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Guest Column: Taney Dragons and Soft Sexism

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I sent a "feel good" article about the Taney Dragons to my sister without thinking too much about it. She responded to me with a lengthy email. I asked her if she'd share it. She agreed.

Mo'Ne throws with her non-boy arm.
Mo'Ne throws with her non-boy arm.
Josh Sevin

I received the email below from my sister in response to a casual email I sent to her about the Taney Little League team that was, more or less "Cool story in so many ways!"

She wrote back to me. I rubbed my shins where she had kicked them and came away with a little more awareness. I asked her if she would share her response, and she agreed.

Here's what she had to say, modified slightly with her permission to take out some salty language:

I read this article on Mo'Ne Davis the other day.  It's great that the Taney Dragons are going to the little league world series.  It's awesome that they're a good team with a rather talented pitcher.  The whole thing is kind of a feel-good piece on the hometown young athletes and that's good.  (It's hitting the bigger media now that they're going to Williamsport for sure.) My problem with it is the language.

I know that the language won't change because of me.  Sports writing needs to have a lede and in this article it was "girl pitcher" which dovetails nicely with the Always "Like a Girl" ad that's currently running around Tumblr like wildfire (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjJQBjWYDTs) so it's practically viral and everything.  Also, wasn't the girl pitcher thing like a major plot point in Bad News Bears (1976)?  It's a hell of a lede in terms of doing what it is supposed to do, which is getting people to read the article. But you're my brother and I want you to be aware.

I still, as an adult of forty-four, get "You're pretty good at plumbing for a girl" and "Hunh. Not bad at rewiring outlets for a girl." I find this sort of language offensive in the extreme. I always have. I also hate, like with a burning passion, the phrase "like a girl" because it's so very very hurtful.  Allow me to explain, please, without getting mad at me.

The author's 7-yr-old (in the article) knows that doing something like a girl is a top-tier insult. She’s currently displaying the knee-jerk response of distancing herself from her gender — I’m not like those other girls. I am one of the guys. If I try hard enough, I can play with the dudes and they will accept me as one of them.

The failures of all other women and girls before me, their failures were personal and not systemic. I am different. I will try harder. I Can Win This Game, Damn It, and I DON’T THROW LIKE A GIRL. This response is a common one that many, many strong, capable,intelligent little girls (and women) have when they run face-first into the concrete wall of patriarchy and it's problematic as all-get-out.

The "I Can Win This Game, Damn It" view dangles the prospect of individual success in front of women.  It gives them hope that the game is winnable for them if they just try hard enough. ICWTGDI is a distraction and a lie -- and as such, it needs to be shut down. It is utterly harmful and divisive to a little girl's sense of self and to women as a whole.

The author's daughter is only 7 and she knows that a person can throw "well" or "like a girl" and that these two ways of throwing are OPPOSITES. The choice that the phrasing "like a girl" offers little girls is that they can do things competently and well -- run hard,throw fast and accurately, hit with authority -- or they can do them (poorly or not at all) in alignment with their gender.

That's the choice we give little girls in the world where the phrase "like a girl" is a schoolyard insult -- succeed, with gender-dysphoria, or fail, gender-conformingly. You couldn't come up with a better way to get smart, driven, capable little girls gender-distancing and thinking ICWTGDI if you tried. (Also, Exhibit A, it worked on the author's little girl.  Exhibit B?  My whole life.)

"Like a girl" -- doing things like your gender does them is an insult. You can be capable and whatnot, or you can be feminine.  Pick one. "For a girl" -- you're so incapable at this task that we have to get out the special, short measuring stick to assess your efforts so that you won't feel bad and give up out of shame.

Try reading the article again, for me, with "black kid" and "African-American kid" in place of "girl".  You can leave the girl pronouns in, they're fine, but every time it points out that Mo'Ne is a girl, using the word girl, or talks about other little girls looking up to her, please substitute in your mind "black kid" or "African-American kid" Read it like that and see how the article feels. (If the substitute version reads for you anywhere near how it read for me, it's the level of offense and outrage I felt with the original.)

I am kind of uptight about this stuff and it gets in my way of enjoying these sorts of feel-good stories.  I agree that it's important for kids of all sorts to see other kids excelling at their thing, but this article could simply have talked about the Taney Dragons as feel-good baseball from Philly, with a talented team of young kids including their spectacular pitcher, Mo'Ne Davis, whose fastball ran about seventy mph and whose curve disappeared at the plate and so on and so forth. It's not necessary to pretend she's a boy, but the story should be about her pitching.

Mo'Ne Davis does not, unless I am very far wrong on how little league works, throw differently because of her gender -- the fact that she is female shouldn't be the most remarkable thing about her.

The point,here, is that she's a very good little league pitcher COMPARED TO ALL OTHER LITTLE LEAGUE PITCHERS.  Can we talk about that, please? I guarantee you that all kinds of young persons would still have noticed from the article that she was a girl. I guess I get what the author is going for -- reclaiming "Like a girl" is also a point in the ad for Always (linked above), but this sort of thing has always read heavy-handed and offensive to me.

I'm sorry I can't be more the kind of person who would enjoy this article. I know you kind of wanted me to like it and sent it to me because you thought it was cool.  I think the facts of the article *are* cool and I hope the Dragons do well at the LLWS because that would be awesome.  But the article itself, and the way it is written... salt in an old, old wound.

Editor's Note: Many thanks for the sister of RememberThePhitans for letting us publish her email.