Raising a daughter not to be 'nice'

I’ll be waiting for the punchline…

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I’m guessing you’re not a woman. Pretty and nice are ghettos women are shoved into. Women are dismissed if they are not constantly adhering to each individual stranger’s idea of “pretty”. It’s an insulting trap, that social expectation. You can never achieve it, but you must always strive for it. I have cried myself to sleep at night afraid that my weight was too high or my hair wasn’t the right style or shade. Society tells me my worth is based on my appearance because I was born a girl. And, I have been told it so many times that I can’t shake it. I, like so many women, have internalized this awful, pointless, stupid standard that I can’t see my own merit as a human some days. It’s torture, and why?

Nice is the same. Nice is doormat. Nice means do what you’re told. Assertive, intelligent, leadership capable women are called bitch.

Socialization of girls is sometimes violent and often totalitarian. It does snuff out personality. Say you’re a girl child who likes forest green. TOO BAD! All girl’s clothes at major retailers come exclusively in pink and pastel. Are you a girl child who likes superheros? TOO BAD! The girl’s aisle is over here and there are only princesses and homemaker/mother toys for you, now. How about that teenage girl with super short hair because it’s easy to care for when she plays sports? She wants to date a boy? TOO BAD! She’ll have to wade through dyke and lesbian jokes, maybe even violence at her lack of gender adherence, for ages before anyone takes her seriously as a romantic partner.

Who wouldn’t want to give their child the emotional equivalent of titanium armor through all that bullshit? Growing up a girl is a minefield.


I’m looking forward to Birdy’s first NYT essay, I Do Not Want My Mother to Be "Here."


Resources to help raise a girl strong enough to weather teenagehood with her feistiness intact: http://www.amightygirl.com/

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I almost replied without reading the article. After reading it, you do get a real sense that she is raising her daughter to be the person she could not be, which isn’t the same thing as ‘no social pressure.’ But I’d challenge anyone to raise their children ideology-free. It isn’t going to happen. Your beliefs are out there and your kids sort of marinate in them whether you want them to or not.

That being said, her child clearly isn’t non-gendered. She gets that she is a girl, but that doesn’t have to mean frilly dresses and Barbie dolls. And I don’t see any insult to women who are pretty and nice. No one (I hope!) is saying those aren’t real women, just that they aren’t the only kind of women. Doll-loving, and dress wearing isn’t the only right way to be a woman.


I think you may be missing the point a little bit — “Pretty” and “nice” are generally used as dismissive terms in the vein as an unruly boy gets dismissed with “boys will be boys” — they’re means of marginalization.

The unfortunate truth behind those phrases is that for boys they’re often abandoned by adolescence, where as for girls you’ll have a senator or CEO objectified in the first sentence of a news report being broadcast nationally.

The point of fighting against “pretty” and “nice” is to remove the ability to be marginalized by gender stereotypes. For women it often seems you’re either pretty and nice or you’re a bitch.


I think you imagine the point to be a single edged blade. And I think that you must be a lot older than I am, or grew up in a very different place than I did (granted, that was Northern California…) because the phrase “boys will be boys” was already more of a strawman by 1990 than it was an actual stance.

To me, CEOs, especially those who get there through business school rather than invention, are not generally great examples of humanity. I wouldn’t admire a parent who was training their male child to be an acerbic asshole by the age of ten anymore than I admire this woman.

Deliberately removing niceness from the world is not something to be proud of, regardless of the gender of the person you’re training to scowl at strangers.


What’s the matter with the kid’s name? (asked Tavie)


The CEO thing is a bit of a strawman in itself. The same thing happens to female senators, doctors, engineers — you could be blind and still be rather well versed in how attractive a woman in the news is, despite whether or not it’s relevant to her career.

Again, it’s not removing actual niceness, and the author of the article pointed out that her daughter is actually polite and moral. It’s removing the idea of being “nice” that means you turn a smile to someone who just sexually harassed you while walking down the street. Women who contest cat-calls or being belittled with words like “sweetie” are almost immediately labeled as being a bitch — that’s insane. My wife can’t even bring our car to a mechanic without having to be objectified or belittled.


Look, this (from the article):

But when strangers talk to her, she is like, “Whatever.” She looks
away, scowling.

is bad. It’s not polite. The author even makes clear that she thinks it’s over the top, but that her personal politics prevent her from teaching her daughter to treat strangers with respect.

The author describes literally every stranger as rapists and sexual harassers of children, and from the looks of it, she’s teaching her daughter to think that way too (and has stripped her son of any suggestion of wherewithal too).


Women do not owe strangers their time. The unrealistic social convention that women must engage everyone who approaches them and be sweetness and light in response is bullshit. It is a major point of exploitation that bad people use to victimize women. From exploitative sales people down to creepy molesters on buses and rapists themselves.


Indeed. My only experience with 10 year old girls is exclusive to having been one. As for the 4.5 year old, we’re immediately behind you with a 4.25 year old. Every week brings something new and/or horrific*. This last week brought us stealing. How precious. Add that to last month’s addition of lying, and now you’re really having some parenting fun.

