl, to live like a girl– scenes revealing why that definition changed over the course of my life.

As a child, I believed everything those young girls in the commercial believe. Running like a girl meant going as fast as I could. Throwing like a girl meant staring down my target, stepping forward confidently, releasing the ball with fury. Hitting like a girl meant clobbering a baseball with an aluminum bat, sending it soaring past the outfield fence as my teammates erupted in cheers.

I believed I was strong and capable. I believed I was mighty.


When I was four years old, my mother and I were browsing in a Boston bookstore during a family vacation. I slipped away and wandered down a long aisle. A forty-something man approached me and asked if I could help him reach a book on the top shelf. He picked me up and pressed his chest against my back.

That book, he said. I reached for the book. No, that one. I reached for the next one. No, that one

Heat from his breath filled my ear, his hands tightly grasping my ribcage. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t know that the world was anything but a safe place. I only knew I had to get away.

I kicked my feet and hollered, creating a scene. My mother came rushing around the corner and the stranger dropped me to the ground, fleeing out the front door.

***

When I was five, my family and I were visiting out-of-town friends. There were dozens of people at our gathering –adults socializing in the living room while the kids entertained themselves down the hallway in the playroom.

At one point, a teenage boy said he wanted to show me something. He led me into a bedroom, and told me to sit on the bed. He pulled his pants down, and then reached for my skirt, yanking my dress up toward my waist. The look in his eyes frightened me, and I shoved past him, unlocked the door, and bolted down the hallway, spending the rest of the evening in close proximity to the adults.

***

When I was nine, I was at a friend’s house on a summer afternoon. Her teenage brother and his buddies were goofing around in the backyard. One of the boys came over to talk to us, but when he got closer, he reached out and pinched my nipple through my lavender tank-top, making a buzzing sound with his mouth. I gasped and slapped his arm. My friend and I stomped off to the house, agreeing that boys could be such jerks.

***

When I was eleven, a friend and I got dropped off at the local ice rink for some evening skating. Beside the rink was a small warming shack operated by two young men. After some laps and group games, we took a break for hot chocolate and pretzels. Ready to skate again, we headed for the door, but as my friend walked out, one of the boys grabbed my arm, and the other slammed the door shut, locking her out.

He pushed me against the wall and leaned his ruddy face in close to mine. He asked how old I was. Ooo, I thought you were at least sixteen, he said. You’re pretty enough to be. He leaned in closer, moving his mouth toward my neck. I shoved him away and scrambled for the door, unlocking the latch and pushing my way back out onto the ice.

***

When I was twelve, I was at a crowded basketball game, making my way to the restroom at half time. I passed through a crowd of teenage boys. One of them catcalled at me, and another said, Mmm, look at the titties on that one. I rolled my eyes– blurred with tears– and pushed my way through.

***

When I was thirteen, I was in the basement at church looking for something to drink. A man approached me and said, You look so nice in your dress today. He moved closer. Your hair is pretty too. He got even closer and complimented my necklace, staring down at my breasts. I nervously squeezed past him, running back up the stairs to my seat in the pew beside my friend.

***

When I was sixteen, I was in an outdoor hot tub at my friend’s house. Two of my friends went into the house for snacks, and I was left alone with just one other boy. He reached his foot over and started sliding it up my calf to my thigh. I told him to knock it off. He came closer to me, placing his hand between my thighs. Uncomfortable, I stood up, saying I had to go to the bathroom so I could get away.

***

When I was nineteen, my friend and I were out dancing at a crowded club. A man came up behind me and pressed himself against my back. He slid his arms beneath mine and worked his hands up my ribs, toward my breasts. I cringed and pulled away from him, making my way to the other side of the dance floor.


Over a span of fourteen years, my self-image was injured far more than eight times.

Despite my father, brother, grandfather, and coaches telling me that I was strong and capable…

image
“HI STACE – I SAW THIS PICTURE AND THOUGHT IT WAS YOU. LOVE, DAD” (1998)

Other men told me I was a commodity. I was there for their objectification– to be stared at, whistled at, groped.

When I saw that #LikeAGirl commercial, when my stomach tightened and my throat tensed, I was overcome by how much this message matters.

It matters because eight is way too many unwanted encounters.

It matters because I had to fight. Run. Escape.

Because what if I couldn’t. What if I didn’t.

Because not everyone does.

It matters because I never told.

Because I wasn’t sure if I had the right to be angry.

Because at some point, I stopped fighting and started rolling my eyes. At some point, I stopped rolling my eyes and started smiling nervously.

At some point, I forgot that I was mighty.

It matters because if you’re a woman, there’s a high probability that you have your own list.

It matters because daughters…

Because nieces…

Because sisters…

They are watching. Listening. Determining what it means for them to live #LikeAGirl.

I was one of the lucky ones. I found my way back to myself. Those things my father, grandfather, brother, and coaches told me, I know now to be true. I am strong and capable.

I have a husband who also believes those things about me. And I have sons, not daughters, so it’s my responsibility to show them what it means for a woman to behave #LikeAGirl.

