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Is This Phrase Sexist?

August 1, 2017

(image via wikimedia)

Every once in a while, I tell people that I hit like a girl.  I don’t say it often, but it comes up occasionally in conversation or in my writing.  I’ve never given the phrase a second thought.  I just thought it was a simple expression that explains that I’m not a good fighter.

I’ve been told several times recently that I shouldn’t say that I hit like a girl, that the phrase is sexist.  A woman at work told me that it was an inappropriate thing to say.  I apologized and made a mental note be very careful about what I say around her from now on.  A couple commenters on this blog claim that it was a phrase that I should not use.  I’ve even been told that women can hit just as hard as men.

At first, I was surprised I was getting criticism for saying/writing that I hit like a girl.  I mean, I’ve written some objectionable stuff on this blog.  I’ve written about adult situations.  I’ve written about vulgar language and have even used some profanity.  I’ve suggested that James Patterson might be a hack (as outrageous as that claim might be).  I’ve even written porn jokes, and nobody complained that the porn jokes were sexist.  They just said the porn jokes were stupid.

I understand why people would think it’s sexist to say “I hit like a girl.”  They think I’m making fun of girls, and I’m saying that the way girls hit is inferior to the way boys hit.  I agree that some women can hit just as hard as some men.

I wouldn’t want to get hit by a female MMA fighter.  If I got into a brawl with a female MMA fighter, I’d lose because I hit like a girl and she wouldn’t.  Female MMA fighters are trained to hit like men (but I guess that would be a sexist statement too.  I just keep on digging).

When a man is accused of being sexist, one of two extreme reactions usually happen.  The man might curl up into the fetal position, begging for forgiveness for being a man and contributing to the oppressive patriarchy.  Or the man might tense up and declare that he’s not sexist and the woman is stupid for calling him that.  You usually don’t get too much in between.

When women are called sexist, they sometimes say that women can’t be sexist because we live in a patriarchy where women don’t have enough power to be sexist.  And a sexist man would say that logic demonstrates why women shouldn’t be given power.

Being an ineffectual (ineffective?) fighter has shaped my personality.  Since I know I’d probably lose most fights, I learned to be diplomatic.  I could talk myself out of most conflicts (and I don’t even like talking, so that’s an accomplishment).  I’m a pretty good problem solver.  Since I’m also good at conflict resolution, I didn’t get angry when commenters criticized me for using a (possibly) sexist phrase.

Saying I hit like a girl doesn’t mean that I throw a punch the same way that a girl throws a punch.  The phrase is a simile.  A simile isn’t meant to be taken literally.  And I don’t care what people say about equality, a guy should never get into a physical altercation with a female. If a girl starts a fight with a guy, the guy should step back defensively and protect himself without harming the female.  When a guy fights a girl, most men are disgusted with the guy.

Like I said, similes shouldn’t be taken literally.   When my daughter wrote in a story that she ran like a cheetah, I didn’t claim that she couldn’t run 65 miles an hour and she definitely didn’t run on four legs.  I DID criticize her for using a cliché, however.  Run like a cheetah is so easy that I told her to think of a more creative way to express how fast she ran.

Then again, the phrase I hit like a girl is a cliché as well.  I’m not mad that I used a (possibly) sexist phrase.  I’m too old to care too much about that stuff anymore.  But I take pride in my writing, and I shouldn’t have used such a hack expression.  This blog has high standards.  What was I thinking?

When I was growing up, it was no big deal to say a guy hit like a girl.  The guy might want to fight after he was accused of hitting like a girl, just to prove that he didn’t hit like a girl.  But nobody said the phrase was sexist.  Then again, we said a lot of stuff back then that we wouldn’t say today.  I don’t want to repeat the kind of things we said back in the 1970s because it was pretty bad.  If you think saying “he hits like a girl” is sexist, you’d be horrified by some of the other stuff that we said.  But I’m probably not going to write about that.

  1. Thanks for sharing. ❤

  2. happyfreeconfusedlonelyatthesametime permalink

    It is sexist, yes and you shouldn’t say it. I wouldn’t say that the point is if you take it literally or not, the point is that even if you personally don’t think so that sentence implies that women generally are worse at something. That way that opinion sticks with people.
    Wondering why sexism offends people more than sexual stuff sounds crazy weird to me. Most people in my country /on my continent don’t get why others (for example americans) get so upset about sexuality but don’t care about real problems like racism, discrimination, injustice etc.
    There are sexist females and males, no difference. Females can be as stupid as men. It’s just human.

