Stop Telling Girls to ‘be nice’

When I was a kid, my mother said something to me that has continued to resonate with me over the years.

She said, “you know…you’re just not a very nice girl, Katrina.”

She meant it as a dig. As a way to get adolescent Katrina to behave and do what mummy says. To push my own wants and needs aside, put on a smile and be polite and amenable – so that she looked good.

She didn’t want an outspoken girl with a huge personality. That would be seen as disobedience. She didn’t want someone who blazed her own trail and said what was on her mind. That would be seen as difficult. How embarrassing to be the parent of a problem child.

No, she wanted prim, proper and polished. Because that conveys being well behaved…a good girl. Good is often equated with nice. And everyone loves a nice girl. Especially parents.

Society, parents and peers pressure girls from such a young age to smile, “be nice” and “be polite,” but then we sit back and wonder why our girls are so damaged.

We don’t understand why they seek attention in the wrong places. Or why they focus on “likes” to build up their confidence, or why they covet popularity, or don’t tell us when something is wrong – we’ve literally told them their whole lives to be nice, and nice is synonymous with likable; nice behavior is pleasant and meets with others’ approval. It doesn’t rock the boat.

We’re telling our girls that being nice is more important than being authentic. That if you’re not a nice girl, you’ll get nowhere in life. That boys only end up bringing the nice girls home to meet their mom. That come Christmas, your choices are naughty or nice and you should work hard all year long to be on “the nice list” that some random old dude keeps.

What we’re teaching our girls is that you’re not good enough if you’re not nice. That niceness is the most important thing. That being nice matters more than being yourself. That holding your tongue for the sake of good manners is more important than speaking up, or setting boundaries.

My mom was right; I’m not a nice girl and I never will be. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a good person. Or genuine. Or thoughtful. Or understanding. Or compassionate. Or loving. Or a million other positive things. Fuck being nice.

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