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.Ugh.
Look, I actually agree with the gist of it. We tell girls to be nice to everybody. We make nice a virtue for girls far more than for boys. Girls are supposed to be happy, nice, pretty, pliable. It's pathetic and sexist and unfair.
But if this is the alternative? No.
There is a huge, huge span in between smiling at the creepy guy 'cause you're supposed to be nice and not having a single fucking clue how to behave in public, and if this little girl does wind up wearing pajamas to the prom and shoveling potato chips into her mouth with both hands while there, Mama's failed. Because only someone incredibly self-centered (which, for the record, the other descriptions of the child in the column do not make her sound like) would act like that at a formal dance. I wouldn't want my daughters vying to be the prom queen, but I wouldn't want them being disruptive little shits either.
There is more to my distaste for this column than that, though. For all that the author is taking the laudable tack of not making her daughter smile and be nice to everybody just because it's what is expected of little girls, she's still making two key mistakes.
One, she is re-living her life through her daughter, rather than letting her be her own person. Check her description of herself:
This makes her different from me. Sure, I spent the first half of the ’90s wearing a thrifted suede jacket that I had accessorized with a neon-green sticker across the back, expressing a somewhat negative attitude regarding the patriarchy (let’s just say it’s unprintable here). But even then, I smiled at everyone. Because I wanted everyone to like me. Everyone!So..Yeah. Gal's got a chip on her shoulder.
I am a radical, card-carrying feminist, and still I put out smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me. If I had all that energy back — all the hours and neurochemicals and facial musculature I have expended in my wanton pursuit of likedness — I could propel myself to Mars and back. Or, at the very least, write the book “Mars and Back: Gendered Constraints and Wasted Smiling.”
There is a difference, by the way, between being ingratiating and polite. I know the difference, so I am certain the women in my life taught it to me, but apparently no one taught this woman, or else she was too self-absorbed to notice. Given the source is a blog on the New York Times website, I'm going to guess it's the latter.
Still, I'll admit maybe I'm wrong about that. Maybe she was stung by sexist double standards as a child and so is merely zealously guarding her daughter's self-expression and allowing her personality to manifest. I mean, Marie is introverted and will neither look at nor smile at strangers, and one of the reasons I don't make her is my mother's habit when I was a child of always pushing me to be outgoing when I didn't want to be. We're all shaped by our childhoods, is what I'm saying.
But then there's this:
I know that our sweet-hearted son, who is 13, has always had the experience of niceness being its own reward. What can I do to help? he asks. Please, take mine, he insists, and smiles, and everyone says, “Oh, aren’t you nice!” and “What a lovely young man!” (Or sometimes, because he kind of looks like a girl, “What a lovely young lady!”) But, if I can speak frankly here, you really don’t worry about boys being too nice, do you? He still has the power and privilege of masculinity on his side, so, as far as I’m concerned, the nicer the better.Again, ugh. Really, woman? You're a "radical, card-carrying feminist" with a Fuck the Patriarchy sticker on your jacket and somehow you missed the part of Feminism 101 where we went over how sex-based double standards are bad? Because your son has a dick you don't worry about him being too nice, but your daughter can be, because God fucking forbid your daughter not conform to the standards you set?
Silly me, I thought that nonsense is what we were trying to avoid with feminism.