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