I have to admit I was a bit taken aback the first time I heard my daughter being described as “sassy.” It was as if somehow in just a millisecond I recognized that my toddler was now being subjected or held to some unachievable standard. Perhaps I would be less inclined to hop on the feminist bandwagon if my son had ever once been coined “sassy” but no, only “determined” or “analytical.” I clearly remember witnessing the same exact behaviors when my son was a toddler – like being demanding or throwing a tantrum over a toy being taken away.
The continual perpetuation of treating or describing children differently based on gender from such a young age is just baffling to me. So why do we ascribe the behavior of the littlest of girls to that of being emotionally involved or having some kind of character defect?
Sassy. Bossy. Indecisive.
Strong. Willed. Logical.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of sassy is, “(disapproving) (especially of children) rude; showing a lack of respect.” **To be clear, I’m not referencing the colloquial use of “sassy” in the fashionable context as that meaning is quite different.
This definitely isn’t the first encounter that I’ve had with the word sassy or similar derivatives. I distinctly remember sitting in a weekly meeting of the Girl Scouts of all places and being told by a female troop leader that I was much too sassy for my own good. An organization that prides itself on building future leaders was unable to distinguish my own ability to be decisive and take control of a situation when others were unwilling or unable to step up. I fully remember the sting of her condescending tone even though I was too young to understand why it bothered me so much.
The worst part is these continual micro-aggressions often cause further inequities as now the next time that girl is placed in a similar situation, she might opt to back down and relinquish a role as not wanting to be labeled as too opinionated or aggressive.
I want to raise a strong-willed daughter to believe in herself and her choices.
Yet, these are the same attributes that we look for in roles of leadership like a captain on the sports field. While I’m speaking very generally, it just has simply been my experience that girls are continually encouraged to step down and allow others to coexist in their space, but boys are reminded to stand their ground. I don’t want to perpetuate these stereotypes … I just want to create a mechanism for which to understand how I can speak to my children and allow them to both hear the same message.