Nice Girls vs. Kind Women

This post is a bit of a departure from my normal blog material (namely— nature, plants, poetry, ecology and metaphor), but the current news cycle and its endless ugly resurgence of sexism, violence, and misogny (deep currents coming come up to the surface to be exhumed) has me thinking of the old ways that are ready to die. The tired ways of seeing that are about to expire. It has set me thinking, most particularly, about a concept in our culture that is utterly, and completely, worn out.

The nice girl.

You know what I mean. You might even be one yourself.

>> Nice Girls <<

At some point growing up I internalized the idea of needing to be a “nice girl.” It was never something my parents proffered, it just seemed to permeate the very walls of our culture. From early on I recognized that life as a female (and an empath to boot) would be easier for me if I just became unreservedly nice.

Pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory. This is how the dictionary defines nice. And on a subconscious level this is how I fashioned myself to be in the world. I became someone who always put others needs first, defaulting to an attitude of cheerful mildness. Even as I empowered myself with education, knowledge, life experience, starting and rocking my own business, there was always the impetus to be a nice girl. Which meant, among other things, agreeing to situations that didn’t always feel comfortable or resonant. Saying yes when I wanted to say no. Going out of my way to make sure I didn’t step on any toes. Apologizing for things that I had no need to feel sorry for, like speaking my mind or just enjoying my life. Heck, I’ve lived (and ended, thank goodness) entire relationships that evolved simply because I couldn’t immediately say “no” to someone else’s interest. I had focused on wholly on tending to other people’s feelings I couldn’t even trust my own.

f3fff6f77693e1e7e33b785675caade2Yellow Rose -Daniel F. Gerhartz

Sometimes, niceness takes you so far down the rabbit hole that you lose track of how to even understand what it is that you need on a deeper level. When we spend so much time securing other people’s comfort, we lose connection to our innate desires. I remember a partner who used to get deeply frustrated with me because, whenever he asked where I wanted to go to dinner or what movie I wanted to see, I never had an immediate answer. When posed with the question of what I wanted I consistently drew a blank. At the time this partner thought I was being purposely elusive, but the reality was that I actually had no idea what I wanted. I had spent so long being a nice girl in my relationship that I lost track of the woman who had forthright interests and desires.

In our country being a nice girl is such an ingrained expectation it is painful, and sometimes shocking, to realize that we’ve cultivated so much pleasantness that we’ve dulled our own power. But as daughters and descendants of what feminist historian Max Dashu lays out as over one thousand years of oppression, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that this is a defense mechanism a millennia in the making. For our mothers, our grandmothers, and the many women who came before us, being a nice girl didn’t just make the world more friendly, it literally kept you alive. For many women living in the world today this is still the case.

But becoming, and remaining a nice girl, is a kind of malnutrition to the soul of a woman. To remain a nice girl means just that. To remain, in the eyes of the world, a girl. And it is clear that the world, our aching world of imbalance, is starving for something different.

women-in-painting-ferdinand-heilbuth-figurative-painting-french-painter-of-19-century-2

Woman on a Riverbank – Ferdinand Heilbuth

I remember being part of a panel once where every presenter was introduced with a short mention of their work, and the medicine of their character. I was one of the last speakers to be introduced by the older gentleman who ran the mic and the central tenant of his speech, offered to describe me and entire body of my work, was this: Asia is sweet. I stood on stage and felt as small, and hard, as a candy in someone else’s pocket.

When we devote ourselves to being nice girls we give up both agency and power. At its root, the very world “nice” is something that is defined by others. One does not declare oneself to be nice. Nice is a title that is bestowed upon you by those you have pleased, a reward for agreeability. Your skill at fulfilling this role is wholly judged, decided and anointed by others. As nice girls, we don’t have the power to decide whether or not we are good; this lies directly in the hands of those who judge us to be nice.

Looking around at the distorted media that surrounds us, a dimness that we swim in as if it were most natural of waters, I cannot help but have a righteous wave roll up to break in my heart. Is it time we reclaimed our own ability to self define. To take back our self representation. Time to flesh out the image of women everywhere and be shown in our fullness. It is time to let go of the mild poison that is nice.