But first, we have to show them what it means to behave #LikeABoy. And yes–that means strong and capable and mighty too. But also respectful, compassionate, and empowering to everyone with whom they come in contact.

Those eight episodes from my youth affected me, but they didn’t ruin me or define me.

Still, I wish they had never happened.

Wouldn’t it be powerful if our visions of ourselves as youth – fresh, untainted, hopeful – never became damaged because other people’s images of themselves were once damaged too?

If we could preserve the youthful optimism that our futures are rich with possibility and valuable beyond measure — that #LikeAGirl or #LikeABoy — we are cherished and cheered-for…

We are celebrated.

HarrisonHeroes

#LikeAStrongCapableMightyHuman

36 thoughts on “Like a Girl

  1. I watched that ad and truly wept. All women know what it’s like to “be a girl”. Never forget and tell your daughters, nieces, and any other young women under your influence. You can make them, “feel like a girl who matters”.

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    1. Yes, your words are true! It’s up to us to make sure young women receive the message that they are treasures — that they matter. Thank you for reading, relating, and taking the time to comment. I hope you’ll visit me here again! Best, Stacy

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  2. Love your gift of writing and I love you. Yes, we all journey through our own incidents. They are usually small, undetected by others, but never forgotten. And they remain with us, however. Thank God for keeping us grounded!

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    1. Yes, Cathy, we all have our list of moments or incidents that have affected us. We don’t forget them, but we don’t have to be bound by them either. By the grace of God we find our worth in the affirmation of the ones who truly see us and love us. Thank you for reading and sharing. I love you too, my friend! xoxo

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  3. This was so powerful! My daughter is ten, and we have been having conversations since she was three about this topic. Recently, after hearing multiple news stories about rape cases across the country, she asked me what rape was. My heart almost stopped! Was I ready to explain this to her? It didn’t matter, because she asked and wanted to know. I would do anything to protect her from the experiences you talked about in this piece, but I know in the end all I can do is educate her and do everything in my power to help her believe in herself and know that she is special, and strong and worthy of being treated with respect. Thank you for sharing your experiences so that they may help others. 🙂

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    1. Wanda, how AWESOME that you are thinking about these things and having these conversations with your young daughter. It’s scary to think that she has already heard about rape, but also a relief to think she came right to you for answers. That says a lot! I’m thankful you and so many others care deeply about this mission to teach young girls that they are special and worthy of the utmost respect and love. Thank you for reading and taking the time to share your own experiences. Blessings, Stacy

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  4. Way to remind us that we NEED to teach our young ones…we sometimes think everyone has it them or everyone “just knows how to act or respond”, but this is a poignant message that we need to conscientiously make an effort to empower our young girls…and boys. 🙂 You are doing an amazing job, Stac! Thank you for the message (and great parenting advice)!

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    1. You’re so right, Tracey. We often think kids “just know” or will “figure it out,” but with all the messages coming at them, it’s up to us to help them discard and decode. Thanks so much for reading, relating, and sharing your thoughts. Come back soon, My Dear!

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  5. Oh my gosh, Stacy; eight such encounters are definitely too many in a young girl’s life. And you never told your parents? Did you tell them before you blogged this? Respect for girls is what every young boy should learn and that NO means NO. But some of the males in your encounters, especially when you were really young, must have been sexual perverts, and should have been reported. Can’t understand about the guy in the church basement; wondering if he’s been caught for similar acts. Since you live in such a small area, you must have run into some of those jerks through the years. My heart is hurting for you.

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    1. Absolutely, Eveline. Some of them SHOULD have been reported. What is it that keeps a girl from telling? I think for me it was the fear of having to face that person again, especially because so many of the “offenders” were people with whom I was in regular contact.

      As an adult, I wish I had told. It may have prevented the next girl from being wronged. But I’m telling now. I’m telling so these important discussions can take place, and so that we can equip children and teens to think about how they treat one another, and how they should insist on being treated themselves.

      Thanks for reading and supporting me all along, especially when I was still figuring out what it meant to live my truth #LikeAGirl.

      Stacy

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  6. My guts are hurting. Words can do that to a girl. Powerful, poignant, perfectly penned words that stick in a stomach and make it ache are the same words that change minds, spirits, and beliefs. Stace – you write #LikeAGirl!

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    1. Kendalynn, when I wrote this post, I saw the faces of so many little girls, including yours. My Saturday evening conversation with Ailee about her love for horses kept coming back to me in whispers as I wrote. I want her to keep that confident passion — that fire in her eyes — forever. Let’s get ourselves in so deep for our daughters and sons and the world that is aching for a change.

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  7. Stacy. A powerful and moving story. I am very honored to be the one who wrote that note. You were 16. Mom and I worked very hard to mold you into the amazing woman that you are. Love you tons. Dad

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  8. I have three granddaughters and worry about this stuff…thank you for writing this. I intend to share with my oldest one. I want them to be strong and confident and aware.

