An Open Letter To Morgan Rielly Of The Toronto Maple Leafs About What It Really Means To Be A Girl

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gabi_lead
GenderGirls 10 Comments

Morgan Rielly, professional hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs, was recently caught in the crossfire after making a negative comment about girls to his teammates. The following is an open letter to him from Michele Yulo, founder of Princess Free Zone, Inc.


Dear Morgan –

I’m writing to you today because of the thoughtless statement you made that denigrated girls in order to motivate your male teammates. You said:

If you approach everyday like it’s a chore to come to the rink that’s the way it’s going to be, but you have to have put a positive outlook on it. You have to be able to put everything that’s happening aside and just worry about doing your job… you’re not here to be a girl about it.

As a mom of a nine-year-old girl who has been playing sports with the boys since the age of four, and as a business owner and activist tirelessly working to end gender stereotypes, I’d like to give you a reality check about what it really means to “be a girl about it.”

First, I’d like to say that it’s very telling when any male speaks of girls in a derogatory way in order to somehow lift himself up. You’re certainly not the first, and won’t be the last to do it. Frankly, I don’t really blame you for saying what you did, because the sad fact is that this is how many boys are raised to think of girls: as weak, as less than, as fragile, as cry babies, as not having what it takes, as whiners, as silly, as sassy, as incapable, as helpless, as overtly emotional beings who cannot compete on the same level as their male counterparts. I’m sure you had heard this kind of anti-girl phrase many times in your young life and inevitably it would have stuck. That’s how stereotypes are formed, after all.

I’d like to give you a reality check about what it really means to “be a girl about it.”

So, let me say that while it was an unfortunate choice of words, it certainly was not a complete shock because it’s obvious you didn’t so much choose the words, but more that they just fell right out of your mouth like the air you breathe. You didn’t even know it wasn’t an appropriate thing to say until others pointed it out and that alone says a lot. You have since apologized, which I appreciate, but I believe more needs to be elaborated upon so that you truly understand the impact of your words enough to cause you to think twice next time.

You see, at the very core of your words is a much, much deeper problem that is being continually perpetuated even as I write this. Your casual dismissal of what it means to be a girl is a flagrant testament to how these cultural stereotypes about gender are embedded in our collective societal psyche. Have you heard of Eve Ensler? She is an amazing playwright (“The Vagina Monologues”), activist and performer. She said:

“I think the whole world has essentially been brought up not to be a girl. How do we bring up boys? What does it mean to be a boy? To be a boy really means not to be a girl. To be a man means not to be a girl. To be a woman means not to be a girl. To be strong means not to be a girl. To be a leader means not to be a girl. I actually think that being a girl is so powerful that we’ve had to train everyone not to be that.”

I want you to think hard about this, as well as just how potent the stereotype must be for someone to flippantly make a comment such as yours. Think about all the times in your life that you might have absorbed this message unknowingly. Think about the many ways you would have been exposed to these messages. It might have been in the locker room or on the ice, on the playground, in the classroom, or just hanging out with your friends. It might have been while watching a television show, commercials, flipping through a magazine, or overheard in someone else’s conversation. Who knows? But this kind of group thinking has been out there a long time for you and others to simply grab and reuse at will.

I also want you to think about all the girls and women you’ve known in your life and ask yourself: Would I have made this kind of statement in front of them? Do I really believe that females are not capable of having a “positive outlook” or putting “everything that’s happening aside and just worry about doing [their] job?” Most importantly, ask yourself why. Why was that the way in which you attempted to motivate your teammates?

gabi focusedHere’s a picture of my own daughter who plays triple AAA baseball (she plays basketball as well). She is not just a talented athlete, but she’s also a kid who works hard at her craft. She doesn’t give a mere 100%. She gives 200%. You know why? Because, as the only girl on her teams, she has to constantly prove herself. She can’t be as good as the average boy on her team. She has to be better, otherwise she is at risk of being placed at the bottom or having people say she doesn’t cut it. Of course, she’s not the only one. There are countless girls who constantly give it their all and then some, and who do maintain positive outlooks even as they are having to simultaneously see past the suspicious or disparaging look in the eyes of others.

But this goes beyond female athletes. This is about all girls—half of the population–who may or may not choose to play sports. It doesn’t matter whether they appear to be strong in your eyes because I can guarantee that each girl or woman you encounter is strong in her own way and has capabilities that you certainly don’t know about, and has probably fought battles that you couldn’t possibly imagine or endure, even being the powerful athlete you are.

This is not about making you feel badly as much as hoping that you, and others, will obtain some perspective and perhaps see that these stereotypes are just as harmful to boys and men as they are to girls and women. And you are in a unique position to be able to create positive change and be a voice for equality.

My sincerest hope is that you will think about all of this the next time you are giving your team a pep talk. Maybe you might even use a girl as an example of strength and perseverance instead of how not to be. Perhaps with an understanding that we are all human first and foremost. You are still young yet, and maybe with maturity you will learn that achieving success or winning shouldn’t mean belittling or demeaning others to get there.

Most sincerely… Michele Yulo


About the contributor

michele_yuloMichele Yulo is the founder of Princess Free Zone, Inc., a brand and blog that offers an alternative to all things princess for little girls by addressing issues of gender and gender stereotyping. She is also the author of the children’s book Super TooLula: The Kind Warrior. You can follow Michele on Facebook and Twitter.

