When I first saw the title of this article on the New York Times Parenting blog, I literally sighed out loud. With anti-girly girl movements, stay-at-home-mom shaming, which seems all very obvious to me, I expected this piece by Catherine Newman to be yet another trash talk on the girly-girl, and it is, but only kind of. What I like about this piece, is that the author clearly points out expectations and differences between male and female. Newman talks about her daughters not-nice qualities in comparison with her sons overt niceness.
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.
Compare this to…
I bite my tongue so that I won’t hiss at her to be nice. I tell you this confessionally. Because do I think it is a good idea for girls to engage with zealously leering men, like the creepy guy in the hardware store who is telling her how pretty she is? I do not. “Say thank you to the nice man who wolf-whistled!” “Smile at the frat boy who’s date-raping you!” I want my daughter to be tough, to say no, to waste exactly zero of her God-given energy on the sexual, emotional and psychological demands of lame men — of lame anybodies. I don’t want her to accommodate and please. I don’t want her to wear her good nature like a gemstone, her body like an ornament.
It’s a hard topic and it’s definitely gender/biological sex specific. Stereotypically people expect girls to be nice and boys to be masculine, AKA, physically strong and emotionally immature. I like that Newman points out her own hypocritical tendency when discussing her son versus her daughter, though I’m not sure this was intentional.
But there is one thing that Newman insinuates about gender which follows the girly-girl bashing. Newman, like many others’ writing about girls, the color pink, girl play, likens niceness to naivety, and, typically masculine characteristics of sloppyness and brut behavior to success.
Here is the part where all of this negative gender stereotyping happens, whereas before, her observations about her son and daughters character didn’t directly relate to their future success.
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.
And I just have to add that I hope no parent ever hopes for their son or daughter to be at prom, eating potato chips, with both hands. Unless you want your kid to be either overweight or poorly behaved, or both…