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    1. Nancy, it’s so great that you’re thinking about this with your granddaughters. There are so many things I know you will do to help them be strong, confident, and aware. Talking to them is number one! Cheering you on, Stacy

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  9. I’m thankful today’s little girls are exposed to many empowering messages as in the commercial. As a woman nearing 60, I wish I could say I have that same self-assurance. The importance of encouraging girls to think for themselves or give it their all was not always encouraged in my day. To read of your own scary experiences, Stacy, I see how God protected you through your feisty personality and godly parents and grandparents who reinforced your worth which gave you the confidence and courage to fight back when it was required.

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    1. Michele — YES. I am so thankful too that these kinds of conversations are taking place. You are right that God poured a spirit of boldness into me and that my family reinforced my worth. I am BEYOND grateful. But I’m also heavily burdened with the reality that if a strong, white, middle-class girl in low-crime rural America narrowly escaped several compromising situations, countless other women in more dangerous, more threatening situations than I could ever imagine are dealing with these types of encounters on a regular basis, possibly every day of their lives. It haunts me, and I never want it to stop haunting me, or you, or all of us.

      But things are happening today — right now. People are thinking about these profoundly important things. And thought gives to conversation. And conversation leads to action. And action ignites change.

      Thank you, Michele, for joining me in steps one and two.

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  10. I feel for you though….but your story seems somehow unbelievable and always running at the end, you must be strong enough to fight the world 8times kudos. #likeagurl

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    1. Over the years, I have often wondered what would have become of me if I did not have the boldness to fight or to run. I hope conversations like this one can bring forth positive change for those who cannot.

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          1. You are welcome. Khourage is the name….also fighting against child molestation but i swear it ain’t easy been framed for the opposite. I may give you the details but im sure my comments ain’t open cos i can’t manipulate most of this stuff

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  11. You took a risk by sharing your experiences and I thank you on behalf of anyone (girl or boy) who has ever felt exposed in these ways. Your insight and your challenge to be loving, caring humans is something we can all benefit from.

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    1. Yes, some of those experiences were uncomfortable to write, but I kept thinking of those who have far more devastating accounts than I. Thank you for reading and relating and caring a ton. The work you do every day has shown countless young people what it means, or should mean, to act #LikeAGirl.

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  12. Wonderful article. Unfortunately I too believe every woman has their own list. I pray that articles like this and girls saying enough! That this won’t be a problem our children will have to deal with. Being honest with your kids, boys and girls, about how to treat other people and how not to let people treat you is a first step. I look forward to your next post.

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    1. Yes. Every young person we teach and empower is another force for change! You are right on with the significance of being open and honest with kids about how TO treat others and how NOT TO let others treat you. Thank you for reading and for joining in on both the conversation and the important work.

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  13. It hurts my heart to think that EVERY girl has to live through this. Some of us were not able to get away and are scared for life. But God. This is why I endeavor to help young women. To show them that they can be strong and courageous and overcome what the world has done to them. In Christ there is always hope. Thank you Stacy for sharing.

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    1. Julie, it does hurt. I ache when I think of the ones who didn’t make it to the door or didn’t have parents around the corner or down the hallway. It’s devastating that women face these devaluing situations on a regular basis.

      I am sorry that you have been hurt, and that you felt, or feel, afraid. It’s a powerful thing that you have the grace and strength to overcome and help other women overcome. Bless you for extending the torch of hope to a world in need. I hope you find healing in that complex and beautiful work.

      Thank you for being here and for sharing your lovely heart.

      Stacy

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  14. Thank you for sharing this. Movements like this are so important, as we need to debunk the notion that things like cat calling or objectifying are “no big deal” , the attitude I had in high school. I sit here after watching the video and reading your blog feeling guilty, angry and aware of the heaviness of actions like my past attitudes. I understand that human depravity is a constant and as a father of 3 boys i have my hands full in raising them. I want them to learn that respect, courtesy, compassion, justice, and love are real things. I want them to be aware of the impact they can have on others by how they choose to live and the need for them to be men of integrity. Thank you again, maybe out of this movement a new hash tag will develop…#likeahuman.

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    1. You’re so right, Chad. We do need to debunk the attitude that objectification is no big deal. Because even if once catcall or comment may not seem like a big deal on its own, its the accumulation of those things over the course of year, a decade, a lifetime that takes its toll on a person’s self-worth.

      Thank you for recognizing that you have important work to do with three little boys who are surely watching your every move. You have a huge potential for impact on them. They have a huge potential for impact on a depraved world.

      ❤ Stacy

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  15. Wow,just wow. I’m new to this blogging community and was drawn to yours because of how beautiful your writing is. I must say this one really touched me deep inside…I hate that we live in a world where bad things happen to us,or even things that make us uncomfortable or cautious. But as I approach being 22 soon,I will try to be as much of a fighter as u are:) I hope to someday write a blog that will speak to someone else too.

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    1. Thank you for finding me here and for your kind and lovely words.

      You are so right — I hate it too that we live in world where horrible things happen every day. But I fully believe that from that very place of anger or frustration about the way things ARE, we birth new concepts about the way things could possibly BECOME!

      Twenty-two is the PERFECT age to be a fighter. You’ve got this, sister. Join me in writing and living and loving #LikeAGirl!

      Stacy

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