Here’s a question for parents of little girls: do you encourage your daughters to say thank you when strangers tell them they look pretty? I am really resistant to doing so because I think it’s training them to expect and tolerate unsolicited comments on their looks, to learn to ‘take a compliment’ — basically preparing them for a lifetime of sexual harassment. At the same time, I don’t want my daughter to be seen as rude — for her own sake as much as anybody else’s — and it’s a thin line between teaching politeness and teaching submissiveness. Sometimes I can’t even tell the difference myself, so how do I explain it to a four year old?
For me this is further complicated by being a middle class white woman in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Crown Heights. I sometimes worry that not saying thank you could be perceived as snobbish if not racist. This is also something I have NO IDEA how to even begin to explain to a four year old.
I know that people mean well when they make these comments to little girls, and I know that some people will be thinking I should stop overanalyzing and just, well, take a compliment. But I don’t think these comments are harmless, because the “pretty” comments will turn to “sexy” comments before we know it, and because we don’t train our little boys to be polite in the face of the never-ending barrage of comments on their looks. I don’t want to teach my daughter that either.