Good Girls…

Good Girl Disease

It is International Woman’s Day and I am reminded of how important it is for me to arm my daughters and granddaughters with the information and the confidence they need to assertively protect themselves from all types of victimization, physical and psychological.

Womens Day

I cannot put my finger on the exact moment it started with me but I know I was very young. I suffered with “nice” girl disease as early as age four or five and most likely even younger. I’m not sure why I contracted the disease but the possibilities are endless. A mother whose attention was not on me, a father who was a perfectionist, parents that fought loudly and often, male cousins one six -months older and one six -months younger, a new sister, a new brother and the list goes on.

I spent most of my life doing just about anything to avoid conflict of any kind. I worked hard to make sure everyone in my life was happy and comfortable at the expense of my own happiness. On a recent field trip with two of my granddaughters, a ten -year-old and a seven-year –old, I was shaken to my core by their reaction to a bully.

School Bus Photo

The girls and I headed back to the bus early for the return trip. They were thrilled to be the first aboard and they chose the last two seats in the back of the bus. They told me they always wanted to sit in the last seats. We chatted and laughed as the rest of the kids trickled onto the bus. The ten-year-old was in the last seat by herself and the seven-year-old and I were in the seat in front of her. One of the last kids to climb onto the bus, a chubby sixth or seventh grade girl marched back to the last seat and said to the ten-year-old, “Get up and go sit with that boy” pointing to a seat in the middle of the bus, “my friend and I are sitting here.” The color drained from my granddaughter’s face and she dropped her gaze to the floor. She then got up and WAS GOING TO MOVE!

I took a long deep breath and said to the bully as nicely as I could, “She is not going to move. You go sit with that boy.” The bully cursed under her breath and stomped up the aisle to sit with the boy. I asked my granddaughter why she was willing to give up the seat she obviously wanted. She kept her eyes aimed at the floor and mumbled “I wanted to be nice.” I saw me at ten-years-old and my heart was breaking for her. Tears filled my eyes. I felt guilty. I was also very angry. I called my daughter later that night and told her what happened. My daughter confessed she was having trouble getting both girls to stick up for themselves. I told my daughter she herself suffered from nice girl disease and that she needed to change immediately.

The women in my family will work together to give these girls the tools and the words they need to protect themselves from victimization, to be assertive in healthy ways. There has been so much written and talked about this subject so it is still so hard to comprehend that some women still teach and encourage their daughters to be mean girls. I have heard them with my own ears giving instructions to their three and four -year -old daughter’s, “If you want that ball go take it from him.” “If you want the doll take it from her.” Are they confused over the definitions of being aggressive and being assertive? Have they been bullies themselves for such a long time they do not even recognize how damning their own behavior is to the well being of their daughters?

Grandgils 2012

Learning to be assertive was tough for me in my late thirties so I have no doubt arming these girls will be an uphill battle. It is a battle I intend to win.

Any suggestions?


13 Responses to “Good Girls…”

  • I was never a bully but I was always fortunate enough to feel confident and in charge of myself. No doubt it was due to having a mom who encouraged strong minded girls.

  • Lois Mitchell:

    One question came into my mind as I read this encounter. How do you teach the difference between ‘ nice girl ‘ and self preservation? Although your grand daughter needs to stand up for herself there’s a necessity to decern the risk factor.

  • Ugh, I hate “nice girl” disease. Nice girls don’t acknowledge their own accomplishments. Nice girls don’t make waves.

    Not so long ago, nice women didn’t want the vote.

    Good for you for calling it what it is – a disease. It is most definitely a sickness, although I’m not sure women can just change it overnight if they’ve been that way all their lives.

  • I think the way you handled it was a perfect teaching moment. You gave her the power and she will likely remember it. Good for grandma! I was such a homely scrawny little girl with big thick glasses, I felt like I had a bullet on my back inviting bullies. By my teens, I had learned how to stand up for myself but, never without trepidation. Having someone to lead by example, as you did, is huge for kids.

  • Kate:

    Instead of banning the word “bossy” let’s ban the word “nice” for our girls. Having good manners doesn’t mean going belly up on every request; maybe teach them “no thank you” with a smile when asked, and an eye-to-eye icy stair when ordered like they were w this little hardass.

  • This is a hard one, because there is a fine line between assertive and a bully,isn’t there? But clearly allowing one to stand-up for one’s self is always going to be on the winning side, as far as I’m concerned. I think you did exactly the right thing. You shot down the bully, without bullying herself, just by saying “no” and you asked your granddaughter her reasons for complying. Where it gets hard for me is when does kindness become a problem? It’s such a balance of not allowing others to walk all over you and yet knowing that being kind is a good thing. It reminds me of a book a just read, “The Stranger In My Recliner.” Ha! Ove you, Doreen.

  • This is such an important message. Girls are always told to be “nice,” which can totally backfire on them. We need to empower our girls to stand up for themselves. Many situations don’t warrant being nice.

  • It is difficult. For those of us who did not have good family role models, another layer of difficulty is added when we do not know how to teach this behavior. I decided I had to model decisive, engaged, charitable behavior: moving across country for a few months to care for my elderly mother so she could die in her own home. I didn’t get along with my mother. I took to the streets to protest what I then, and still do, felt was an immoral war. At the time I thought these actions were unnoticed. They were not. She understands her power and responsibility. For short term behavior, just be involved and respond honestly to what you see, as you did with your granddaughters.

  • It’s so good you were there that day. Just seeing a bully defeated is a big step to realizing one doesn’t have to knuckle under a bully’s demands.

  • If only all little girls had someone like you to step in when bullies pounce! I remember being terrfied of recess in elementary school because I was afraid of some of the kids who played “rough” and made fun of us quiet outsiders. The behaviors we learn in the playground stick with us our entire lives….unless we make an effort to change.

  • Ah, the good girl syndrome. Like many, I know it well. But as I get older, I am learning to balance my good girl with more assertiveness. Hopefully, your daughter and granddaughters will learn this lesson earlier.

  • Wow. It just amazes me that kids behave like this. Where do they learn it? And then, the atmosphere in our political system broadcast all over, its bullying in recent years, has to add to it. I’m shattered that this happens. Still.

  • Well written essay, Doreen. It’s so true. It seems like girls are either too meek or mean bullies, nothing in between. Sticking to your morals and demanding respect aren’t the same as demanding things that don’t belong to you. I, too, have suffered “Nice Girl” syndrome. I’m still working on it, but improving.

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