Let’s endow ourselves, our daughters with a more empowering way of interacting with the world. Let’s bring wholeness back to our own souls, and balance to this earth.

Let us be kind.

Asia on winter walk

 

>> Kind Women <<

Instead of teaching our children to be nice girls, what if we raised them to be kind women?

Women whose goodness depended not on how others saw them, but how they decided to carry themselves in the world?

Merriam Webster defines Kind as “wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.” In short, kind is something we own. Something we enact, instead of something we fulfill. Kind is something we can decide about ourselves.

Kindness is benevolence. It is the grace of our care, a gift that we can decide to bestow. Nice is mild and forgettable. Kind is a power unto itself. Kindness is a bigness. In many cross-cultural myths, we hear of references to the ancient Goddesses as being kind (though, just as often, Goddesses chose to be deeply wild, sharp and severe). But we never hear of a Goddess being nice. Goddesses simply aren’t nice. Nice isn’t big enough for the vastness that is feminine energy, compassion, and care.

It is in our nature to be kind. Kindness is something we can give. Nice is something we must mold ourselves to be.

 

img_3054

Sophia Rose of La Abeja Herbs (photo by Jonah Welch)

 

How many times have we reacted to injustice by being nice, agreeable, mild, when we could have been kind? It is kindness, not niceness, that truly makes difference in the world. How would this world change if we all were raised to be kind women? Nice girls are quiet when injustices happen, especially to their own selves. Kind women take into account what is best for everyone’s health, which means standing up to those that caused hurt and recognizing that calling people out on their shit, their shadow, is important for the healing of the whole word.

It reminds me of a time in my early twenties when I was at a hot tub party. A stranger, who several friends of mine had been chatting with, invited me to come sit next to him to be closer to the conversation. Once seated next to him, he surreptitiously stuck his hand down my bathing suit bottom. I was in shock. And my immediate reaction, what I felt was the safest reaction, was to be nice. To sit stunned for a moment, move away without comment, get out of the tub to gather my things, to tearfully find my friends and leave post haste.

To this day, I wonder… what would have happened if I had been kind? It would have been a kindness, to everyone involved, if I had spoken to the man’s transgression on the spot. Kinder if I had been able to look him in the eye and tell him that his actions were inappropriate and hurtful. Kinder if I had been able to face him, not as an oppressor to whom I needed to keep myself safe from by neutralizing the situation, but a seriously misguided person who perhaps doesn’t understand what it is to make a healthy connection. To look him in the eye and ask him why he thought it was okay to touch me without my consent. To explain how broken and powerless and triggered I felt. To leave space for him to confront his own demons.

Now that would have been kind.

 

millaMilla Prince of The Woman Who Married a Bear

 

The other night I had a dream. I was in a terrible knock-down drag out fight with my friend Claire, one of the absolute nicest women I’ve ever met. Claire, who unreservedly puts herself last, and is sweet to a fault, is about the last woman I ever expect to see in a fistfight. In reality this friend and I have never had a single argument (we are, after all, both very nice girls!) but in this dream we were terrible. Nasty, mean, angry without knowing why. In one big burst, we lit it all up. We literally tore each other apart in a storm that seemed to rip through our souls. Afterwards we lay on the floor in a haze, holding each other in gratitude and feeling lighter than ever before.

When I first woke up I was confused, why on earth would Claire and I want to destroy each other? And then I realized. We weren’t fighting with one another— we were, in the most direct way possible, destroying the nice girls that lived inside us.

And it was about time.

 

sylvia-fierce

Sylvia Linsteadt of Wild Talewort

 

The feminine, the divine feminine, has been starved from our earth. Kindness, and truly bold-hearted compassion, is the food that will reawaken balance once more.

So next time you feel pressure to say yes when you want to say no. Next time your truth feels uncomfortable. Next time you feel subservient or small. Look in the mirror and tell yourself that you are a Kind Woman. See how quickly the Goddess inside of you is nourished, grows.

And next time your daughter does something sharp or misguided instead of saying “be nice” try, “be kind.” Because one day she will become a woman, and that kindness might just save the world.

