Let’s Stop Being Surprised When Little Girls Kick Ass

A Florida 9-year-old recently completed a 24-hour obstacle course where she raced 36 miles, swam five miles and overcame 25 obstacles like scaling a 12-foot wall and slithering under barbed wire.

We have no doubt Milla Bizzotto is hardcore. You can see her train for the Navy SEAL-style competition below.

Yet, after describing Bizzotto’s accomplishments, the Washington Post asks an unfortunate question: “Why would a tutu-loving 9-year-old want to do this?” Media across the Internet echo this amusement.

While meant to be a light-hearted joke, such observations betray a more serious bias against physically strong girls. Most of us would agree with the assertion that liking traditionally feminine things has little correlation with physical strength. However, when little girls conquer physical challenges, our inadvertent sexism shines through.

We expect it when a boy accomplishes something physical. We treat it as a gendered anomaly when a girl does the same.

After 13-year-old Malavath Poorna summitted Mount Everest, making her the second youngest ever for the accomplishment, (the boy before her was one month younger) media said, “You go girl.”

Everyone was agape when Mo’Ne Davis, also 13 at the time, made the cover of Sports Illustrated after being the first girl to pitch a shutout with her 70-mph ball in the Little League World Series.

When Junior Olympics hopeful Kaylyn Mintz beat a U.S. cadet in a push-up contest for charity at age 10 (she did 84), folks shook their heads in disbelief.

Or how about 11-year-old goalie Emma Nichols who stopped 95 percent of shots in the 2015 England Ice Hockey Association Junior Inter-Conference tournament? Or Ashima Shiraishi, who’s been called one of best rock climbers in the world at age 14. I could go on.

While they exist in droves, strong girls are not the default in most of our minds. We say these girls are “embarrassing the boys“ or “showing them how it’s done,” they’re doing X “like a girl.” We make tongue-in-cheek comments about how we should be careful challenging “unassuming young girl[s].”

I wish I was surprised. Our society has long glorified boys and men’s athleticism, while relegating girls and women‘s to second tier.

You can see the disparity even with something as minute as accusing someone of “throwing like a girl.”

To be sure, some may argue we treat girls’ athletic accomplishments like a rarity because of the biological sex differences. And while these differences do exist to a degree, culture definitely exacerbates the problem.

Jerry Thomas researched the throwing abilities among Aboriginal kids, who grew up in a culture where all genders hunt and throw from a young age. He found that girls there threw tennis balls at about 80 percent of the velocity as the boys, which is drastically better than in our Western culture.

“The gap is much larger than it should be,” he told the Washington Post, “and it would be smaller if girls got more practice.”

As researcher Janet Hyde argues, “The more we argue for gender differences, the more we feed people’s stereotypes. A belief in large gender differences is incompatible with equal opportunity.”

You can see it in our lower requirements for physical education testing for young girls versus boys. At the same time, CDC statistics note that there are “no significant differences by sex in core, lower, or upper body measures of strength” yet between boys and girls ages 6 to 11.

You can see it as too many parents still push girls to play with dolls and push boys toward sports. You can see the results as girls drop out of sports at twice the rates as boys.

You can see people’s misguided hostility when the media actually cover sporty girls (just scroll to the bottom of this article). They sling juvenile insults, decry feminism and call for “men’s empowerment,” or treat sexual orientation and gender as an insult. Maybe they say she’s a “lesbian” or “manly.”

The double standards follow girls as they grow up. Once they get into high school, despite Title IV, nearly 30 percent of high school sports programs in the U.S. put more money into their boys’ teams than their girls’. And even when some of these girls work their way up to pro sports as adults, society continues to work against them.

We watch far less women’s sports. Too few media cover them. And they’re also making less than their male counterparts, as recently demonstrated by the U.S. women’s national team alleging that they’re getting paid as little as 40 percent of what the men are.

In short, the problem is much more bigger than our astonishment at a 9-year-old completing a gritty obstacle course. Tough little girls need to stop being treated as a novelty.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

118 comments

Richard A
Richard A3 months ago

I am not surprised. I have three granddaughters. They excel at everything they wish to do. As Yoda said, "Do or do not, there is no try."

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Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus11 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiranabout a year ago

noted

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Elaine W.
Past Member about a year ago

"Anything you can do, I can do better" ...with laughter.

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Marianne R.
Marianne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Marianne R.
Marianne Rabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Danuta Watola
Danuta Watolaabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing

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Latonya W.
Latonya Wabout a year ago

lol go princess...

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Marie W.
Marie Wabout a year ago

Gender discrimination from an early age.

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