I live in the Deep South, where little girls are expected to grow into polite little ladies. Usually, that translates into becoming a young woman who is too afraid to speak her mind, because it might offend someone.
From a young age, people around me would say things like, “Pretty is as pretty does,” and “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” These ideals for female behavior are meant to keep women looking pretty and saying little. The things that are said, especially in mixed company, should be ladylike in content and tone of voice.
It’s probably for this reason that I always felt a little out of place when I was growing up. Rather than being prim and proper, I was loud, opinionated, and athletic. I was not demure. I was outgoing and fought back when I got picked on. I made jokes and played with boys and I even knew how to paddle a canoe. I wasn’t a tomboy, but I wasn’t exactly a debutante, either.
Then I discovered boys, and I realized that in order to be attractive to them, I had to figure out how to fit myself into the aforementioned mold of “pretty.” I became an adult who blurts out “I’m sorry” for things she shouldn’t apologize for, just like almost every other woman I know who was trained to be polite at all costs. I apologize without even thinking.
I apologize to the waiter when I have to send back my food because he brought the wrong thing. I apologize to the barista if she messes up my order. I apologize for my feelings and my needs and for taking up too much space. I apologize for my appearance, for my weight, for being who I am. It’s utter bullsh*t and I know it, but undoing all of those ingrained habits is a lot harder than it sounds.
And then, I had a daughter.
I don’t want my daughter to be a little lady. I want her to scare the sh*t out of everyone. I want her to take up space. I want her voice to be heard. I want her to be herself, unapologetically. I don’t want her to change her voice or her hair or her body because she thinks it will make people like her more — if people don’t like her as she is, then fu*k those people.
I want her to know how to use a wrench and drive a stick shift and change a tire. I want her to know how to defend herself and I want her to know the importance of properly-fitting undergarments, because they really are the foundation of an outfit. I want her to know how to dress her shape and embrace her curves. I want her to love her hair and work with the texture instead of against it.
I expect her to be polite, but not at the price of sacrificing herself. If she is uncomfortable, all bets are off, as they should be. I want for her everything that it took so long for me to have for myself: self-confidence, an unbridled temper (when appropriate), and absolute authenticity, no matter what.
Something about having a little girl made me take a hard look at myself and the world we live in, and what I see bothers me. I worry about what will happen to her once she realizes how hard it really is to navigate life as a woman, and I hope she doesn’t think that tamping down her spirit is the answer.
People always seem surprised to hear such a pretty little girl have such a loud, fiery voice. It startles them when she clearly and plainly states her opinions. I can see it on their faces — they’re unnerved. Her wide eyes and dimples look the part of a little Southern belle, but her spirit makes her a badass. Just like her mother.
I was worried about her being too girly to stand up for herself with her two older brothers, until she ran into the living room one evening, spread her butt cheeks, and yelled “LOOK AT MY ANUS!”
As the boys stared in stunned silence, I was too busy laughing to tell her it was unladylike to show your anus to others.
I think she’s going to be just fine.