Girls growing up in today's American society face a slew of propaganda about what a girl "should" be, both from the media and the general public. Not only does this result in a limited picture of gender; it can negatively affect her future goals, aspirations, and her emotional and physical well-being. Even well-meaning relatives, teachers, coaches, and friends can inadvertently send a negative message when failing to carefully consider their words. That's why a grown-ass woman should never say these things to my daughter.
I'm a progressive, feminist mom raising a daughter who knows how to stick up for herself. I already have to fight the media, so if you're a woman in my life, I'll ask you to watch what you say to her. She may be only 18 months old right now, but she is soaking up everything. That's why I want to make sure that what she hears from her grandmothers, aunts, friends, and other well-meaning family members does nothing but positively reinforce who she is.
I don't want you to walk on eggshells around my kid, and I'm definitely not trying to be a "b*tch." I just want people to think about unintended messages when they talk to their friends' daughters. So, in addition to what not to say I've also included what you can say instead.
"Give Me A Hug And A Kiss"
I'm not saying you can't ask for affection, you just can't demand it. While I'm at it, please don't pull any of that pouty face crap if she refuses. She doesn't need that kind of guilt trip. I'm teaching my daughter about consent, and I want her to know that her "no" deserves to be respected, and always.
Instead, try: "May I have a hug/kiss?" (If she says no, kindly back the f*ck off.)
"Do You Have A Boyfriend?"
This is an inappropriate question no matter how old a girl is. Why? Well, because women shouldn't be defined by their relationship status. Men certainly aren't. I don't want my daughter growing up thinking that getting married is her highest priority. Marriage is great but it's not for everybody, and you don't have to be in a committed relationship to live a fulfilling life.
Additionally, this question is heteronormative by nature. How do you know my daughter doesn't have a girlfriend? By making assumptions, you might just make her less likely to live her life authentically. Not gonna happen on my watch.
Instead, try: Tell me about a goal you have.
Literally Anything About What She's Wearing
Think she looks like a boy? I don't care. Getting ready to make a slut-shaming comment? Prepare yourself for the full force of my wrath. I am not "letting her out of the house like that" because she's her own person, and her attire is an important part of expressing her herself. I'm raising an individual, not a lemming.
Instead, try: I love you just the way you are.
I'm not saying you can't show concern for the welfare of my child. I just don't want you to teach her it's cute to be scared. A recent study showed that parents were four times more likely to tell girls to be careful, than boys. They're more likely to give boys specific directions for overcoming the obstacle, than they are girls. Boys get a chance to figure out a potential problem, while girls are encouraged to walk away from a potential problem altogether. So, take your cues from me: if I'm not freaking out, you shouldn't either.
Instead, try: Here are some steps you can try to complete that task.
"You'll Get Dirty"
Getting dirty is an important part of childhood and, more often than not, it's how kids learn. If my daughter is always worried about ruining her pretty outfit, she's going to become risk-averse. That's not conducive to her embracing her adventurous, dirt-seeking spirit, or to becoming the self-assured woman I hope she grows up to be.
Instead, try: I'd love one of your mud pies!
"He Hurt You Because He Likes You"
Nope, nope, nope. I don't care what that little boy does. He doesn't get his behavior excused because "boys will be boys." Behavioral expectations should not be gendered. Being a good person is being a good person. Period. I also don't want my child to fail to report something to me, because she's brushed it off as "typical boy behavior."
Instead, try: You deserve to be treated with respect.
"What A Pretty Princess!"
I freely admit that I'm guilty of calling my little girl a princess, but I'm working on it and I could use some support. I know it's a term of endearment, but I worry about the expectations about female behavior associated with that word. Think it's innocent? A recent study found that increased engagement with princess culture is associated with low body esteem.
Instead, try: What a brave warrior/strong leader/creative artist/determined detective!
"Maybe You Should Let Your Brother Do That"
My kid doesn't have a brother (yet), so this isn't currently a problem. However, it is for a lot of other families. When we were at open gym a few months ago, a little boy was watching over my daughter. He told me he knew how to be a "protector" because he had a little sister. I thought it was sweet, but I didn't like the idea of my daughter automatically needing protection, because of her gender (her age, OK).
My girl is going to change the oil, mow the lawn, and deal with spiders. I don't want her growing up thinking she needs a man to do anything for her.
Instead, try: You can do it yourself!
"Are You Sure You Can Handle That?"
There's something so condescending about this question. It assumes inferiority and the inevitability of failure. Even if I don't think my kid can handle something, I don't tell her that. And you know what? A lot of the time, she surprises me. I didn't think my 18 month-old could help with chores, but that kid puts my dirty laundry in the hamper
Instead, try: I trust you.
"You Can't [Insert Anything At All]"
My dad used to tell me that he didn't ever want to hear me say, "I can't" because his Kimmie could do anything. It was incredibly empowering.
So don't tell my child she can't play football. She can (her auntie does). Don't tell her she can't dress up as Captain America. She can (check out these Mighty Girls in costume). Don't tell her she can't grow up to be an astronaut, an engineer, or president. She can, she can, she can. My little girl is free to be whoever she is and whoever she wants to be.
Instead, try: I believe in you.