While most mothers I know would hurl their bodies in front of an oncoming freight train to protect their daughters, those same mothers think nothing of giving their daughters messages that leave them vulnerable to predatory men.
They don’t think; instead, they react from a place of deep unconscious programming.
I should know, I was one of them.
Let me explain.
Like most women, I was taught to dismiss and devalue feelings that didn’t fit the feminine cultural ideal and to encourage my daughters to do the same. Unknowingly, I gave my daughters messages that sacrificed their self-protection on the altar of “nice.”
In girl world nice trumps strong. Not being nice is considered “ugly” and ugly isn’t attractive. As mothers, we want our daughters to be accepted and liked. Yet, when we promote nice at any cost, we risk leaving them vulnerable to men who would take advantage of them. What about you?
What will happen to your daughter when you aren’t there to protect her?
Here are some scenes from your daughter’s future:
-As you thumb through a dog-eared old magazine in the waiting room, your 14-year-old daughter is rehearsing her upcoming recital piece. Seated next to her is her beloved piano teacher. As she makes her way through the piece, he places his hand on her thigh. Confused and scared, she freezes unable to move or speak.
-Wearing her prettiest party dress, and having had one too many, your 18-year-old is dancing the night away at a frat house. Flattered, the brother who normally won’t give her the time of day invites her up to his room. As he closes the door behind her, she feels a momentary rising panic.
-Eager to prove herself, your 24-year-old daughter jumps at the chance to accompany her boss on an overnight business trip. 10:00 that night there is a knock at her hotel room door. Opening the door, she finds her boss standing there with a bottle of champagne and two glasses. Her heart stops, and her stomach sinks.
What will your daughter do next?
How have you prepared her for this moment?
Although it is hard for you to face, you know this moment, or one like it is likely to come. The CDC reports 44% of women will experience sexual assault and1 in 5 women will experience rape in their lifetime. More than half will know their perpetrator.
Clearly, stranger danger isn’t the only danger. When your daughter’s moment of truth arrives you won’t be there to save her. Guiding her instead will be the messages she has internalized. What are those messages?
A few scenes from your daughter’s past-
1) “Don’t be shy. Be a good girl and give Uncle Joe a hug.”
Message sent – A good girl owes others her physical affection. To hesitate is considered rude.
Lesson learned – Don’t trust yourself. Override any hesitation you feel to gain social approval.
2) “Oh, you’re not angry –you’re just upset.”
Message sent- Nice girls don’t feel/show anger. They suppress it or convert it to something more socially acceptable. “Upset” is less threatening. Anger puts the offender on the spot. Upset solicits comfort. Anger calls for justice.
Lesson learned – Others comfort matters more than your own. Suppress your anger before it registers consciously, so you don’t make anyone uncomfortable.
3) “He didn’t mean to hurt you. Be nice and share your toys. He only wants to play.”
Message sent- A “nice girl” only sees and feels kindness from others no matter their actions. Nice girls ignore the aggressive affront. Instead, they model the behavior they hope to receive.
Learned lesson- learn to purposefully misinterpret/reframe another person’s aggression toward you. Disable your natural response and respond with kindness no matter the offense.
Terrifying isn’t it? But wait, there is more to consider.
What if something does happen, will your daughter speak up?
Will your daughter be confident enough in herself to know it wasn’t her fault? Will she tell someone or will she keep it inside? If she is assaulted will she keep it a secret & blame herself? Psychological literature tells us that the cover-up is often more damaging than the offense.
There was never more reason to send clear messages to daughters about what they owe others and what they owe themselves.
Why, as mothers, are we blind to the destructive messages we send? These duplicitous messages, I would argue, are insidious, institutionalized and codified into our culture. They are hard to decode and decipher. Through subtext, innuendo, double speak and double standards the patriarchy has snaked its way into how we raise our daughters. As women, we have bought into the patriarchal messages that are meant to control us, keep us down and hold us back.
We have bought into them and unknowingly passed them down to our daughters. With help, we can become aware and break the cycle. It’s one of our superpowers. We can hold ourselves accountable, course correct and give our daughters new empowering messages. Sexual abuse and assault need to end. Ending sexual assault begins with the messages mothers give to their daughters.
We can give back to our daughters & ourselves the power that was taken from us, one mother/daughter relationship at a time.
To find out if you suffer from the Good Daughter Syndrome go here.