"But I don't want to go!" The little girl in front of me screeched on the train. Her mother clearly trying to calm her down looked lovingly into her eyes.
"You must go darling it's not very nice to just not turn up."
"But I don't like her, I don't know anyone who is going and she is mean to me!"
"I'm sure she isn't" the mother continued, "and you are been mean by not going, now apologise for making such a scene on the train, and be good."
I had no idea what they were talking about, where this young girl was been dragged to or why the exasperated mother had insisted she go. I just know the use of the word nice and good were beginning to make my skin crawl.
I have never been a fan of these two words, especially when they are thoughtlessly said in passing to the next generation of potential female leaders. For a start they are so arbitrary; what do they mean and who measures what is nice and what is good? But the words are the least of my problems, for me it is the fundamental core message that these words give little girls the message that above all we must ignore our own feelings and be good and nice to please others. I don't know about you but if my daughter finds herself in a compromising position, let's say with a drunken teenage boy who is making her feel uncomfortable, the last thing I want her to be is nice and good. For this reason I have tried as hard as I can to not use these words with my own children, now 20 and 16, opting instead to ask how they feel about things and encouraging them to speak up in a kind and considered way.
But if we look closer I think there is a deeper message in these words which might lead us to question if we are raising girls to give away their power later on in life.
It is a well known fact that women are under-represented in board rooms and are paid less than their male counterparts and while some of that is for certain a societal and systemic issue, some of it could I believe be down to the words we say to little girls when they are young. I have written about this in The Guardian with regards to telling girls they are pretty.
Women in general have an issue with the word power, most not wanting to associate with words such as dominant, forceful and authoritarian, particularly when there is an implied assumption that little girls just aren't supposed to be them as they are not with nice and not good. We grow up feeling that having power isn't nice and therefore often becoming pliable to others, avoiding standing our ground and as a result are often taken advantage of, fobbed off or lied to. We believe that putting our own needs last and fitting in with others is what we are meant to do because clearly as a child this is what often happens to us. We feel this is the kind, thoughtful, flexible thing to do without a second thought for is it what we want.
But women and young girls are powerful; we might associate with the word in a different way, aiming more for empowering others, collaborating and being competent but we do have power and we need to remind ourselves and our children (especially girls) of it every day.
I think no one can deny that feminine power is needed in the world (and I'm not talking pink and fluffy rabbits here, although I am a fan) we need more females in powerful roles, fully standing in their own power, empowering others, respecting difference and moving forward in an exclusive way. This will never happen if we don't educate young girls to listen to their own feelings and recognise their own right to say no, to not fit in and sometimes upset others because it is the right thing to do for them.
It's OK to not go somewhere if you don't want to, it's fine to stand your ground if someone is trying to take something you are playing with and it's not mean to disagree with someone. And being nice is not the be all and end all in life. Let's teach our young girls that what they feel and want is valid and that they do have a voice.