There has been a great deal of publicity regarding the success of Little League pitcher Mo’Ne Davis, who threw a three-hitter to lead her Taney Little League team from Philadelphia to a 4-0 victory over a squad from Tennessee in the Little League World Series. She struck out eight players in the six-inning game and was only the 17th girl to play in the Little League World Series in 68 years.
She also won two games in a regional tournament to help her team advance to the Little League World Series.
Her pitching ability brings to mind a recent commercial by Research Now called “throw like a girl.” The commercial describes how the loss of power (confidence, self-esteem) can occur when a girl reaches puberty.
According to the commercial, when the interviewer asked girls who had reached puberty to demonstrate what it means to “throw like a girl,” the girls demonstrated “stereotypical limp arms” and/or “silly facial expressions,” all elements of “throwing like a girl.” However, when the interviewer asked pre-puberty girls, the same question, the girls exhibited the opposite. These girls threw with the intensity of seasoned pitchers.
The interviewer seems to be revealing that values such as assertiveness and self-confidence shift with the onset of puberty due to society’s judgment that confident girls are less feminine than unassertive girls. The study found that more than half of the girls surveyed claimed their self-confidence dropped with the onset of puberty.
Perhaps the pre-puberty group maintained their strength and assertiveness because they had not yet been labeled as part of the group labeled pubescent. They held onto their natural strength because they did not need to conform to a group? Peer group pressure causes the pubescent group to conform to the peer group values such as femininity, which implies that one must “throw like a girl?” Our social media defines the posture, build, mannerisms and level of assertiveness of a feminine girl. Interestingly, developmental psychologists refer to the pubescent stage as identity assurance versus role confusion.
Another factor is that girls’ values change from desiring to manifest strength to wanting to form relationships. That is, if they are too powerful, the group could reject them. The need to be a part of a group is located in the brain’s emotional area, or hippocampus, which is directly connected to the executive centers of the brain, thus leading to a need for emotional relationships. With a maturing brain, the need for relationships could be a powerful motivator to conform to the group, causing the beginning of the phenomenon called “throwing like a girl.”
Whatever the reasons for the differences in the two groups, it is critical that we do not give in to thinking that girls’ athletic abilities change when they reach puberty. Rather, parents need to take heed and continue to reinforce a girl’s self-esteem to continue through puberty and beyond, regardless of what Madison Avenue or society deems appropriate.
Bottom line: All girls can throw a ball with strength, if they want to, and still be considered feminine or simply a good thrower. Just ask Mo’Ne Davis.
David Sortino of Graton holds a Ph.D. in clinical/developmental psychology. Contact him through his blog on pressdemocrat.com.