A few days ago while scrolling down social media I came across a visual with these powerful words: Teach girls to prioritize feeling safe over being nice.
I was happy that this idea was entering the mainstream, especially that for as long as I have been a mother to a girl, I have been adamant on teaching her about her safety, and in turn explaining to our relatives about their limits with her and how not to push her for unwanted cuddles. To some, it might seem uncalled for, but let me explain why I do this and why the aforementioned quote is something all mothers need to keep in mind.
We are all raised on the concept of “stranger danger”, and only in the last couple of decades have we been aware that sometimes the danger lies within a close circle. I don’t want to get into a taboo subject in this article, but rather want to briefly explain that with both immediate family, distant relatives and strangers, a little girl should be taught to be safe rather than courteous. Being polite is something we all strive our children to be, but in an Eastern tradition where affection and hospitality are key, it is essential to teach our daughters that it is ok to refuse being nice when they don’t feel like it. Allow me to elaborate. In our local culture, every man whether a relative or a friend is dubbed “3ammo”, and it’s a term used to bring this (un)known man into a friendly light. However, our daughters do not always need to “sit on 3ammo’s lap” or “give 3ammo a kiss”. Our daughters (and sons) have the right to refuse being nice, should not be forced to do something they don’t want to, and have ownership of their bodies and actions. Therefore, feeling safe is given priority. Acting on the above quote is a process and takes time getting used to. It means that when an older relative asks your child to give them a kiss and they do not want to, you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or at a loss for words, merely explain to the shocked person that you are with your child on this and you are explaining to them about safety and personal limits.
Maria Hage-Boutros Najem