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No More Nice Girls

Hijacking the backhanded “compliments” that have been bumming me out.

To give sweetness back some of its former glory, think of it as a form of compassion. Compassion is a real, deeply felt understanding of the fact that everyone in this world experiences pain, and that pain always sucks, for everybody. It’s an honest desire to help other people get through their pain, to lessen it or prevent it, when and how you can.

You can be kind to others without being polite to everyone all the time; and you can be outspoken, demanding, and downright disagreeable without being a bad person or a “mean girl” (another epithet that’s flung around to oppress girls—do you ever hear anyone being called a “mean boy”?).

Another wonderful thing about compassion is that the more you live and get scuffed up by life, the more it can grow. Every hard day you’ve ever had, every hurt or trauma you’ve experienced, is actually a strange kind of blessing; it’s a door into the suffering experienced by other people, a chance for you to realize, even when you’re overwhelmed by your own pain, that this is what it’s like for other people, too. Pain is terrible, and you shouldn’t seek it out. But when it happens—and it always happens, to everyone—it can help to realize that, through this pain, you are learning about a part of the human experience that you will one day be uniquely qualified to help other people survive.

Pretty → Confident

Oh, “pretty.” Where would I be without you? I would be living a far more centered and less insecure life, without the memories of that one year in college when I pretty much ate only tuna salad sandwiches without mayonnaise in the tuna salad, and also I would pick the bread off, and people would kindly tell me that I “looked tired” almost every day, probably because I was somehow surviving on two to three handfuls a day of celery and cold tuna. That is where I’d be, without the concept of “pretty.”

Again: There is nothing wrong with being pretty! Pretty things are pleasant to look at. The problem comes when “pretty” means “a female human that a male-dominated culture has deemed fuckable,” which is what it has come to mean under that same male-dominated culture. But pretty doesn’t have to mean a person with genetically assigned perfectly symmetrical features and a body that is thin but curvy and that doesn’t need to use a wheelchair to get around, and who is graceful and young and preferably blond, doe-eyed, and white. If you have ever been in love, you know that at the height of it the object of your affections was the most beautiful sight in the world to you, right? So you have to acknowledge that there is a culturally understood definition of what’s pretty, and then there’s what all of us weird, complicated human beings actually find pretty, and those two sets do not line up. Attraction is subject to powerful, mysterious forces way beyond the scope of the dominant beauty ideal. It’s a good idea to tune in to those forces, the ones that tell you what you want and what makes you happy, and turn the volume way down on (a) what everyone else thinks you should want, and (b) what you imagine other people think of you. And while you’re at it, try to think less about how you look, and more about how you feel. (This is not always easy, I know, especially if you are a teenage girl on planet earth.)

To do all this, you need confidence, which, like compassion, is something you gain by living. The more you get to know the specific person you are, the more qualified you’ll be to realize both what you want and what makes you worth wanting.

Innocent → Learning

Innocence, as I say, is often used to mean “seems young and vulnerable in a manner that would allow me to get away with wacky bullcrap and never once get called out.” The people who are attracted to that are, not surprisingly, the kind of people who are really super into getting away with wacky bullcrap, which is why telling girls to aspire to that version of “innocent” is basically like saying “the zoo is much more fun when you actually climb into the tiger exhibit.”

But young? Vulnerable? Those things are awesome. They mean you’re open to experience. You’re not set in your ways. You’re still figuring things out, which means you’re thoughtful, and that you have the confidence to change your mind. You’re not less than anyone else just because you haven’t been around as long as they have. Your mind is alive to and engaged in the world in a way that’s hard to hold on to later in life. You’re learning.

The idea that girls are supposed to stay “pure” is a trap designed to keep you from getting out there and exploring the world—because, you’re told, it will only rough you up, dirty up your soul, sully you, make you less. But learning is not a trap. It means that you’re standing in front of failure and embarrassment and disappointment—and joy, and surprise, and all the good things that come with experience—and you’re ready for them. That you’re not afraid to explore. It means you’re ready to grow up, even when that process scares you. I can’t think of anything braver or more powerful than that. ♦


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  • stelliform April 4th, 2013 7:19 PM

    Fantastic article!! Thank you!

  • Annie at Cher Ami April 4th, 2013 7:35 PM

    This is such a great article Sady, I completely agree with how about how society has made us view men and women as completely different personality types, just because a girl isn’t called ‘pretty’ or ‘sweet’ by her peers, it doesn’t mean she’s worthless! I think we need to change the definitions of these words, and Riley is amazing too! Annie x

  • o-girl April 4th, 2013 7:42 PM

    Exactly what I need right now, thank you SO much. Your pieces are always perf.

