Just so it's on the record: No, this blog post is not sexist. I am not a sexist. I've just been thinking lately... (A dangerous thing, I know.)
A part of me thinks we might be disabling our girls by constantly teaching them to be vocal, outspoken and strong, (as "strong" is the go-to buzz word these days).
Again, I am not sexist.
To say that I come from a family of fabulous strong women is an understatement. I have vivid childhood memories of my
own mom ranting about how liberated she felt when she turned 40, which seemed to ignite fearless confrontations with less-than-upstanding folks in her life in order to call out right vs. wrong and defend certain values she believed in. (In other words, she started telling certain deserving people off without being intimidated of what anyone else thought of her. I was young and impressionable. I thought it was powerful and awesome.)
Both of my grandmothers had a reputation of being strong-willed when measuring the things they said and did. One of them is still kickin' and stronger than ever (it's hysterically funny and drives my mom nuts).
I myself am notorious for opening
my mouth, in situations where I probably shouldn't, just to make a point of
asserting what's right, wrong and completely fake and phony regarding career endeavors, social
practices and morals, motives and actions of people I may or may not know.
Now, I have two toddler daughters
who many already identify as "strong-willed" young ladies. They know what
they want. They challenge each other. They challenge me. They sometimes get
their way. They sometimes don't get their way. Yet they always insist on pushing me more (to which I counter back, as any
level-headed mom does).
As much as I encourage my girls to speak up, I realize I must also teach them when to be quiet.
They're good girls, but …
My 4 year old insists on changing her wardrobe 14 times a day and does not let go of me until I give in and do so
after 45 nonstop minutes of driving her point home while I do everything in my power to ignore or distract her from whining. (I do admire her
"It's a good thing!" my pediatrician exclaimed, after
my younger toddler once tried to raise the most frightening forces of hell
because she didn't want to stand on the baby scale to get weighed for her well-visit
checkup. (She won. The nurse made me stand with her on the big scale, then without her, so that she could subtract the difference. Holler if this has happened to you.)
I've got strong girls.
Genetics or social conditioning? Both? Either way, I'm getting worried.
I've always championed women to speak our minds, take assertive control and protect and campaign
whatever ideals we believe in (should someone try to minimize or threaten those
opinions in a social setting or work environment). I am proud of my little girls for "using their minds," as I call it. But now, as a mother with a more tender perspective about the world, I wonder: Is this really a good thing?
Don't forget to teach the other end of the spectrum, I tell myself.
How many times have really smart, vocal women cost themselves their own promotions, accidentally put their foot in their mouths or just unintentionally offended
someone else for the sake of making their point known? (Hand raised. Not proud.)
Recently, my strong-willed
personality got me in big trouble (again): I was in a social setting (with friends), a
topic came up in conversation (which I disagreed with), I opened my mouth and kept
talking and countering and opposing and making my point. I actually thought the debate was fun. I wanted to stand up for what was right. I wanted to be heard. I wanted them to hear it. I wanted others to see my perspective. I did not back down, in the name of
protecting something I believe in. It didn't end prettily. (Maybe we all had too much wine?)
I wasn't wrong for speaking up (and I still stand by what I was standing up for), but wouldn't
it have been a lot easier, and made the evening more enjoyable, had I chosen to just keep my opinions
to myself that one time? Yes. (Even though I was right.)
And then I thought: Will my
girls turn out to be the same way? (My mind flashed to the scale scene at the doctor's office... I winced.) Do I want them to turn out the same way?
Yes. But also no.
My mouth has scored me a number of jobs, respect from colleagues and peers and at times has also helped those who needed someone else to speak up on their behalf (all good things). But my mouth has also caused more trouble in my life than I should be proud of, because I chose to speak
before I stayed quiet to think about how
I wanted to say whatever it was I wanted to say.
As a kid, I now realize I missed the part of the lesson that teaches us that there is power and strength in practicing strategic silence, so that you can really be heard when it counts (as opposed to shooting
all your guns and just making noise where it doesn't count … you get me?). I will continue to encourage my girls to speak up, but I realize now that I must also make a conscious effort to teach them when to be quiet. The two skills go hand in hand. Each skill is powerful in its own way. Kids, especially girls and young women, must master this so that we can continue to grow, succeed and takeover the world completely. (Oops. Did I say that out loud?)
So if you hear me telling my girls to keep quiet every now and then, now you know why.
Is there such a thing as raising girls to be "too strong"?