Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Some thoughts on being a "nice" girl

I have to admit that I'm a little bit perplexed tonight as I process what it means to raise a daughter in this place, time, and culture we're living in. 

Let me tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had a friend she was feeling smothered by.  This friend would follow her around all day long never giving her any personal space.  Although the little girl considered this to be one of her best friends she became increasingly frustrated by her.  The little girl came to her mother for advice one day before school and the mother said "Well, maybe you can tell her you two are still friends, but you're needing a little space for awhile".  This seemed to make sense to the little girl and when recess came around and the friend started following her around she asked for some space.  The friend walked away with her head down.  At this point the teacher on recess duty noticed the problem and intervened asking the little girl to please be nice and play with her friend.
And they all lived happily ever after and gave hugs and kisses to each other and skipped off into the sunset.

The end.

I am the first to admit that this is a sticky situation.  I want to raise kind children who take others feelings into consideration.  On the other hand there's something inside me that absolutely cringes at the idea of forcing this sort of "nice" behavior.  The conflict has not been solved, simply glossed over.  I'm just not convinced this was the best move on the part of the teacher.

According to Rachel Simmons in Odd Girl Out: "Research confirms that parents and teachers discourage the emergence of physical and direct aggresion in girls early on while the skirmishing of boys is either encouraged or shrugged off. In one example, a 1999 University of Michigan study found that girls were told to be quiet, speak softy, or use a "nicer" voice about three times more often than boys, even though the boys were louder.  By the time they are of school age, peers solidify the fault lines on the playground, creating social groups that value niceness in girls and toughness in boys."

And from Simmons interview with the girls on teachers expectations:  "Well, sometimes they're like, you have to respect each other, and treat other people how you want to be treated.  But that's not how life is.  Everyone can be mean sometimes and they're not even realizing it.  They expect that you're going to be so nice to everyone and you'll be so cool.  Be nice to everyone!"

"They expect you to be perfect.  You're nice.  When boys do bad stuff, they all know they're going to do bad stuff.  When girls do it, they yell at them."

"Teachers think that girls should be really nice and sharing and not get in any fights.  They think it's worse than it really is."

Oh, boy.  We've got a bumpy ride ahead in girl world!  But I vow to teach my daughter the BIG difference between niceness and kindness. 

And I'll be saying the serenity prayer often.  Starting right now....

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