Oh, sure. We’re pretty fond of each other, but the truth is you all are our favorite contributors to The Man Repeller. …Which is why we’ve formalized that fact with “Let’s Talk About It.” This weekly column is a forum for conversation, communication, and complete distraction from the jobs you’re supposed to be doing right now. So get involved. We promise we won’t tell your bosses.
Like telling your boyfriend that you’re “fine,” calling a woman “nice” has very little to do with her sunny disposition, general good will, or admirable recycling habits. Instead, what I imagine must once have been a super! adjective has since morphed into nothing short of descriptive baggage.
At least that’s the essence of writer Catherine Newman’s recent contribution to the New York Times’ Motherlode blog. In “I Do Not Want My Daughter to Be ‘Nice,’” Newman describes ten year-old Birdy, who “is not nice, not exactly.”
“This makes her different from me,” she continues. “…I put out smiles indiscriminately, hoping to please not only friends and family but also my son’s orthodontist, the barista who rolls his eyes while I fumble apologetically through my wallet, and the ex-boyfriend who cheated on me.”
Of course, this is not to say that Birdy isn’t kind or compassionate or generous. According to her mother, she’s all of the above. (Aww, Mom! Stop it!) Rather, Newman’s point is that her evidently badass kid does not feel social pressure to be perceived as a “nice girl,” a “sweetheart.” Later, the self-proclaimed “radical, card-carrying feminist” concludes that:
[S]he is also sure and determined in a way that is not exactly pretty. Which is fine, because God help me if that girl ends up smiling through her entire life as if she is waitressing or pole-dancing or apologizing for some vague but enormous infraction, like the very fact of her own existence.
But here is where I’m suddenly conflicted. Because while I don’t doubt that the burden of “niceness” weighs more heavily on women than men, I can’t accept that my millionth-wave feminism depends on scowling. It’s 2013! Even Victoria Beckham is smiling! Maybe I’m proving my own lingering backwardness, but the truth is being thought of as gracious matters to me. Not because I’m trapped in the 1950s or 70s or the front row of my high school English class, but because I’m human. Don’t we all want to be liked?
In other words: I’m torn. They say you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar, but Newman makes a strong case for renouncing the sweet stuff. In the age of Bitchy Resting Faces, Anne Hathaway, and Lean In, how “nice” should a good girl be?
Go on: let’s talk about it.
Written by Mattie Kahn