 

mothers-loveMother’s Love by Phoebe Wahl

(All the photos featured in this section of the piece are women I look up to as fiercely kind, and changing the world with their bigness. I highly recommend checking out their work)

 

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

63 Comments

  • I’ve been reading your blog for a while, Asia (came via Sylvia Linsteadt), but haven’t stopped to leave a comment until now.

    Thank you for this post. It has come at just the right time for me.

    It is very easy to think that the flip side of ‘nice’ is ‘nasty’—and perhaps there is a place for the nasty woman, sometimes—but to have you proffer ‘kindness’ instead, that is radical. That could actually change things for the better, empowering women and girls, without doing harm to others. In fact, it would be good for everyone, and everything—and is kinder to ourselves too. I intend to remember this. I’m tired of being the ‘nice girl’. From now on I will bestow my kindness where it is warranted, where it is needed.

    • What you said. The flipside of nice is not nasty. Kindness means doing the hard thing and taking a stand and speaking the truth in love. Mind you, if you’re speaking truth in spite or anger, that truth becomes a clanging gong or just hateful noise. If you speak the truth in love, it might still hurt, but it will resonate instead of just making the other person deaf to what you want to convey.

      I constantly need to ask myself: “Is this mercy or is it enabling?” “Am I really motivated by what is best or what I selfishly want?” “Am I being kind or am I being a doormat?” “Do I value true peace born of self-evaluation and empathy or am I just looking to temporarily put out a fire so I can get through another day without too much conflict?”

      Sometimes I just want temporary peace so I’ll give in and shut up so I can go to bed and read a book and forget about things for a bit and recharge…and that’s okay too. But if I keep on putting it off and being nice, I’m only hurting myself and other people around me. There comes a time when I have to stand up and say, “That’s not okay, and this is why.”

  • Wow, the situation you described happened to me to when I was in my young womanhood. And I responded much as you did: by being “nice,” moving away, as if nothing really was wrong in what had just happened. I appreciate you writing out your possible kind response. May I pass on such thinking to my daughters, one of whom is — as I have been much of my life — ‘nice.’

  • This was timed so well for me. My daughter and I were just having a conversation about things that need to change so we can go forward in today’s world. I had come to a point in the conversation where I didn’t exactly have the words to describe what I was feeling…..this helps and I will be sharing this with her. “Something we enact instead of something we fulfill” rang loud and clear! Thank you for your inspiration!

  • Asia, I am new to your blog but realized very quickly that I had stumbled upon a gem when I began to read your recent posts. Thank you so much for this wonderful entry on being ‘nice’ vs. being ‘kind’. I wish it could be read by every woman, young and old…but especially the young. I have forwarded it to my daughters and sisters and even to my mother of 90 years. Best wishes to you!

  • First time I’ve read anything by you. Quite well written and overdue for all women. I’m grateful to see that you have wisdom to know the difference between nice and kind. It’s a difficult lesson to learn, but life is so much freer once it has been done. Blessings young one, may the future be kind.

  • Being nice as not worked, not ever really. Kindness, on the other hand has changed, healed, affirmed and nurtured many a life. A wonderful post!

  • <3 love this Asia, great insight, thank you for speaking your truth, we must carve out this change for younger generations

  • Thank you Asia. You are such a word-smith and bearer of profound insight and wisdom. This will be very helpful for me in my growth and others i’m so sure.

  • First time reading your blog. I was already a woman when I read the research in “Meeting at the Crossroads” Carol Gilligan and… oops her colleague slipped my mind. her research looked into that question entirely: what makes girls in our culture go from valuing honesty and integrity above all else to valuing “niceness”? If you haven’t read it already I think you will find it complimentary to what you speak here and what we all seem to have discovered in our lived experience.

  • “…we’ve cultivated so much pleasantness that we’ve dulled our own power” and “Nice is a title that is bestowed upon you by those you have pleased, a reward for agreeability.”

    Oh, much rich material here, and those are the two points that struck me most strongly. There are many ways we as women deny or dull our own power, but being “nice” is surely one of them. Being judged as “nice/not nice” is a kind of taming to keep us in line (which we then internalize to keep OURSELVES in line). I love that you point out that the divine feminine is too large to live in the small and meager confines of “nice.”

