I was recently trying to enjoy a nice lunch out with my husband and our daughter. What started as a lovely meal ended with me fuming, with my husband trying to calm me down.
Here is my gorgeous lady. She’s a happy little soul, she’s usually pretty chilled, but she knows what she wants and how to get it. Know why? Because she’s a good communicator. She uses a mix of Makaton (baby sign), words and gestures to convey her wants and interests. She doesn’t shout very much as my husband and I are both at home with her, so she gets plenty of attention as soon as she needs. I’m confident in her communicative abilities, as are most people we meet. Until that fateful lunch date.
While we were waiting for our food, we noticed our daughter smiling and nodding at someone behind us. This isn’t too unusual, she tries to make friends with everyone she meets (including a few shop manikins). The vast majority of people make a few faces to her, give her a little wave, and then leave us alone. But not this time.
The first sign should have been when the man she had been smiling at came over to us to congratulate us on how cute our ‘son’ was. Never mind the fact that she was very obviously wearing a dress, and I’m sure half the restaurant had heard us saying ‘yes, good girl!’ when she had managed to sign the word ‘bird’ for the first time just minutes previously.
Funnily enough, I’m getting used to people mistaking her for a boy. It’s an easy mistake, her hair is only just starting to grow longer, but I usually politely correct, and there is no further issue. But for some reason, the fact that she was a GIRL meant that we had a further issue. Here’s how the conversation went:
ME: Oh, she’s actually a girl, but thank you. We think she’s very cute!
HIM: A girl?! Well you’ve done a fabulous job there then!
ME: What do you mean?
HIM: well, she’s barely saying a word! That means you’ve raised her right!
ME: Sorry? (half confused, half hoping this isn’t going where I think it’s going!)
HIM: All the girls nowadays are so loud! They’re talking all the time, making so much noise, having an opinion on everything. Not like the good old days, don’t you think?
ME: No, I’m afraid I don’t agree, and I doubt my husband would either. I’m sure your mother would be thrilled to know you think all women should be seen and not heard.
HIM: (smiling awkwardly and going a beautiful shade of white). Congratulations. (While walking away he forcefully pats my shoulder in some weird form of congratulations for having a quiet baby? And dislocates my shoulder due to my EDS.
I know what you’re thinking. That sounds scripted! Nobody would approach a stranger to say something like that! Well I promise you, it happened, and I was fuming. And you guessed it, I’ve got more than one issue with this encounter.
The phrase ‘seen and not heard’ originates from the 15th Century, so there’s no ‘I’m from another generation’ excuse for starters. Unless you’re 600+ years old, there’s no way you can get away with using that excuse.
Secondly, this mentality doesn’t just expect young children (or in this case, women) to be quiet, it denies them a voice completely. Why should she (or I) be expected to be quiet simply due to gender? For starters, to deny her a voice would be to deny her her freedom, the ability to share her ideas and creativity, and it reinforces the idea that she is only worthwhile when a man gives her permission to be. And I am NOT going to reinforce that.
IMAGINE praising a child for not speaking (or not being able to). Not everyone would agree with me, but I believe the only time a child should not be allowed to talk is….never. Children are naturally curious beings, how are they supposed to grow and develop if they can’t express their questions and frustrations?
So, I’m raising my daughter to be noisy. I’m raising her to express herself however she chooses, to be loving and creative and happy and free.
You know why? Because well-behaved women seldom make history.
Have you encountered a similar mindset? How did you react?