Do we really want “good” girls?
Getting “the Good” OUT Of “the Girl”
Main Entry: 1good: of a favorable character or tendency.
The other day in the middle of a knock-down drag-out over who-knows-what, my three year old daughter yelled (complete with “talk to the hand” gestures) “Stop it mama! Don’t do that to me! I don’t like it!” and then ran off. I sat stewing for a minute and then her father piped up, “Well at least you have the “stand-up for herself, strong minded, cannot be told a thing,” daughter that you wanted. And I smiled and I realized maybe I had done a few things right. Because, if she can stand up for herself and say “NO!” to me then maybe, just maybe, she’ll be able to say it in the future when it really counts.
From the moment I thrust my daughter into the world and into the awaiting hands of her Dad and my sturdy, silver-haired midwife, she has been labeled girl. I was happy to have a girl. It is what I know. We are a family of girls, my nana, my mom, my two younger sisters and now my daughter. But I had know idea I was going to have an almost allergic reaction to the fact that she was – GIRL!
I wouldn’t let pink into the house. No Disney. No princesses. I gladly accepted “boy” hand-me-downs. I personally stopped wearing dresses, skirts, sandals, anything remotely feminine. I wore cords, tanks, a jean jacket and my steady black converse swiftly became my signature shoes. I’m anti war and I bought camo pants, combat boots and anything “army” green. I didn’t even catch myself morphing for a couple of years and then one day I looked at my daughter in her black, “I’m already smarter than the president,” t-shirt, her rugged cargo pants and her red converse high tops and I realized that I was fiercely angry at society once again. I always seem to unintentionally hop the fence at full speed and find the furthest opposite stance possible. We were full-on confronting the “girl” stereotypes and I hadn’t even realized it.
As she grew and I listened to other mothers speaking to their daughters, I consistently heard praise that sounded much like dog training. Spilling forth onto our future generation of women was, “that’s a good girl, “good job”, “do it for mommy”, and “be my good girl.” Do we really want to grow praise junkies? Do we want our children to have to look to us for this type of reinforcement every time they make a decision? This lack of independence is partially why many girls grow up unable to say “no”, “I don’t want you to do that to me”, or just scream “STOP” when being hurt by friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers, husbands, dates. It’s why we often do more than our share, pleasing, pleasing, pleasing, and taking on relationships that are hurtful or dangerous. It’s keeping women down, in their “place” and out of the way when it comes to making decisions about the future of our world.
Because of society’s expectations of girls to be well behaved, mild mannered and “good”, girls tend to be very, very “good.” Having taught young children for many years I have seen a pattern emerge, the language we use and the expectations we have of our daughters is giving them a disadvantage when it comes to fair play. When girls are spoken to this way, they are usually timid, cautious and reserved. These girls nervously and continuously ask to use the bathroom, to get a tissue, or to read a book when asking isn’t expected of them. Some are too afraid to ask at all.
One day, when a mom was dropping her daughter off at school, she said, “be a good girl,” and before I could stop it, out of my mouth flew, “she doesn’t have to be, she can decide for herself.” The nature of our school is extremely alternative and thus I was not beheaded. My intention was not to make the mom feel bad (and we ended up having a long talk) but I often feel like I have to fight for these girls, stop the unconscious undermining of their self esteem and help teach parents what the consequences of praise and expectation are having on our future women.
It is so important for girls in this society to recognize their power and express their needs even if that is not what is convenient in the moment. Having kind and loving feelings is a natural part of being a friend, a partner, and a parent. But being able to make the decision about what reactions are needed to be brought to the table in each specific incident is crucial and it needs to come from within and not because of “training” or for a meaningless phrase. Rewards must come from the act itself, not for the praise that follows. The powerful use of language and of pleasing for the sake of praise and not for the sake of just plain feeling like being generous is detrimental to growing free-thinking, confident and strong women.
My daughter is now three (and we’ve come to terms with the color pink) and she doesn’t try to please anyone. She is loving and compassionate and stubborn and confrontational and she reacts to each moment with her own gauge. Her responses reflect whatever situation she is in. She doesn’t know what good means but then neither do I – it’s relative to each individual. I’m not saying things are perfect and it is definitely the rougher road to take because she’s not marching along, being good, and conforming. It’s hard. We have to talk, A LOT! We all have boundaries in our family and we let our feelings known but it’s done without guilt and the pressure to do it because you’re suppose to or “mama said.”
I’ve tried to set the example. I’m not “good.” I love and enjoy helping people as long as it’s a give and take. I’m an anti-“wife.” If things don’t seem to be dividing equally chore-wise, then they just don’t get done. I won’t take on that role. I work outside the home and my child comes with me and sees this first hand. Something inside of me drives me to make enough money to be able to be on my own. I’m fiercely independent and try to fight the stereotypical girl, woman, mama roles.
I’m intent on my daughter seeing her mama be this strong-willed, take no crap, and share the load woman. Everyone gives me a hard time. They try to convince me, that my daughter will one day love Barbie, Cinderella, fundamentalist religion, conservatism, and all the anti-woman propaganda that drives me to cringe, cry and rant. She is welcome to decide for herself what she wants for her life but I hope my example and our conversations and our non-good girl language will help her along her own way. I hope that in her evolution from girlhood to womanhood she can be who she truly is without having to reflect our society’s pressures to conform and be “a good girl.” Instead, she can be fierce and free and ready to take on anyone, anything, in this not so equal, not so “good” world.