All photos courtesy of Princess Free Zone.

  • Jim

    Michele Yulo,I think you are crazy. Please explain to me this constant need for women to show they are better than men. I just don’t get it. Are there not girls baseball and basketball teams in your area for your daughter? Why this constant need to show boys teams that girls can do it too? What if I wanted to put my son on a girls basketball team? Could you imagine the outrage? As a man I know there are women who can do things better than me. Should I be mad that Danica Patrick is a better driver than me? Should I be upset than Shannon Szbados is a better goalie than me? Put yourself in Morgan Reilly’s shoes for a minute. A 19 year old kid, away from home. The media in Toronto surrounding the team is insane especially this year with the dismal season they are having. Being a first round pick the expectations are extremely high for this young man. You could go as far as to say he is the face of the future for the Leafs. So he makes an off the cuff remark about “not being a girl about it” and the media runs with it. I love your comments about “demeaning “and”belittling “. Good grief. That’s all you did to this guy. Sure he could have chose better words but,come on. Maybe with maturity he will make better choices but he made a mistake. No need to crucify him over one comment. Give the kid a break. He is under enormous pressure for a young man. Someone you know nothing about and yet feel free to unload on him. Just my 2 cents.

    • myulo

      Wow Jim–who’s saying that women are better than men? If you’re referring to my statement about girls who play sports alongside boys–I am saying that girls have to go above and beyond to prove themselves as good if not better within that context. Morgan Rielly is the one who put down girls and he’s not the only one who has done it. And I certainly don’t think my letter is hostile–or crucifying. It’s not just a letter to him–it’s more a way of providing perspective as to how this kind of language is simply absorbed into the mindset because I’m sure he really doesn’t feel that way about girls or women in general. And, yet, it happens all the time. And being the female that I am–I have heard derogatory comments like this throughout my entire life. And now that my daughter plays sports with boys–I want to be sure she does not have to hear things like this. That’s my point. Has nothing to do with who is better than who. Clearly, you didn’t understand the context, the meaning behind my letter. It’s about so much more than this one incident–sorry you didn’t get that. It’s about an overall attitude that says girls aren’t AS good. Michele

    • andersm0

      Jim, you do not understand that there has been such a long history equating female with inferior. Calling a man a girl or woman or effeminate is the lowest form of insult. To climb out of it, just to be respected as worthy human beings, women are compelled to compete in the same arena. If men had not used their superior physical strength to subjugate and oppress women as lesser humans, then this battle would not be being fought today.

  • DIGBYDEVIL

    THIS HAS GOT TO BE A JOKE,,, GROW UP PEOPLE,, THIS IS THE LAND OF FREE SPEACH,, NOT SENSORSHIP CANADA,,, FFS,,ITS OK TO SPEAK UR MIND AS LONG AS EVERY BODY AGREES WITH WHAT U SAY ???? GET [email protected] REAL,,, BOOOOO HOOOO HOOOO,, WHAT A PILE OF CRAPP..

    • andersm0

      Another one who is confused on free speech versus free expression. Freedom of speech is the right to criticize government without fear of reprisal. Freedom of expression gives you the liberty to say what you want but it does not free you from the consequences of that expression.

      If I exercise my freedom of expression and call you an unwashed basement-dwelling screamer who can’t spell, then I have to accept you just might object to that slur.

  • Myulo

    Wow Jim–who’s saying that women are better than men? If you’re referring to my statement about girls who play sports alongside boys–I am saying that girls have to go above and beyond to prove themselves as good if not better within that context. Morgan Rielly is the one who put down girls and he’s not the only one who has done it. And I certainly don’t think my letter is hostile–or crucifying. It’s not just a letter to Morgan Rielly–but every boy or man who chooses to speak of girls as an insult. Happens all the time. And being the female that I am–I have heard derogatory comments like this throughout my entire life. And now that my daughter plays sports with boys–I want to be sure she does not have to hear things like this. That’s my point. Has nothing to do with who is better than who. Clearly, you didn’t understand the context, the meaning behind my letter. It’s about language that is embedded in our culture. It’s about an overall attitude that says girls aren’t AS good. Sorry you’re so offended that I think it’s important to stick up for girls. Michele

  • Tropic

    Great letter! People tell me I’m extremist for getting upset and angry over such mean comments men make. They don’t know what we endure in our everyday lives. And many women prefer to remain silent and let such things slip away. Its not right. It encourages people to be more mean toward women as we remain silent. Stand up against this! Its a duty to raise awareness. Lets stop this. United we stand!

    • myulo

      Thanks so much! It’s as if we’re just supposed to sit back and take it. And if it’s a free speech issue–then we’re entitled to that too. 🙂 Michele

      • Leland Wilson

        For crying out loud, the man has apologized, said he was sorry, now give him a break and let him be the good player he is!! Does he have to pay for a mistake he admitted he made till he is ruined as a hockey player? I don’t think so! Go Morgan Go!!!!

  • Tropic

    Why so many haters? Why so many comments about ‘free speech’ and ‘give that kid a break’ ? Would they remain silent if same was done to them? Or same was done to their sister/mother/wife/etc? No. So shut the F*** up!

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