Throwing Like a Girl

"Throwing Like a Girl" Reading and Lecture Notes

Dan Ryan

September 1997

Elements here

• Gender

• Life Course

• Socialization

• Sociology: basic idea that things that would appear either biological or completely "personal" may have social origins or roots

Consider the Nike ad that says if you want your little girl to grow up and succeed and survive and not be a victim of this and that you should get her involved in sports. To most of our minds, this sounds eminently plausible. To some of us, it is downright moving. It's an effective ad. For something. When I recently discussed this idea with a sociologist friend, I realized that though I'd been quite impressed by the ad, I had no idea of what it was an ad for. Let's not tell the folks at Nike this.

So, the logic of the ad strikes us as plausible. Encourage little girls to play sports, because if they do, they will grow into more, what, powerful? successful? OK, just "Better" women. Why might this be true? Is it better to be in shape? Does playing sports as a kid make your body stronger later? Is it because you learn how to compete? How to strive to win, how to lose gracefully?

How is knowledge of how to be a body in the world transmitted? We know how much time is spent teaching children how to walk, talk, eat, dress and so on. And we know how "individual" these things are — we can recognize people by their walks and talks.

Summary of Young's Argument

1. Straus' observation that boys and girls throw balls very differently even before there is any anatomical (not biological) difference in their bodies that might account for this. His conclusion is that it amounts to a "feminine attitude" in relation to the world. He doesn't really give it too much thought, but basically ascribes it to a biological source of feminine essence.

in relation to the world

2. Denying the existence of such gender essences is basic tenet of feminist theory.

3. But in denying essence, one doesn't glibly say that men and women are simply the same. There are differences, but they are attributed to men's and women's reactions to the "situation" in which they find themselves.

I live in a social world. It was here before I got here and there are others who pre-date me.

4. Beauvoir shows dimensions of women's "situation" but doesn't give much thought to "status and orientation of the woman's body as relating to its surroundings in living action."

By concentrating on puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy, she gives the impression that women's status as bodies in the world derives from anatomy and physiology as such.

5. Limits of this inquiry

• contemporary advanced industrial urban and commercial society

• bodily activities related to "comportment or orientation of the body as a whole, that entail gross movement, or that require the enlistment of strength and the confrontation of the body's capacities and possibilities with the resistance and malleability of things. …in which the body aims to accomplish a definite purpose or task." Not sex, dance, adornment, object of display, etc.

• "feminine" as ideal type, typification. Doesn't apply to any particular female or not apply to any particular male.

6. What the inquiry is about: modalities of bodily existence in the world

Don't just do something, stand there!

7. Summary of the essay

• Part I: observations about "typical" feminine bodily existence

• Part II: general phenomenological account of modalities of feminine comportment and motility

• Part III: modalities in terms of spatiality

• Part IV: implications for oppression, further investigations

8. Conclusion: For our purposes, we want to pay attention to how "being a body in the world," which does show gender differences, has roots not in "nature" but in society. Our question is whether we want to come down on the side of this being only a reaction to a structural situation or whether we would claim that it is something that girls are socialized into. If we are absolutely strict structuralists on this matter, we might decide that hypothesis of the Nike ad is wrong. If we see it as result of process, then the ad may be on to something.