What’s the nursery rhyme about what good little girls are made of? “Sugar and spice and everything nice?” Well one mom has opted out of teaching her daughter to be nice.
Writing for The New York Times, Catherine Newman (a self-proclaimed “card-carrying feminist”) argues that while she often bites her tongue and doles out smiles to strangers, the last thing she wants her 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, to be is indiscriminately nice.
My 10-year-old daughter, Birdy, is not nice, not exactly. She is deeply kind, profoundly compassionate and, probably, the most ethical person I know — but she will not smile at you unless either she is genuinely glad to see you or you’re telling her a joke that has something scatological for a punch line.
Birdy is polite in a “Can you please help me find my rain boots?” and “Thank you, I’d love another deviled egg” kind of way. But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks away, scowling. She does not smile or encourage.
I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.
When I first read the headline of Newman’s piece I rolled my eyes and brushed off her seemingly crazypants notion as yet another parent raising an entitled mean girl. But then I read it, and I totally understand.
Women are often taught to grin and bear it. We are taught to cover our pain with assurances that we’ll be all right; we’re conditioned to handle setbacks without complaining; and we’re taught to find less aggressive ways to stick up for ourselves lest we get labeled a bitch.
While some of us have managed to sidestep the disease to please, others need some serious rehab to shake our penchant for tending to the needs of others before our own. So perhaps Newman’s onto something.
What do you think? Should we stop teaching our girls to be nice?
h/t Tomika Anderson