  • queenofgeeks April 4th, 2013 7:45 PM

    This article is incredibly relatable. I’m really tired of guys calling me innocent and using that to their advantage. I’m really really tired of guys wrapping their arms around my waist or stroking my thigh without my permission. While reading this, I was thinking of a “romantic exploit” and wondered, why did I think I was supposed to return his affections because he liked me? Why didn’t I feel like I could just say “No, I’m not into you”. I thought that because I didn’t hate him, I was supposed to go out with him because he liked me. Ugh.

  • spudzine April 4th, 2013 7:53 PM

    Let me just start this off by saying that THIS IS TOTALLY ME. For real, though. I mean, I’m recovering from some honest traumatic experiences, and I could say that if you fail, IT’S OKAY. if you succeed, IT’S OKAY. No matter what happens to you, or what mistakes you’ve made, IT’S OKAY. Why? I’ve been building my confidence not in order to please people, but to please myself. And honestly, the only way I have ever felt good in this world is when I DON’T GIVE A FUCK. So, what I’m saying is, is when you stop caring about what others think of you and stick to an image that makes you feel happy, then be that person. Be YOU. Confidence is really just being happy. With yourself and with life in general. Once you’re happy, and you no longer give a fuck, then BAM, you’re confident. That’s how it works for me.


    • marthaflatley April 5th, 2013 12:11 AM

      dude, you are kind of brilliant for saying this. this is the best explanation of confidence i’ve ever heard. great article too!

    • mulberry April 7th, 2013 4:22 AM

      THANK YOU. This is ridonculously perfect.

  • 062131 April 4th, 2013 8:11 PM

    I love this so much.

  • jenaimarley April 4th, 2013 8:23 PM

    So beautifully put.
    You are such an inspiring person, Sady!

  • Tayhla April 4th, 2013 8:44 PM

    OH I know what this is like!! it’s happening to me all the time now at college.

    I am rather compassionate, so when I am nice to people who aren’t great at picking up on social cues or who are usually left out by most groups, like a lot of international students, I ended up with them fawning over me!
    Its creepy and I don’t like it, yet I find it difficult to explain to these guys why they should back off. They really don’t understand the social norms or that it is very weird and uncomfortable to stare at me all the time, or to tell me incessantly “you’re my favourite specimen of person”….

    I don’t know how to deal with it, actually. But mostly I just try to avoid these guys, who at first I put in effort to make them feel socially included. :P

  • Narnia April 4th, 2013 8:49 PM

    All the awards to you and this article, Sady! I can not tell you how outraged I get when I hear people’s views on women at school (and even at home). Another word I dislike is “ladylike”? “You’re not being very ladylike” WTF IS THAT SUPPOSED TO MEAN? Stop categorizing women as the equilvilent of paper doilies. if i want to see with my legs uncrossed and you can’t stop staring up my skirt/at my crotch then maybe the problem is you not me. also dictating how one should act according to gender is a (quiet) form of fascism.

  • laurajane April 4th, 2013 10:32 PM

    I needed this. I’m the one of the “nice, innocent, quiet girls” and just yes. Amazing article!

  • Paprika April 4th, 2013 11:19 PM

    Great article, I really needed this! I’m only 17 and I’m already feeling feminist exhaustion, this sharp critique of patriarchal society helped with some of my frustration. I’m tired of people saying that “The Patriarchy” doesn’t exist when we clearly live in a patriarchal society.

  • Katherine April 4th, 2013 11:26 PM

    I love this because I feel this so much. In my aikido training, I have a hard time performing punches because I can’t shake the feeling that it’s not nice to punch, even in an instance when punching is necessary.

    My only quibble is with the point on dolls. They can act upon the world just as much as trucks or other “boy” toys, depending on how you play with them, and can be used to teach children about many important issues, such as gay rights.

    It’s upsetting how a girl who plays with trucks and toy guns is applauded for breaking gender stereotypes, whereas a boy who plays with dolls is mocked.

    • sissiLOL April 5th, 2013 3:27 AM

      Right this article and your comment!

    • Anaheed April 5th, 2013 4:03 AM

      That’s a good point. (And I want to make clear that that line was my idea, not Sady’s. Sady is not the dumb-dumb! ’Tis me!)

