My daughter doesn’t want to go to after-school childcare. There’s a girl there that keeps telling her she can’t play with other kids, who makes her feel badly for having other friends, and who threatens to take away “privileges” like birthday invitations if she doesn’t follow orders. When my daughter told the childcare workers that she didn’t want to be friends with this girl, she was scolded and told, “We’re ALL friends, here.” But, they’re wrong. We’re not all friends, and we don’t have to be.
I have a feeling that what those childcare workers meant was that meanness won’t be tolerated. And, I agree. But speaking up for yourself is not the same as being intentionally mean. Being “nice” and being “kind” are two different things.
Our society teaches girls to be “good girls.” Women are supposed to be nice. We’re not supposed to cause conflict. We’re supposed to make ourselves likeable. We’re supposed to be considerate. Good girls aren’t supposed to get angry or be aggressive. And time and time again in my counseling practice, and personal life, I’ve seen this translate into an inability to stick up for ourselves (and in some cases, an inability to even know our true selves).
When my daughter is taught that she should be nice – that she shouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings – she’s learning to put her own feelings aside. She’s getting the message that even if someone is treating her badly, she should keep the peace. She shouldn’t say something that might hurt that person’s feelings, or make them upset, and so she stays in a situation that makes her feel “trapped” (her own words).