Raising a daughter not to be 'nice'

In a stirring NYT op-ed, author Catherine Newman talks about the kind of girl her daughter has become and who she may yet be. Her daughter, Birdy, is intensely moral, unconcerned with being "pretty," indifferent or hostile to strangers who want to strike up conversations about her appearance. She is polite about things like second helpings of food or asking for assistance in locating her rain-boots, but doesn't care if you know that she thinks gendered toy-aisles are stupid. It's a delicate balance, but an important one.

She is a beautiful kid, but she is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.

I picture her at the prom in stripy cotton pajamas, eating potato chips with both hands. I picture her slapping a patriarch-damning sticker on her jacket. I picture her running the country, saving the world, being exactly the kind of good bad girl that she knows herself to be. And I think: You go. I think: Fly! I think: Take me with you.

I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be 'Nice' [Catherine Newman/NYT]

(via Making Light)

(Image: Good vibes, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from fabiovenni's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. "Birdy" is, uh, 10 years old. Ms. Newman might want to give a listen to Nancy White's "Daughters of Feminists." Because, speaking from my experience as the feminist father of two daughters, she is very likely to get a rather large & unpleasant surprise in two or three years...

  2. It's probably best to let a child develop their own set of right/wrong. Chaotic neutral - still the best alignment.

  3. The sentiment is laudable, but girls before puberty are very, very different in their outlook and interests than girls 15-17 years old. So, bragging about your 10 year old not being interested in looks is rather pointless - at that age most girls aren't.

  4. Since you mentioned it:

    I also agree with @jcstrabo -- everything I have learned about parenting tells me that I don't know a single damn thing about any age other than the ages I have personally lived through with my own kids. And even then I'm not completely sure. Right now that's a maximum of 4 and a half.

    Every age is so different and brings its own set of entirely new parenting challenges.

  5. As somebody who is about to have a daughter in two months, here's how I read this, and here's how I would like my daughter to be:

    1. I hope she's kind enough to speak up when others aren't being treated fairly, to be helpful and polite, and to learn how to get along with other people as equals.

    2. I also hope that, when random dudes on the street start telling her to smile, when random men come up and ask her if she's lost when she clearly isn't, when anybody makes her uncomfortable and when other people (men, women, teenagers) start trying to demand that she adhere to their idea of what a girl should be, I have given her enough backbone, strength of her own convictions, and confidence in herself that she feels absolutely no compunction in ignoring those people, telling them to mind their own business, or telling them to fuck off. Whichever is most appropriate.

    She doesn't have to be nice to everybody. Nice is different from kind and polite.

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