      • Molly April 5th, 2013 8:22 PM

        Yeah I agree with you, Katherine. I’ve been wondering about the fact that boys can’t play with dolls because it’s too feminine for the average Tough Guy to do, but a girl who plays with trucks and guns, like I did, is praised for doing something that men usually do. I’ve never really thought about much, but now I think that, nowadays, the word feminine is used as a synonym for weak, which (in the meaning that it originally had) it is because be feminine has always bee

        • Molly April 5th, 2013 8:28 PM

          sorry I wasn’t done. You people at Wherever your Rookie HQ is must be pissed at me, but I was saying that being feminine has always been thought of as the lesser alternative to being masculine– or in other words, manly– because women have never been given a chance to actually play a part in politics and such that the most respectable man is expected to immerse hisself in. We’ve always had to earn our still-developing path into being taken seriously. So maybe this means that we need a new word for the way that women are, like maybe: Awesome.

    • Runaway April 9th, 2013 10:46 AM

      I think our patriarchal society is OK with girls who break gender stereotypes because it can be considered as a form of flattery: ‘girls try to act like us men because we are better than them’. (Anyway, it’s not that cool if you carry that line of conduct into adulthood; somewhere along the way you are expected to go from ‘tomboy’ to ‘lady’).
      So, girls are seen as trying to be better, like those on top of the social ladder (men), but why would a boy want to act like a woman? I think society see that as unnatural, because boys are by birth above us girls. It’s OK to aspire to be on top of the social ladder, but why try to do the opposite? I think that’s the line of reasoning behind all that.

  • AliceS April 5th, 2013 5:26 AM

    Great article. Really great. And I was like Riley when I was a child and I’m still question myself and the people around me about the same issues.


  • Vasia April 5th, 2013 5:54 AM

    Once again, great article Sady!!!
    However, I was under the impression that you did go to high school. Didn’t you write an article about your experience? I think it’s called “Great Expectations”.

  • zoeah April 5th, 2013 7:39 AM

    Such an amazing article! I can totally relate to this. I’m quite petite and a bit vertically challenged, so I often get guys assuming I’m incapable of doing stuff. I used to counteract this by acting ‘strong’, ‘tough’ and ‘boyish’ but I really felt like I was trying to prove something all the time. I think that one of the greatest insecurities that many of us still have, once we start to consider ourselves ‘confident’, is the fear that someone will realise we aren’t as secure as we seem. Thank you Sady for pointing out how it’s totally ok to be vulnerable, and show it, yet be confident and badass at the same time!

  • LouderBlues April 5th, 2013 8:45 AM

    Uuugh this is soo me! I absolutley hated it when people told me I was innocent, it felt like they were laughing at me or something…but what I was (and still am) was socially awkward.
    At least I knew I had to push that type of guys away, though I never did it in a “graceful” way…I need to learn how to reject people properly!

  • kimberleighrc April 5th, 2013 9:23 AM

    This article is excellent. I love the idea of transforming those “virtuous” attributes into something we can really own. A great re-imagining of femininity, to borrow from second-wavers.

  • wallflower152 April 5th, 2013 10:21 AM

    I love Riley! I saw that vid tweeted by Feministing and I was like…that’s totally my future daughter/son. But most importantly this is a GREAT article! I need to hear this sort of thing cuz I’m the kind of person that doesn’t state my needs enough. Kinda because I’m shy and kinda because I don’t like conflict but probably also cuz of the reasons stated in the article that I think that I’m supposed to be “sweet.” When I was younger I didn’t have a lot of friends so the friends I did have I let them walk all over me and same thing with boyfriends. I’m way better than I used to be but I still need to improve a lot. So thanks for the encouraging article! : )

  • Sunshine April 5th, 2013 10:38 AM

    Amazing article. Haha, this is so me. I was homeschooled & then thrown into public high school. I get the whole “you’re so sweet and innocent…awww :D” all the time…and I’m just like… “………………..’”

  • girlhero April 5th, 2013 1:03 PM

    best article on rookie, i want your name tattooed on my neck Sady

  • flocha April 5th, 2013 3:57 PM

    Riley is officially my new hero.

  • Elva April 5th, 2013 5:38 PM

    thanks for this! put words to my feelings really well. i love your articles.

