Like a Girl

The socialization of young women in our culture occurs through many institutions and by means of numerous materialistic items. The familial institution is crucial to how a young woman perceives herself and the world, but her peer group, school, and toys all play a role into her view of what is right and wrong, and how she should proceed in society. These societal norms of what girls can and can’t do or even should and shouldn’t do begins in the womb. From birth, we tend to socialize women into being feminine, obedient, and knowing their place in the world. A baby girl’s room is decorated pink. A young girl plays with dolls and wears dresses and skirts. If she doesn’t like those things, and would prefer toy cars, legos, and to wear pants, it is immediately made known to her that there is a label for girls like that: tomboys. Young women are consistently told that they perform tasks “like a girl”, especially when it comes to sports. Earlier this year, the brand Always produced a video that talks to girls about the phrase “like a girl.” The video quickly went viral, and now sits at around 50 million views on YouTube.

The video strikes a chord for many people, including myself. Of course I run like a girl, hit like a girl, throw like a girl…. I am a girl. When did doing things like a girl become an insult? A problem for society? I will also one day help to continue the human race…like a girl.

In the Middle East, women are similarly socialized, although they are more highly affected by religion and the characteristics that come along with their religion. Especially in the Muslim world, little girls are taught to become well-rounded in house duties, like cooking and cleaning. There are several ways that these are brought into a little girl’s life. The most prominent one is by imitation. If she sees her mother and the other female role models in her life doing these chores, she will readily imitate, especially between the ages of 4 and 7. Toys are also used to show girls that the societal norms are right and should be modeled after. Barbies and other dolls are extremely popular in the United States and have been for quite a long time. I remember going to the store with my mom and asking to get a Barbie, and after she said yes, I had to pick out exactly which Barbie I wanted because there are so many to choose from. Do you pick Malibu Barbie or lawyer Barbie? Each one teaches you a little something new about how you’re supposed to perform in the world. However, in the Middle East, fashion Barbies have swiftly been replaced over the past decade with Muslim fashion dolls. The most prominent doll is Fulla (seen below) who comes with a hijab, an abaya, and a prayer rug. Her narrative is quite different than Barbie’s and that is half the reason why Muslim parents prefer Fulla. She is single, unlike Barbie who relies on her boyfriend Ken. Fulla is focused on friends, education, and family.

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In an article from the University of Illinois, a very important quote stuck in my mind and is a very important socialization tactic when it comes to dolls.

“Typically, when a girl plays with a baby doll, she pretends to be the doll’s mother.

However, when a girl plays with fashion dolls such as Barbie or Fulla, she usually “becomes” the doll.”

It is important to remember how these simple toys can greatly affect the minds of our young people, especially our girls who are very quickly shoved into a proverbial box at an early age. We also need to stay mindful of how different cultures feed into the developing notions our girls have about their place in this world.

I’ll leave you with one last thought that occurred to me after some of my research: I’m curious if Fulla’s body shape is any different than Barbie? In America, Barbie is frequently criticized for have an unrealistic body shape (If she were a real person, her feet would be too small to support her and her boobs would make her topple over). Because curves are more highly accepted in the Middle East, I wonder if Fulla is curvier than the American Barbie.


Girls’ Education and Gender Socialization in the Mediterranean

Middle Eastern Dolls are Role Models for Arab Girls


11 thoughts on “Like a Girl

  1. First, I just want to comment that I love this topic and think that you wrote a great blog. I loved the “Like a Girl” campaign because it showed the difference in perception of this phrase between young girls and older girls closer to my age. To the older girls, “like a girl” was perceived as an insult or a joke and they automatically started running in a dainty way, or throwing a ball ridiculously. They acted like a girl in a ditsy way because all throughout their life they heard the phrase in a negative connotation. The little girls, however, ran and threw in their own normal, powerful way, because “like a girl” was not yet an insult to them considering their experiences with this phrase in society had not been fully developed yet. I think that the Muslim doll Fulla most likely has unrealistic body proportions just like Barbie, and it is just hidden due to the wearing of her Abaya.

  2. I really liked the video because I feel like although people talk about this topic it is not taken seriously but the video demonstrates exactly what the phrase “like a girl” means in society. Why is there a stigma with “like a girl?” What if the phrase was “like a boy” and taken as an insult? I think it is sad that “like a girl” is meant as an insult. If i run, throw a football, or play soccer, I do not have to do it in such a ditsy way. Girls are tough, strong, independent individuals who can hold our own in the world.

  3. I love this video so much because not very many people think about the messages that are sent to girls. This also applies to other topics, like when we tell girls that boys who tease them have a crush on them, it doesn’t send a good message about how boys should treat girls.

  4. I think this was beautifully written. I love how you touched upon the fact that no matter what country you come from, society will influence you in some type of way. I think this video does an amazing job illustrating how as individuals get older their experiences and social exposure is what mandates the meaning of the phrase “like a girl.”
    Many times people in the United States have this stereotype in their head that all women in the Middle East are oppressed. I think your blog does a good job stating that treatment of women in the United States is still not perfect. Just as in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, women in the U.S. deal with the stereotype of being inferior to men.
    I love the concept of the Muslim doll, Fulla. I think this is an enormous step forward in making young girls know that being “like a girl” is normal and it is not something to be ashamed of. I’m curious to know if the United States has some type of doll that has characteristics of independence like Fulla.

    1. The only dolls I could think of with valuable narratives and/or conducive backgrounds are the American Girl dolls that come with historical stories. However, the impact of Fulla in the Middle East is much greater and much more accessible, because American Girls are so expensive.

  5. Too cool! Never knew ‘fulla’ existed. I realized this the other day and your passage made me think of it… Isn’t it weird that Middle Eastern people’s are exposed to American things like Barbie and other toys I’m sure but we were never exposed to anything Middle Eastern, except for maybe hummus.
    I like the independence of Ken from Fulla but I wonder if that isn’t just focused on family. Following your family is probably a show of lacking independence for Fulla.

  6. I really like this post because even though it may not be as obvious in the United States, women are still stereotyped. It may be different here than it is in the Middle East, but still similar.

  7. I love that you wrote about topic, and feel like more light should be shined on issues like this more frequently. A lot of these stigmas occur without any form of realization, like you said, we are born with the expectations to act “like a girl”, and usually stick within those realms. I took a women and gender studies course last semester, and we focused on this issue a lot. It definitely opened my eyes.

  8. Great post! I really enjoyed this ad when it came out earlier this year, and I think it has a wonderful message for women. I was told many times that I threw and ran like a girl, and I completely accepted it. Looking back now, I realize that my lack of hand-eye cordination had nothing to do with my gender. And although Barbie is often rightfully criticized for her unrealistically proportioned “body,” I always loved the fact she represented a whole spectrum of what a woman could be. It’s definitely important to note how big of an effect the toys that we play with as children have on our development. It is also interesting to see that translated to other cultures.

  9. Being the only girl with two brothers I heard “like a girl” a lot, the fact that this phrase thrown around so often I tried my best to be one of the guys. This eventually turned me into what many call a “tomboy” and to this day especially being a plant bio major I feel as though I must act tough and hold my own as one the few women in the department. How you grow up, who you grow up with and the influences on you as a child greatly affect who you become and how you see yourself and the world around you. I loved this blog and the video that went with it. I am not ashamed to be a girl because I am a girl.

  10. Very interesting read! It’s fascinating the ways that dolls and doll expectations differ in different cultures, and it’s interesting that that’s a clear way to see what the societal expectations are for a woman. I also really liked the video you posted, it’s kind of staggering to actually see around what age girl begin to interpret “like a girl” as an insult.

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