*Yeah, lots of bright spots and discoveries, but the things that really stick in my craw are the undesirable behaviors that come out of no where or get picked up from other people’s kids.


If she had replaced the word “nice” with one that it sometimes signifies like “compliant”, “demure”, or “emotionally attached”, it would have been easier to sympathize with the argument. As it is, the whole article reads like a slippery slope argument - “If I teach my child to be nice, she’ll become a man’s plaything! If she accepts other people’s compliments about her appearance today, tomorrow she’ll be placidly accepting date rape! Therefore that guy complimenting her on her prettiness in front of her mother is creepy!” But also, “My son is nice and compliant, but he’s a boy and therefore privileged. The rules don’t apply here.”

Of course I am coming from a privileged perspective. Any compliments on my appearance growing up were just that, and mainly stopped by the time I became an adult. My wife had to clue me in on the kind of thing she has to put up with at times if she wants to walk in the town or otherwise exist in public. It may not be a bad idea to educate your daughter about what these complements can actually mean (or can become at a later point). Still, there’s a big difference between knowing your rights and not being friendly with people around you.


I could not agree more.

Growing up with an older brother and never being into pink I have to say it can be difficult for us girls who don’t fit into the normal gender roles.

I played with Barbie and My Little Pony but I also played with Hot Wheels and G.I. Joe. I was lucky enough to have parents that let me figure out who I was by just being me. I can still remember being 6 years old, standing next to my dad at the sink with a towel wrapped around my waist and pretending to shave my face with a toy razor. He didn’t make me stop and say girls couldn’t do that. My mother didn’t scream and rant that I would become confused on my gender. They let me be me and I turned out pretty well adjusted.

I also know when it comes down to it I am nice but I am also not nice. The balance that was given to me while I was growing up has helped me navigate that in the world. Do I get called a bitch at times? Yes. And that is fine by me. I can take it. And lord knows I heard my dad get called worse when he was assertive. I think the key is teaching girls how to roll with the punches and part of that is helping them find their own way.


I guess if my first thought when I thought stranger was “someone trying to exploit, and potentially rape me”, I’d agree. However, I think that perspective on humanity is really, really sad.

I think you’re gonna jump in with a lecture about how all the world is out to victimize women, but they’re not. I’m sorry if you came up in a way where it’s really hard to trust people.

You can actually be a kind person, and actually speak with strangers (the way Americans generally did up until a few years ago), without having to have a walking target on your back. Teaching a child to say not to a sales person is not the same as teaching them to scowl at friendly strangers.


I’m not sure where in the article you got the impression Birdie is “being raised” to be the way she is. In point of fact, the author states that she often has to stop herself from telling Birdie to “be nice.” As a mother she should be proud of the fact that she is able to do that, and let Birdie be as “not nice” as she naturally is. (And also proud of her wonderful attitude toward her 13 YO son with long pink hair.) She’s clearly a parent who is raising her children to be themselves while still being polite. I don’t see any "reject[ion of] civility. I don’t see any “belittl[ing] of anyone who still finds themselves [sic] in accord with traditional gender preferences.” I see a mother who encourages her children to be themselves, even when the world disapproves. THAT is parenting done right.


That’s your male experience talking. Meanwhile, in the real world women are blamed when they trust men who turn out to be sexual harassers or rapists. The onus is on women to police male behavior and “nice” compliant behavior doesn’t help this ridiculous responsibility along.

Read what women have to say about being shoved into the “nice” and “pretty” ghetto: http://jezebel.com/being-a-good-person-versus-being-a-nice-girl-979114273


Well, “nice” doesn’t necessarily mean “doormat”. You can be nice to people in general without having to cope with terrible people. Although, please note this is also true for guys.

That said, it’s impossible not to agree with everything else you said. It’s unfortunate that my male “brethren” is so willing to make objects out of women. And what’s worse is that there are females that reinforce this situation, brainwashed by “the social norm”. My grandmother raised my father in the belief of all other women being inferior and the result was not pretty at all. It was enough “not pretty” to open my eyes, if you ask me.

I can’t help but want to apologize whenever I read this kind of thing. I know it’s true and even if I avoid doing such things, I know someone else will.

I personally consider this whole gender wars to be another “manifestation” of racism. When you can’t hate the guy with a different skin color, you hate on men/women. It’s all humans in the end, with all the defects and virtues that such a label implies.

Besides, a trophy doormat woman is not attractive if you ask me. Who wants to spend a lifetime with someone permanently set to “yes to all”?

Kids don’t get into the cars of unfriendly strangers.

I’m fine with mine scowling at strangers who talk to them. Family members and damily friends that I introduce them to? Those aren’t strangers. Randos in the store who come up to us that we’re never going to see ever again? I’ll be socially polite for both of us but I’m not going to bawl out my kid for not taking their candy.