  • Molly April 5th, 2013 8:03 PM

    Just recently I heard about how people are saying that women are not as good at working as men are because we ” cause too many problems”. But I think that it’s really because we have been driven to the point that we feel we always need to prove ourselves. Most men are such “good” workers because the typical stereotype for a man is that you are strong and proud, and a desirable women must never be that. We’re always expected to be frail and sweet and we can never argue. If we’re anything but nice all the time, everyone thinks we’re being uncooperative and because we don’t live up to everyone else’s low standards we’re labeled as bitchy and mean. But I think the truth is that most men don’t ever want to have it be that a woman could be stronger than him.

  • thecoolcustomer April 6th, 2013 7:10 AM

    This is such a great, informitive article..I am thirteen years old and most of my friends are at the age where they are crushing on people and giggling about things most would deem inappropriate and trying to top each other with experiences and knowledge about the inappropriate things. If anyone is like, ‘whats that?’ or ‘what does that mean?’ then they are immediatley classed as innocent and everyone thinks they are so much more grown up and sussed, they don’t even bother telling them without giggling and exchanging ‘oh my goddd!’ glances.

  • Ellie G April 6th, 2013 5:00 PM

    Great article! I know I often have this trouble where I feel like I have to always be nice all the time, and if I call someone out on something or do anything rude or impolite ever, I have soiled my niceness and become a bad person, like there’s no balance.
    And not being able to find that place where you can be compassionate and and caring and still stand up for yourself and others, rather than being either a) a pushover with no desires of your own or b) a constantly callous and insulting, violent person.
    And I guess a lot of that comes from the idealization of girls, and the pressure to be this perfect person, where being a perfect person means you let everyone do what they want to you.

  • limegreensunset April 6th, 2013 7:40 PM

    this. this so much.


  • Lacenailsmermaidtails April 8th, 2013 5:49 PM

    This child..she is speaking the truth and it’s hilarious. Wish she could be my kid! <3

  • ItsKelsey April 9th, 2013 12:30 PM

    I feel like I am headed towards the same place as you, Sandy.

    Growing up I always thought I had to be quiet, smart, nice, and helpful to the people who never spoke to me unless they needed help with schoolwork. And of course in my case, “nice” was helping people endlessly but not getting anything at all in return. I would send everyone tricked-out valentines loaded with stuff every single year and I only got about 12 back. Even in high school, I sent all of my friends candy canes for christmas and I never recieved any back. Basically I was an unloved doormat.

    I thought I was happy but I am realizing as I grow up that this isn’t what happy feels like. At work, when someone took credit for my idea I actually stated that I was the one who thought of it (they went on about it three times before this). It is so stupid that I am wired to feel bad about correcting someone and taking credit for myself and my ideas. But I’m starting to realize that my ideas are great and so is my worth as a friend and a person so if anyone wants to be in my life they need to treat me as such.

    I would hate to be 90 and look back only to see how many regrets I had like not telling that gross guy at the bar “I’m not going to smile for you” or telling another guy that “I don’t want to kiss you” doesn’t mean “buy me a drink and we’ll see”.

    I actually feel like I’m at a turning point and it feels really good.

  • neenbean May 3rd, 2013 12:36 AM

    This is such a fantastic article. I feel so good after reading it. The emphasis on being pretty needs to change into being confident, because who wants to strive to fit a boring old beauty ideal anyway? <3

    I hate that men often feel they have a right to touch and grope our bodies when we are young, no matter how "innocent" their actions may seem.


  • Floey June 5th, 2013 2:42 PM

    I really love this article. It means a lot because I’m forever being called sweet/innocent/lovely/cute (that’s the one that really gets me) etc. I know all these things (maybe not the ‘innocent’) are compliments but it just makes my blood boil. But it’s hard to retort, I find, because if someone calls you a bitch/slut/jerk/idiot etc you can easily turn around and defend yourself and no one bats an eyelid but when someone calls you ‘cute’ you can’t really give them a mouthful. I get so annoyed about these ‘compliments’ because to be honest I can’t see their origin. I am petite, blonde and a nice person. Does that make me weak and childish? I’m sure other people can vouch for this, but don’t you just feel like slapping someone round the face when they claim you are ‘too innocent’ to do/hear something? I find that this is what gets to me the most (strangely I’d rather be called a bitch/slut because those labels have a bit more strength to them) because it’s so hard to defend yourself without seeming unnecessarily moody, as this perception of the ‘cute’ you doesn’t allow for any protest. You are ‘cute’ and ‘likeable’ and ‘sweet’ and ‘lovely’. If I’ve learnt anything from school it’s that from now on when I meet new people I need to show my strength almost immediately or I’ll be forever condemned to a life of ‘sweet’ just because of my friendliness and appearance.