    I’ve never had trouble saying “no,” but even after many years I find I struggle to take my own goals or creative work seriously or to feel that they’re that important. Thank you for the reminder that kindness to ourselves means claiming that power and taking ourselves seriously as adults, citizens, women, and all the rest. And that kindness comes from compassion toward ourselves first.

  • This hits me so deeply. I’m in a relationship with someone who, although they are kind & giving, I am truly unhappy with; all because I was too nice to say “no, I am not ready for this commitment.” Now almost 3 years later, I forgot who I was or what I wanted when I met this person. I feel lost and empty. I am unlearning niceness. Thank you so much for sharing this

  • Oh my god(dess). Thank you. This article made me cry. I have never been able to articulate the distinction and have wrestled and struggled and felt strangled by my own inability to speak it: kind! What a simple and revolutionary alternative!

    I have known that it felt right to reject nice, but to embrace kindness- thank you, infinitely, from the deepest recesses of my wild heart, for providing language for a direction to move towards, and not simply an old stale mindset to rebel against.

    Your words are powerful! Our words!

  • I love this post. It speaks to my heart with such perfection, it aches. Thank you! I am always be told how “nice” I am. I have always felt betrayed and wronged by this for some reason. Maybe it’s because I know that I’m not always being true to my inner feelings and just feel obligated to make others happy. I am always last….always. I really feel empowered by the thought of being a “kind woman” from now on. I had already decided this year to be truer to myself, my true self. Thank you.

  • What a beautiful piece, Asia. Thank you so much for your insights, they have touched me deeply. Funny, I will be 56 in a few days and am still hung up on being ‘nice’ and, because of this conditioning, I continually find myself not being true to my own needs nor expressing myself truthfully. I have such a hard time with not wanting to hurt others’ feelings or letting someone down.
    I love how you ask us to transform this need to be nice into being kind.
    “Let’s endow ourselves, our daughters with a more empowering way of interacting with the world. Let’s bring wholeness back to our own souls, and balance to this earth.
    Let us be kind.”
    Your words somehow have given me a push that I need to help me let go of this mindset. Thank you, dear one. How lucky you are to understand this already in your life. As regards to myself, I am a believer in you can “teach an old dog new tricks”! XX

  • This is beautiful. As the mother of a four year old daughter, I have been very guilty of the “be nice” trope. It just spills out of my mouth without me even thinking. I will change the script for her – and for my son – to Be Kind. Thank you so much for this wonderful article. Very needed.

  • Your words are so powerful and so right on.

    I am reminded of the epithets we sometimes use to describe the Fair Folk, calling them the Kindly Ones. There are ancient groups of goddesses who were worshipped in the Roman Empire called the Matronae, and they also had epithets used for them, including being called the Kindly Ones. Calling these fierce and powerful beings by such names is as much a request as anything else. Kindness is optional, it is a thing the giver chooses to give or withhold. So we request their kindness, and then work to earn it, to deserve it, because it isn’t a given that we will receive it, and the alternative to their kindness may very well be dire.

    I love what you’ve written here ♡

  • AWESOME! I thank you for the precious & most timely words – you inspire KINDNESS & engender true POWER. I marvel at your skill with words & thought. Thank Goddess for a KIND Woman as yourself – I am inspired & will share your words generously to inspire others. Many grateful thanks. From Kind to Kind.

  • Asia, your words speak volumes and have touched me deeply. Thank you for the perfect timing as we head into The Woman’s March on Washington Saturday and…the very scary reality of this election. I found you via the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine and so enjoy listening to you; you instill a very calm, wise, loving KINDness and knowledge. Much Love and Respect!

  • Thank you so much for this post. What a nourishing reflection – I read it yesterday and it’s been rattling inside me since. This morning I woke up in the wee hours of the morning and feel for me that it’s essential to remember the importance of honouring and therefore when necessary to access and express the louder, ugly side of the feminine.

    “For our mothers, our grandmothers, and the many women who came before us, being a nice girl didn’t just make the world more friendly, it literally kept you alive. For many women living in the world today this is still the case.”

