Nice Girls

Playing war

After my girls watched Mulan for the first time, they decided to play war. This had not been a common pastime until that afternoon. But the way in which they “played war” differed considerably from any way I had seen it played before. I was fascinated.

No guns, tanks, bad guys, good guys, or sounds of grenades punctuated the sunny afternoon on our deck. No, instead, they began to rationally discuss why they were having this war and what could be done to make everything peaceful and OK. They shook and everything. It was the Camp David Accords right there in my back yard.

it was then that I learned girls and boys might play war a little differently.

Mulan is my favorite Disney hero. I love this girl who stops being the docile sweetheart, a role she isn’t terribly good at, and learns she’s a warrior inside.

Who is this girl I see?

I was never good at the docile sweetheart thing, either. But I tried so hard. I tried for years. Decades. I felt incredible guilt when I failed, because that personality trait simply wasn’t in my toolbox.

I tried because nice girls are . . . nice.

Lie.

Lies, lies, lies.

Can we stop telling girls the lie that it’s more important to be nice than to be real?

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In a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review, Deborah Tannen writes,

“The research of sociologists, anthropologists, and psychologists observing American children at play has shown that … girls learn to downplay ways in which one is better than the others and to emphasize ways in which they are all the same. Most girls learn that sounding too sure of themselves will make them unpopular with their peers. A group of girls will ostracize a girl who calls attention to her own superiority and criticize her. Women are less likely than men to have learned to blow their own horn. And they are more likely than men to believe that if they do so, they won’t be liked.”

They won’t be liked. If you want to be liked, you have to be nice. And being liked trumps all.

How badly do you want to be liked?

Christian women have an added reality in that so much of Christian culture tells them (and not their male peers) to be “good.” By which we mean, be submissive, sweet, gentle, and modest. While it is true that Peter said to women, “(Women) should clothe yourselves with the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” (I Peter 3.4), it is equally true that Jesus said the gentle would be blessed (Matthew 5.5).

Jesus calls himself gentle (Matthew 11.29). Paul and Peter caution both men and women to be gentle always (1 Peter 3.5, Titus 3.2, Galatians 6.1). Being gentle, biblically defined, means having a spirit that relies on God alone for defense and accepts His decisions. Its having a heart that refuse to be offended or act out of self-righteous anger. It appears to be a quality to aspire to no matter what one’s gender.

Now, I am not averse to gentleness. Particularly in these civility-deficient times in America, a little meekness would be refreshing. Refusal to be offended? Off the radar, it seems. I wold love to see a modicum of kindness anywhere.

What I have trouble with is the notion that it is solely a girl’s province—no, requirement—to be nice.

Can we stop telling girls the lie that it’s more important to be nice than to be real?

Nice or gentle?

Being nice and being gentle (or meek) are not the same thing. Let’s teach our girls (and our boys) to aspire to the latter and give the other side eyes. It is not to be trusted.

Women, let’s stop being nice when we want to be warriors.

Let’s stop being afraid to let people see the warriors we are because we’re afraid they won’t like us. Why are we afraid to lose the affection of people who clearly don’t deserve our loyalty?

Let’s stop downplaying who we are because we’re afraid it’s not nice to appear capable.

Let’s stop accepting the notion that gentleness and ensuring we are heard and counted are exclusive goals.

Let’s stop equating lukewarm, vapid, “niceness” with the tough work of biblical gentleness. It takes a strong woman to trust God with your defense. Meekness is not for weaklings.

It’s time to teach our daughters to be heard. They can be gentle and be strong.

Also, teach our sons the same thing.

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