  3. We have a very similar expression in German. This has come down to us from a different age: such statements derive from times when girls were not supposed to hit at all (which still applies, IMO, and boys shouldn’t, either!), and consequently were not trained by their peers to do it while boys/men were all trained in armed combat. The saying may hence be obsolete, but then, we carry a huge bunch of obsolete saying around in our language!

    Ironically, my daughter has collected a couple of complaints from boys about the force of her punches. Well, she is at least polite: She asks before whether she _may_ hit. And boys who admit find that “Hit like a girl” means in her case that she leaves bruises. 😉

  4. Yes it is sexist. It’s the same reason we no longer use the phrase “that’s gay” when we don’t like something because it implies gayness is a negative thing. The fact that people said it at one time and no longer say it only means that people are now more aware and conscientious of being hurtful. To go on using the phrase means you are neither of those things.

  5. I’m afraid it is sexist, though I agree that in the ‘seventies both men and women gaily (in the jolly and carefree sense) came out with phrases that they would cringe to hear nowadays. The reason it is sexist is because it implies that girls are in general kind of unskilled, namby-pamby and naturally weaker than men.

    I don’t think you can argue that ‘hit like a girl’ is a simile and similes should not be taken seriously. Two reasons:

    a) similes are not always amusing or frivolous and more importantly

    b) the effect on a woman hearing it is the same – a vague unhappiness – and the effect of a man hearing it is the same – a mild sense of superiority.

    Times change and you need a kind of radar for our rapidly evolving ‘linguiscape’ (I just made that one up) to sense what you can and can’t say. We older folk get caught out sometimes, and no doubt todays younger folk will themselves be getting caught out in times to come. 😉

  6. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It’s true that it’s sexist. These expressions are already in the language. You ought to take it like a man, be a man about it, a mensch….

  7. I was briefly a Civil War reenactor. In spite of being left-handed, I was forbidden from firing my carbine that way, because the hammer, and the powder explosion, would have been right in front of my eye. Firing the gun right-handed was unnatural and awkward and caused me to appear unsoldierly. I complained that it made me feel “like a girl.” My sergeant asked me to demonstrate. I raised the carbine to my right shoulder, and he felt me up. “Yep, you do feel like a girl,” he said.

  8. ” If you think saying “he hits like a girl” is sexist, you’d be horrified by some of the other stuff that we said. But I’m probably not going to write about that.”

    People who think saying “he hits like a girl” is sexist are not naive imbeciles who don’t know what all horrible things people used to (and still do) say without batting an eyelid. It is not naivete or inexperience that makes them think this is sexist. It is their sensitivity and understanding. Similes are not supposed to be taken literally. But they don’t come out of nowhere. They make sense only because of shared understanding behind those words. Cliched or not, “ran like a Cheetah” makes sense only because we believe that cheetah runs fast. Similarly “hits like a girl” makes sense only because of a belief that women are weak. So this expression is sexist because the very belief which gives it its meaning is sexist.

    “I don’t care what people say about equality, a guy should never get into a physical altercation with a female. If a girl starts a fight with a guy, the guy should step back defensively and protect himself without harming the female. When a guy fights a girl, most men are disgusted with the guy.”

    I don’t care what you say about men and women, people shouldn’t get into a physical altercation with each other. And if they do they should feel ashamed and disgusted about it. If someone only feels disgusted with a man if he gets into an altercation with a girl, but is fine with him getting into a similar alternation with a guy, then that someone is not only a sexist, but also not a nice person in general.

  9. Judy Cate permalink

    I’m an oldie and this is one of the few comments I’ve made on this blog. As far as I’m concerned, hitting like a girl can be a truthful statement if a person is talking about generalities. Most females are not as strong as their male counterparts. That’s a fact. If I would get into a hitting contest with a male, 1. I’d be stupid and 2. I’d need an equalizer like a metal object if it was serious. Males are taller, stronger, do more physical type work overall (please don’t point out the fewer females who do that work also), play more sports from a younger age, etc. It’s not “sexist” or negative, it just is…. We females need to use the attributes that we have that males don’t have as our best defense. I’ll leave it up to everyone to figure out what those are.

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