Being a woman is hard. Being a girl growing into her womanhood is even harder. While the world tells us what we should wear, how much we should weigh, and what we should do for a living, I'm busy raising a strong, independent daughter who will fight to break these unhealthy expectations. At just 10-years-old, she already understands society's impossible standards and the uphill battle she'll have to climb. Some people get it and help foster her growth, but there are things no grown-ass man should ever say to my daughter that a few too many people need to be reminded of.
When I was little, I was saturated with religiously-centered, conservative views. I learned by watching and listening to my single (divorced) mother discuss no sex before marriage, that women should stay home to raise the children, and over all else, that her man's needs come first. Among a slew of other disappointing ideals I've worked hard to buck in my adult years, I work even harder to make sure my daughter isn't brought up the same way. Of course, it's easier said than done. When those dangerous stereotypes are engrained in you at such a young age, and you're looking for your place in an obscenely judgmental world, it's difficult to navigate raising children of your own (as I discovered). Having gone through all the hurdles to cement things I now believe to my core, it's important my daughter confidently treads through life without concern over where everyone wants her to fit.
My daughter is intelligent, insightful, compassionate, and in touch with world events. She's funny and kind and strong and athletic. She can't be pinned into any one box. It's just not her. While we butt heads (because we're similar), I can see her someday running for office or leading a protest in her fight for equality or whatever it is she's passionate about because her vigor and zest radiates from within and can't be denied. You can't help but listen when she speaks and I fear someone trying to steal that away from her. As a mother, it's my job to ensure my girl can handle anything life throws at her — much in the way I wish someone had prepared me — because despite her being all these wonderful things, there will always be people trying to knock her down for simply being female.
I understand there will be things well-meaning female friends and family say to or in front of my daughter that'll be hurtful, and they should think before speaking, too. However, men really and truly do a great amount of damage, as society as convinced them they have this innate power over women. A woman's humanity, to some men, just isn't as valuable as their own. So with that in mind, here are some of the things grown-ass men should never say to my daughter (that have been said to me), unless you want momma bear to attack. Rawr.
"You Must Be Going Through Puberty"
There are few things growing girls want to hear less than anything about body image or puberty from a grown-ass man. It doesn't matter if the man is her father. When you're surviving those years, any reference to your maturing breasts (or how her clothes fit), weird hormonal fluctuations (aka devilish mood swings) and acne-ridden face only embarrass and shame her.
I used to hear comments about my shirts being too tightly fit from men, and it severely scarred me from ever wanting to wear clingy clothing thereafter. Basically, whether you're male (or sometimes even female), might be best avoid all the puberty talk unless it's on her terms. As for being a mom and giving it a shot, well, I've been there dude, so let me take the reigns. "Ovaries before brovaries."
My daughter has a flair for the dramatics and can cry at a moment's notice. She cries watching commercials, when I tell her "no" about anything, and even when something happens to one of her friends. She has a big heart and feels deeply and this means she has a lot of tears to shed.
I'm able to guide her, gently, into using all that emotion towards something productive, like art or creating something from it. However, if a grown-ass man ever tells my daughter to stop crying, for any reason, all she'll understand is that her feelings aren't valid to any man. That's not OK.
"Why Can't You Be More Like Your Brother?"
I have my daughter and her 5-year-old brother to raise. They are two different children. While I do my very best not to compare, and I'm trying to raise them without gender barriers in a pro-feminist household, I'm sure it slips at times (thanks to that annoying moral base I've been fighting all these years).
What I don't do, however, is compare her ability to do something to the way a boy would. I think I do an OK job conveying this sentiment to both children, but if my partner mentions something to this effect (i.e. "can't you pick your toys up like your brother did?"), she may think it means she can't possibly be enough in her father's eyes. To be compared to anything her brother — a boy — does is unfair. She and I both know she can damn well do anything he can, probably better.
"Boys Don't Like That"
Here's the thing: by telling my daughter a boy won't like the way she behaves or that she's not "ladylike," isn't cool. Who's to say what's appropriate or not? I'm trying to raise her to live up to her own set of standards — not what a boy thinks her standards should be. If she wants to wear sweat pants or play field hockey or shaves off all her hair, I'll be proud. It'll be a choice she'll have made for herself and no one else.
"He Teases You Because He Likes You"
No, no, no. I wish I'd grown up with a different mantra but, unfortunately, there are too many who still believe the dangerous "he hits you because he likes you" to be true. As a woman who survived my mother's abusive relationships, I know that factually, boys tease when they're jerks who need to feel superior and it has little to do with whether they like you or not.
If a grown-ass man uses "locker room talk" or says something offensive like this to my baby, he's essentially giving the OK that she deserves to be disrespected; that she's beneath that boy; that whatever happens to her from that boy is her fault. This is rape culture and it's not OK in any way. So please, men, don't undermine my progress as her mother in teaching her to respect herself more than any damn boy (or girl).
"You're Too Young"
Again, who says? Everyone matures emotionally, physically, and intellectually at different rates. I remember being a 9-years-old kid and begging to sit at the "adult" table during holidays because I felt the kids table was beneath me.
At that same time, I understood divorce, love, finances, and a slew of other things other girls my age maybe didn't. I wanted to be in the know and my opinion to be mutually respected. My Gram always talked to me as a peer, never down to me like I couldn't comprehend her, and it helped me find my footing at times I felt misplaced. Don't condescend or degrade my daughter by telling her she's too young for any damn thing. I'll be the decide of that because as a woman, I've been there, too.
"You're So Pretty"
From a mother to a daughter, I can say my girl is pretty and smart and will one day rule the world because I bred her and I know what she's capable of. When a grown-ass man comments on her appearance, it only draws her attention to something she either didn't really notice before (and may obsess over now) or deludes all her other amazing achievements (like raising her math grade like a boss). So, guys, maybe just lay off the physical compliments and praise something bigger, will ya?
Raising a daughter has challenged my own belief system in ways I never thought possible. Once confined by the roles my mother insisted, I've broken free into this liberated phase, hopefully passing along my wisdom to my daughter.