I don’t want my child to be polite.
That probably sounds weird, right?
Not long ago, one of our child care providers commented on my daughter’s personality. “She’s so polite,” the teacher said.
Ummm…polite? Really? I paused and contemplated this. My kid is only 19 months old. How exactly is a young toddler polite? Is this the same child who shoves books in my face when she wants to read them and yells “noooo!” when I offer her “the wrong” socks?
But hey, maybe she is more “well-behaved” at school than she is at home. Most parents seem to find that. I should be pleased. But instead I felt strange. I don’t really want one of her earliest personality traits to be polite.
Sure, every parent wants their child to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and wipe their shoes on the welcome mat. We all want our kid to (eventually) chew with their mouth closed and respect their elders and help classmates in need. And we all want our children to be compassionate.
But there’s a difference between compassion and politeness. I want my daughter to be kind, but I don’t want her to be a doormat. Not to mention the consequences on her bodily autonomy and her ability to say “no” to peers in the future – even if it risks hurting their feelings.
Girls Pay for Honesty
Are girls actually more polite than boys? Or are they simply socialized that way?
ABC News reported on a fascinating study at the University of California about salty lemonade given to both boys and girls. The boys were more likely to be honest about how gross it was. Yuck! Ew! But the girls choked it down with a polite smile. Some girls even lied. “It’s good,” they said.
Some people claim these are inherent biological differences. They say boys are naturally more honest and girls are careful of others’ feelings. But I don’t buy it. There’s a growing recognition that socialization factors heavily into communication and behavior differences among the sexes. We – parents and family members – even speak to brand new babies differently, depending on their sex.Girls learn early that there is a social penalty that accompanies honesty. And these societal norms follow us into adulthood. With the gender wage gap still lagging at 80 cents to the dollar, and much worse for women of color, women understand that coworkers will view them as negatively ambitious or selfish if they ask for a raise. Women with multiple minority identities face an even higher risk. There will be a backlash at the least; a punishment at the worst.
Then we tell women: it’s not that you CAN’T ask for a raise, it’s that you need to do it the RIGHT way. You know, a way that’s appropriate for a woman and non-threatening to others. After all, we wouldn’t want to appear as though we actually advocate for ourselves.
Excuse Me, I Wasn’t Finished
Children also demonstrate their politeness (or lack of) by the way they speak with peers. Check out this parent’s fairly informal but intriguing study on preschoolers during playdates to observe who interrupts and how often they do so. It found that the kids interrupt each other at pretty much the same rate, whether or not boys were present in the group. But, the next finding about coed groups was the most fascinating. As the concentration of boys in each playgroup increased, so did the rate at which boys interrupted their peers. At the same time, the rate at which girls interrupted their peers decreased. The title of the article says it all: “Boys Learn to Interrupt. Girls Learn to Shut Up.”
Sadly, and unsurprisingly, this behavior continues into adulthood and the workplace. Studies since the 1970s have shown that these patterns pervade the workplace, and may hinder women’s performance and ability to succeed. One study found that men interrupt other people TWICE as often as women do, and they are nearly THREE times more likely to interrupt a woman than another man. Yikes! There’s even a cutesy term for it: manterrupting.
This practice runs so rampant that women’s circles in the workplace use tangible strategies to make their voices heard and take credit for their ideas. In the Obama administration, female staffers used “amplification” to credit other women who made good points to ensure they maintained ownership of those ideas. It’s a very proactive tool to combat the interruption patterns.
If my child is always polite and sacrifices her “turn,” will she take a backseat in life? And in the workplace? I don’t want my daughter to default to “yes” because she fears hurting others’ feelings or looking like a bitch because she disagrees.Constructive disagreement and debate often lead to the best ideas and outcomes.
I want my daughter to have the confidence to use her voice. And to use it proudly and loudly enough to be heard.