Yesterday as I handed the baby over to her father, I said, “Be a good girl for Daddy.”
That pulled me up short, because it so easily translates as, “Be quiet. Be biddable. These things are what makes a girl ‘good’.”
That’s not what I meant, of course. I wasn’t even really talking to her. I was using my voice as an attempt to reassure and soothe her through this transition of cuddles, but my words were directed to Mr Dee. “I hope she won’t kick you or scream in your ear,” I was saying, “but to be honest I’m not hopeful, because she’s quite cranky at the moment.” I was saying, “Thank you for being here to take her, I’m so grateful for the break.” I was saying, “I’m glad you’re with me on this crazy ride.”
But I was tired and frustrated and lazy, so what I said was: “Be a good girl for Daddy.”
I do want my daughter to grow up with an understanding of appropriate behaviour, so that when she screams and kicks it’s not because she doesn’t know better, or can’t control herself, it’s because screaming and kicking is warranted. It’s her choice. But I don’t want her to grow up thinking that “good” girls have to be quiet and biddable, especially for men.
Do I think one stray line from me will make the difference? Of course not. But hundreds of iterations of it from me as she’s growing up, and thousands of variations on it from her relatives, her peers, her teachers, the television, society as a whole… yeah, that’s going to start adding up. The least I can do – in my position of considerable influence – is counteract that pervasive messaging. I want to try not to parent unthinkingly.
Let’s see how I go.