*These things are things I have often heard (mostly addressed to young girls) – they have either been said to me or someone I know*
It’s 2019. The world is changing around us so much that even the climate change deniers are finally starting to concede that things around us are indeed shifting. Women are loud, louder than ever. We’re making connections with others, joining together, a task force of estrogen ready to shake things up and claim the equality that is rightfully ours. It’s a wonderful time to be alive, yet there are still problematic narratives we are currently fighting whilst simultaneously and accidentally handing them down to the next generation.
It’s time to stop, to think about the words we use and the things we say to our daughters, our nieces, our goddaughters. In a time of change, it’s time for us to change too.
“If he’s being mean to you, that means he likes you.”
We’ve all been here – pushed around and name called by a boy on the playground for no reason, running to tell an adult who then smiles knowingly and says ‘it just means he likes you!’ Your trembling lower lip is ignored and you’re sent on your way, a jumble of confusion. If someone’s mean that means they… like you? It doesn’t make sense, yet a grown up said it so it must be true, right? Right?
Fast forward twenty years and that guy from Tinder is ghosting you through the week yet popping up on a Saturday night asking to meet, but it’s okay because that means he’s actually into you, right?
Your boyfriend likes to tell you you’ve gained weight, that your friends are prettier, that you need to make more effort, but it’s okay because surely words like that mean marriage is on the cards, right?
Of course we know it’s not right, yet we tell the next generation that that’s what nastiness means and then wonder why so many adult women fall into toxic relationships. We wonder why women stay in relationships that are abusive, dead end and with people they are leagues above. Friends sigh in frustration and cry “why won’t she just leave him?!” But since the dawn of time women have been told that if someone’s shitty to you then it’s a sign of affection. Justifying toxic behaviour, violence and emotional abuse as a way of telling someone you like them is a sure way to ensure that that little girl grows up never really knowing her true worth and enters some truly terrible relationships as an adult.
Correct response: “If he’s being mean to you, he’s an arsehole.”
“Ignore her – she’s just jealous!”
We wonder why we live in a world where trolls run riot on the internet – it’s because we grew up telling people that you can be mean to someone but it’s okay because it just means you’re jealous of them. Jealousy is an excuse to be mean and being jealous has no comeback – that’s why you can troll David Beckham’s children who have done nothing but be born into a wealthy family or why you can call that singer with the amazing life ugly. You look at what they have and you want it, so you verbally abuse them because it makes you feel better about yourself and they in turn have to just ignore your nastiness and accept your comments because you’re jealous. Seems fair, right?
Of course it’s not! Jealousy is something we all feel – I get jealous at a restaurant when I see my fiancé has ordered a meal that looks nicer than mine – but feeling jealous doesn’t give us the right to spout hatred.
We tell little girls to shrug cattiness off as jealousy, teaching them that people can be unnecessarily mean and there be no consequence. We show them that if someone has what you want then it’s okay to tear them down for it. We never stop the nastiness, the hurtful words, the pain – we just shrug and say ‘they’re just jealous’ as if that makes it all okay. We tell little girls to ‘ignore’ the jealous person, leaving the impression that the jealous are to be excused whilst the one on the receiving end of the jealousy is somehow in the wrong.
Correct response: “No one has the right to treat you like that. Come on, let’s sort this out.”
“We’re all friends here!”
You cannot be friends with everyone. You cannot be liked by everyone. These are universal truths, yet truths we don’t share with little girls. We tell them that we don’t fall out, that we are friends with everyone – hearing it was one of my biggest irritations as a teacher. We solve every argument, pushing children into friendships they don’t want to be in, telling them to make daisy chains and play dolls and comply, make one big, neat, united friendship group where everyone must get along, then we wonder why people feel left out, feel like they never belonged, feel alone in this world when they were never truly part of the thing they were forced into.
You don’t have to like everyone and everyone doesn’t have to like you back. Your tribe may be small, your tribe may be large, your tribe may fall out, your tribe might coexist in peaceful harmony – one thing your tribe will not be will be is universally accepted. And that’s okay because you’re not on this earth to be a nodding dog, a malleable piece of dough, a liquid that moulds itself to fit wherever it can. You’re here to be you, whoever that may be.
There are far, far more important things in this world than being liked. Gone should be the days of meek, agreeable girls who stand at the back, their gaze firmly on the ground, their wallets considerably lighter than their male counterparts and their purpose purely aesthetic. Gone should be the days where women have to be liked by everyone to be heard, where women have to flirt their way to the top, where women who express an opinion are labelled as ‘bossy’ and ‘aggressive’.
We’re not all friends here. Standing up for what you believe in, for the rights of others, for equality, for progression will not make you universally liked, but so what? Can we start teaching our daughters that there’s more to life than being popular, adored and everyone’s friend?
Correct response: “it’s okay if you don’t want to be friends – you can’t like everyone and they don’t all have to like you either.”
The next time you speak to a malleable innocent who will one day be someone who can vote, who can protest, who can make change – think. Think before you speak. Think if your words are helpful or harmful, if they are progressive or regressive. Think of yourself, the little girl you once were being told that aggression meant affection and that other’s jealousy was somehow your fault, and do her justice.