I was with my girlfriend recently, and we were discussing how her husband, bless his heart, has a tendency to encourage his daughter every now and again to be, "ladylike," and it drives my girlfriend crazy. And it should. My friend and I both have tween girls (girls aged 8 to 12) and, as many of you know, girls at this age are at a critical point in their development. It is the first time they are really noticing social cues and trying to figure out how to fit in. So being told to be "ladylike" carries major weight.
We at TIA Girl Club believe in being kind, supporting each other, observing the norms of etiquette, etc. But we also believe each of us has an authentic self that must be preserved through the tween years, a time that is statistically the most damaging to a girl's self-esteem.
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write about this exact topic in their (totally awesome) book The Confidence Code. There they discuss that when girls are constantly praised for their good behavior (i.e., sitting in their classroom chairs quietly, cleaning their bedrooms without having to be told), the result is that, "young girls, consciously or not, quickly learn that kind of behavior is a fast track to praise." And who doesn't like praise?
Well, praise is good. But with all that praise comes a price. In a sense, girls do not believe they are worthy unless they are getting that positive reinforcement. By conditioning her for praise "we subconsciously train our daughters not to speak up and demand to be heard, or demand almost anything," Kay and Shipman write. This leads to all sorts of issues for our girls later in life - especially as they enter relationships and the workforce.
You see, all that praise for being "lady-like" as a young girl trains most of us women to shy away from being assertive, or to advocate for ourselves, stand up for what we really need or want.
When you seek to be ladylike and be praised, the thought of asking for what you deserve is terrifying. Ask for a raise? Disagree with the boss? Stand up to an abusive boyfriend? Go for your dreams against the advice of others? .... Are you out of your mind?
Interestingly, when asked to identify the traits of "bad" girls, most people Kay and Shipman surveyed said that these women were likely to speak their minds, possess confidence, travel their own path and believe in themselves (sounds like a TIA Girl to me!).
What, if anything, can we do as parents to promote true confidence? Well, Kay and Shipman write, "if you want your daughter to have the confidence later in life to buck the system and advocate for herself, you need to encourage her to be a little bit bad." Now. Like, right now. While the consequences for being bad aren't, well, bad.
So, the next time your daughter demands something, runs through the house, yells a little too loudly, gets messy, or just indulges her less-than-ladylike self, it might not be the worst thing in the world. It actually, could be the best!
Please check out TIA Girl Club's Kickstarter campaign, and support the future of tween girls!