As someone from an Eastern culture who highly values manners, respect for elders, and polite behavior in all people—children to adults—I can relate to those who have either been fed a fallacy or propagated behaviors that don’t serve the young girls/women in our lives. And that has got to stop in this one very important arena: the creepy man vs. the nice girl.
If, like me, you were raised in an ethnic tradition that is highly patriarchal, you’ve grown up to know a few things. You NEVER call an adult by their first name. They are either Uncle or Aunty, or Mr. and Mrs. Even if they insist you call them by their names, you know better than to do that, so you fall back on calling them Mr. Adam or Miss Helen or something like that. But that only works for Western cultured people. You never call your parents by their first names unless you have a death wish (long into adulthood I should add), and you defer to your elders in many situations.
Along those lines, you have also been taught to smile politely and keep your thoughts/opinions to yourself in the face of a grown person saying anything that doesn’t sound right to you. You never correct or question them in public and your best course of action is to make yourself scarce as soon as can be politely allowed. Sure, this leads to many Eastern cultured children being praised as extremely well behaved and delightful in the eyes of random adults, but there’s a dark side to this that a lot of us have experienced.
I believe this behavior primes young girls (and boys too) to be vulnerable to disgusting men (and sometimes women). When an uncle (by name or because of actual relation) says something inappropriate, makes comments about your body or looks, or touches you without permission (yes, even something as minor as a hug), girls need to sound a verbal warning bell with no apologies. This is especially vital in a patriarchal culture. More important, parents need to unequivocally back them up.
How many of us have been at the receiving end of weirdness by older males, either family friends or actual relatives, that have said or done things that are inappropriate? I’m raising my hand here. I’ve had a male relation comment that I had nice thighs when I was 15. I’ve had another male relative who took over my room when visiting comment that my sheets smelled womanly. I was 13. Thankfully, worse did not happen. But those examples shouldn’t have happened either. What was my response? I smiled. Even with the thighs comment (why is a grown, married father looking at a 15 year-old’s thighs?) I actually said, “Thank you.” Had I stood up for myself by even saying, “You shouldn’t say those things to me, or showing my disdain with eye rolling (which I’m really good at), I would have surely been busted by my parents.
So, here’s where the narrative has to change. Our girls (and boys) need to know that predators are real and can be found anywhere—even in our families. They should never have to feel they must politely receive inappropriate behavior of any kind from someone. They need to know that we, as their parents, grandparents, guardians, aunt, uncles, and older friends; will believe them and have their backs. Our kids need to also know that no one is allowed to touch them, even for a hug, without their permission—even if they are toddlers. Adults should always ask a child if they can give them a hug, and if the child says no—even because they are being ornery—you never force your “affection,” upon them. Fist bump, elbow bump, shake hands, and such. But the child involved makes the ultimate decision on whether your physical affection is something they are ok with. The autonomy belongs to them.
I recently watched a Tik Tok where two little girls were singing a song about not being polite to creepy men (and yes, I was inspired). Right on, little girls and the parents raising them! I sent the video to a friend with a four-year-old daughter, telling her this was so important to impart. I didn’t have to worry, it appears. My friend told me her child at age 3, was trick or treating for Halloween and at the home of someone the family knew. The uncle there touched the top of her head and gave her a blessing. She immediately turned to him and said, “Why did you touch me?” She asked her mom, “Why did that man touch me? I don’t know him.” And Boom. This child clearly know that she is the owner of her body, and no one does anything without her permission. That right there is exactly what needs to happen.
It’s easy to warn our children about strangers or even people they sort of know. But the waters get muddied when it comes to family or friends—especially in ethnic communities. And this is exactly where things need to be crystal clear. This is exactly when you need to let your child know they are free to be impolite and downright rude if they have to, to any grown person who does or says something that makes them feel icky. And they need to know you will always support them.
Have you had to smile and nod when someone was inappropriate to you? What do you think about allowing your kids this “impolite clause” within the realm of the good manners you are trying to teach?
2 thoughts on “Polite Girls Can Be Impolite”
Yes! A million times yes! I grew up in a conservative Christian community and was taught the similar things. “Children are to be seen and not heard.” And also the overprotection of anything remotely sexual as taboo I think probably kept me from telling anyone when I was touched inappropriately as a child. The idea that I did a bad thing coupled with respect for our elders kept me silent. And I was a confused, angry, depressed kiddo because of it. Thank you for writing this.
I’m so sorry Bowler A, that this happened to you. But thank you for speaking up and sharing your experience. It’s so alarming how this part of many of our upbringings literally set us up. We have to break that cycle.