    It’s likely as women, most of us have been – to say the least, sexually mistreated. While many of us might be getting closer to being able to have or at least consider a ‘kind’ response to a situation like in the hot tub, on the road to that kind of awareness and feeling of empowerment, we also need to give ourselves and each other permission to yell a big loud, confident – fierce even: “NO!” or “STOP” and use that fierceness to fill the strength of our beautiful bodies to also remove ourselves and/or others from an unsafe (physically, emotionally, spiritually) situation. While we’d certainly model for men and other women when we do manage in a situation like that to access the kindness route, we are not here to sacrifice ourselves as we find our way to kindness. I want to shout from a rooftop how much I love this idea of leading from kindness and – as we find our way there, let’s not diminish our ability, right and dare I say responsibility whenever possible – to stand in the power of what might not feel, look or sound either nice or kind.

    with so much gratitude for this piece and the opportunity to comment on it,
    – Julie

  • This is the first time I’ve come across your blog. Wow! This is an amazing piece and resonates with me on so many levels. I look forward to reading more of your work. I look forward to cultivating the Kind Woman inside of me.

  • I found your post of FB and it spoke to me. I was asked recently to do something I didn’t want to do. Lately I’ve felt so “over” being agreeable and “nice”, my entire life. So I said no, to the request. Then I was asked the following week again, by the same person. The nerve! So I said no again! I felt so empowered afterwards. It felt so freeing to be able to say no, and not feel guilty about not being “nice”. Your article described how I’ve been feeling, but couldn’t put into words. It has been damaging my soul to be a pleaser, and feeling that I need to be “nice” and agreeable. Well no more…I much prefer to be kind. Thank you!

  • What a beautiful article. I have not read your blog before but the title of this on my Facebook wall intrigued me and I am glad that I read it. The distinction between niceness and kindness is simple and vast and your article illustrates it beautifully. It is empowering in the kindest way. Thank you.

  • I was “nice” to an aggressive, domineering, controlling mother for 61 years. When she died, I felt happy and relieved. There was no amount of kindness that would help her. She was beyond redemption. When she died last year, I felt like I was set free. I about killed myself trying to please her NEVER again. I am taking baby steps to repair the incredible amount of damage I allowed to happen. I am studying Reiki, doing meditation, practicing Qigong, and seeing a wonderful psychologist 2x’s a week. I put her behind me, despite 60 years of her Army boots tromping through my garden. This is MY life, and with whatever time I have left, I am going to BECOME. I’m not wasting time on regret. It’s in the past! It is a new day and a new me.

    Thank you for writing this article. It is an important message for all women.

  • I wanted to write a blog “don’t be nice, be kind” few days ago, but a friend just posted this one on fb. Sooo very important to teach girls that nice is overrated. “Nice” is encouraged by all those who don’t want to deal with the power of a wild woman and a goddess! Of course we gain some things by being nice. But we value ourselves more when we are kind, even at the “cost” of not being nice. Also I learned, there are places and moments when those two go well together.

  • I also found you today through FB friends posting various thoughts leading up to today’s Women’s March. Thank you for sharing your deeply profound, indeed radical words.
    I would like share two thoughts.
    1) The root for the word “radical” is the Latin word radix, which itself means root, basic, or fundamental. Thus I would suggest that being kind is radical in the most basic way by being the foundation of our strength as women.
    Having said that,
    2) I would like to make a plug for the importance of raising kind sons. I am considered “accomplished” in my professional life, but the achievement that means the most to me is that my husband and I have raised two little boys into two kind, caring, strong adult men who have now each married kind, caring, strong women, who are all sharing their kind hearts while working fiercely for the common good.
    Words have power. Thank you for enlarging my understanding.

  • Wow. You write so well and about such an important issue that my English skills are not high enough to describe how happy I am and what a wise writer you are! So I just say Thank you very much! 🙂

  • I can relate to this post a lot Asia.
    To understand somebody else’s needs is one thing and to take care of them while losing sight of your own life is another.

    I was a nice girl. But I am a kind woman today.
    Learnt it the hard way. I guess that’s how most people do.

