“Shut up, old dummy!” The little girl’s angry outburst at the greeter in Wal-Mart was met with laughter from her family. The old man, for his part, was taken aback and visibly upset. After all, all he’d said to her was, “Hello, cutie. Welcome to Wal-Mart.”
Before anyone gets the idea that calling a girl under the age of 10 a “cutie” is in some way sexist, this is Alabama–a state where waitresses call customers “Darlin'” and “Honey” and the men call the women “Sugar.” This is the Deep South where these kinds of pet names are commonplace, not considered sexist, and nothing to be ashamed of–it’s how this world works and how it has worked for a very long time. It’s considered polite, not offensive.
But this outburst was different. The family in front of me didn’t correct their child’s behavior. They laughed and shrugged off what should have mortified mother and father alike. Something should have been said. A quick snap from either parent, telling the child “We don’t speak to people like that. Now, you apologize to this nice man.” was in order.
We live in a world of increasing “empowerment” for girls and women. In truth, that means we live in a world where women and girls are being allowed to behave badly–especially to men–in the public space. Girls are now being praised for being “sassy” when “sass” was once considered a vice.
Being a “mean girl” is now perceived as strength, and that’s not a good thing.
Without guidance from parents in proper etiquette (good manners), children will, like water, find the lowest ground. That is, they will always behave poorly unless given proper instruction in politeness.
What does this mean for the girl, though? Many things, none of them good, and all manifesting in the long-run.
Imagine a child who is never taught how to be kind to the elderly, or to members of a particular gender. What happens when that child becomes a young adult and gets their first job? What happens when that child has to go away to college? What happens when that child grows old?
In the west we’ve been fixated on “teaching boys to respect girls and women.” Yet little has been done to teach girls to respect men and boys. The end result will not be kind in years to come. Bad behavior is what it is and won’t be tolerated in the classroom, the shop floor, or the boardroom.
I watched the family as they shopped in Wal-Mart, our paths crossing several times in the grocery aisles. I saw more bad behavior. I noticed that the parents were thoroughly capable of verbally disciplining their child when it came to bad behaviors that were directed toward themselves. I wondered if they just felt themselves and their offspring superior to the people who worked at Wal-Mart and what lesson that would teach their child.
I wondered if she would grow up to be a good person, despite what her parents were teaching her….