Being a sociable girl, when Ashley saw two boys at the Chick-fil-A play area, she walked right up to them. The younger of the two brothers, a 24-month old probably, promptly pushed her. From my perch on the mommy bench, I observed her surprise and sadness. Clearly, she wasn't expecting that kind of reception. The aggressor pushed again, and again Ash looked dazed.
The attack not being particularly violent, I stayed put but called, "Ashley, say, 'Don't push me,'" imitating the firm yet in-control tone I wanted her to use. Too timid to comply, she walked off to play.
I was floored when at dinner tonight, Ashley said, "I didn't say 'Don't push me' to the boy at Chick-fil-A because it's not sweet." My two year old had articulated a serious problem that has existed for centuries. Whether the notion of perpetual female sweetness is the result of conditioning or is a product of (fallen) feminine nature, I don't know; but I believe it is one cause of teen girls (and grown women) tolerating mistreatment and abuse. (The statistics on teens in abusive dating relationships is staggering.) Certainly, telling a sexually aggressive boyfriend to "get your hands off me" isn't sweet, nor is dumping a guy who calls you fat; and it definitely isn't "sweet" to call the police on your abusive husband.
I want my daughters to be sweet, or, more specifically, compassionate, friendly, gracious and graceful, forgiving, and tender-hearted. But there are situations in which "sweetness" is inappropriate. When I told Ashley to say "Don't push me!", I was teaching her that the boy had treated her in a way inconsistent with her dignity and that it is appropriate, necessary even, to assert herself when boundaries of decency are crossed. I'm convinced that this lesson must begin early. Waiting till your daughter's heading out the door on her first date is too late. For all you know, she's already observed inappropriate behavior in this guy but thinks it wouldn't be "sweet" to judge him for his defiance of female teachers or his snickering every time the pudgy girl with acne walks by.
Ashley's education in self-respect and proper assertiveness began today: she's far too precious to put it off.