    I won’t ever forget to teach my daughter (if I ever have one 😉 ) this important lesson.

  • This is what I have been craving all along…
    A good friend of mine told me recently that she’s working on being a “peacemaker” instead of a “peacekeeper” and this concept has been blowing my mind. I see a lot of similarities in these concepts and I can’t wait to be intentional about harvesting more kindness in my life as time goes on. Thank you.

  • Great post, I needed this boost tonight. I have a young daughter that I am teaching to be a kind woman instead of a nice girl. She’s really already a powerfully kind person and gives me so much hope for the future though right now things in the US are bleak.

  • Every day, as I drive to work from my country home into Boulder, I pass a small billboard outside a Tibetan restraurant: “Be kind whenever possible. Kindness is always possible – The Dalai Lama” A lovely affirmation that I try to make a point to read and internalize as often as I can.

    Thank you, Asia, for your powerful words (as usual). From the few times we have met, your kindness and strength radiate forth like a lighthouse. Nice hasn’t been a word that has come to my mind to describe your presence, but wise, feminine and witty (though sweet has popped in there as well, which I agree our culture emphasizes too much without delving into the semantics).

  • I’m happy I stumbled upon your writing this evening! So many turns of phrase that I appreciate and resonate to; combining two, the multi-faceted heart becomes a North Atlantic coast for waves to break against, with its inlets and beaches and crags. I’m a counselor of kids and teens and (when possible) their caregivers. Last week a teen I’ve been working with for a little over a year began expressing that she feels she’s ready to step away from counseling, and I felt it, too – among the signs, a new tone of assertion in her conversation with me. She used to make herself small in various ways. To me, last week it sounded as though, for the first time in my office, she was taking up her full space in the world. Privately bittersweet to realize we’ll soon say goodbye – but I openly celebrated her independence. So sorry to hear about your experience in that hot tub – I’m glad you’re in a place where you can experience compassion for the unenlightened perpetrator as well as for your own younger self.

  • I’ve recently started reading Women Who Run With Wolves, which is all about the kind, wild woman who is fierce, yet compassionate. This is a profound article. I’m so glad for you and your dream that you listened to. (I’m also reading Dream Game by Ann Faraday right now, which is transforming how I think about dreams in a very good way.) May the consciousness alchemy in your life continue and thrive! ~ Raederle

  • I think most women are kind, too often maybe. I think we can also be ferocious. Sometimes we just need to. I think you’re right that “niceness” has become synonymous with naive and dull.

    It used to be admired to live a simple life, putting others first. “The meek shall inherit the earth” has become the meek deserve to be marginalized because they don’t ask for the things they need. The meek have become victims.

  • I was raised in the 60’s and was taught that it wasn’t lady-like to raise your voice or show anger. I was taught to mind adults and be modest and polite. I learned to not have an opinion and not talk back or defend myself. I learned to hide my feelings, be accommodating and have no desires. And I didn’t learn how to say no. It wasn’t until my 40’s that I heard Oprah talk about loving yourself. I thought it meant to be conceited and selfish. But Oprah said to LOVE yourself is to take CARE of yourself. That hit me like a ton of bricks. And so did your nice vs. kind piece. Thank you.

  • I’m in my 40s and I thought I was past some of this but I’m not. I was in the Wal-Mart parking lot the other day (I know, I know, but I live in a small town and there aren’t many places to go) and a man approached me out of the blue, and asked me if I could help start his car. I actually said yes! It was a full parking lot but no one was paying particular attention and he could have abducted me easily had he wanted to. He didn’t, but I was ashamed of how quick I was to dismiss my own reactions (fear, surprise, irritation at him accosting a lone woman in a parking lot–hello??) and to put his needs first! After a minute or so I got out of there but it just shows you how deeply ingrained this stuff is. My first reaction was to prioritize “niceness” over my own safety. 🙁

  • Asia,

    This is totally what I needed to read. Your words simply coalesce all the feelings that have been milling inside me around this issue into a beautiful crystalline picture of sense, grace and depth. Thank you. x

  • Asia,

    I needed this today and fortunately the universe lead me to this post. Thank you for your thoughtful words and kind heart.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *