Teaching Our Daughters to "Know Their Place"

The other night, I ate sushi and drank $5 glasses of wine with a friend of mine, plus both of our toddlers. Every month or so, we try to make time for this new kind of girls' night (if you can even call 5:30 p.m. "nighttime"), and for the most part, it's great. Our girls giggle and cackle and all the sounds in-between while fumbling with edamame shells, licking soy sauce off each other's eager fingers, and shoving impressive bites of sticky rice into their mouths. My friend and I catch up, stopping and starting as we divvy up stickers and snacks the best we can between our two beautiful beasts. We talk about our lives; our work and our families and our friends in that jerky, mental-tennis-match mode that all moms know. And even though we've been doing this happy hour for at least a year now, it's only recently that we've gotten straight up mommy-shamed for deigning to bring our children out into what is apparently someone else's sacred half-price gyoza experience.

Y'all know what happened.

Around half an hour into our meal (which is usually when it turns into a floor-decorating party that we can only hope to slow, and for which we always tip extra), a very unhappy customer approached us to let us know that we were "terrible" and that our kids were "too loud," that we shouldn't bring them anywhere if we can't "control them." (If by "control them" you mean wave a magic wand that somehow renders them not 2 years old and not filled with joy, wonder, and sometimes anger or sorrow about being buckled into a plastic chair while attempting to drink soy sauce straight out of the bottle, then yes, you are right — we cannot do that. By the way, what kind of magic wand would that even be? A taser, maybe?)

I took a breath in and said, "I think they have as much a right to this restaurant as anyone else." It was at this point, I think, that any veneer of paternalistic "advice giving" shifted: dude was maaaaaad. He barked something else about us being "irresponsible" and the conversation (if you can call it one) quickly devolved into him informing us that his daughter goes to Harvard. By the way, is #ragebrag trending yet? Privately, I thought: our daughters are pretty sharp, too — just now, that one found a sticker and identified Mickey as a "mouse" off the bat, but I would say college is still a few years out. Then he threw in a "F*ck you!" as a goodbye — which I threw right back — and he was out the door, gone.


My friend and I turned to each other, firm in our unwillingness to accept banishment as the measure of our propriety, our parenting, or our understanding of the apparent fact that this part of our lives — you know, the one where we get to a) leave our homes and b) eat — is "over". This kind of verbal hit and run has happened before and will almost certainly happen again. And though I'm irritated by the judgment toward me, my friend, (and all moms actually — no matter what we do — it seems), that is not the heart of it.

The heart of it is this: we live in a society that polices women, perhaps especially moms and girls; that feeds the comfort level that this stranger felt to tell us, essentially, "Know your place. This is not it."

That is some bullsh*t, and I know sure as I am breathing that no one would speak to our husbands that way if the situation were reversed and this was a daddy-daughter hang instead. I wonder, too, what might be different if we had two loud and adorable sons sitting across from us? But that whole smorgasbord of sexism and double standards, I can deal with.

What I cannot deal with — what I will not stand for — is that message getting to my daughter. Every time some grumpy old man (or anyone else) attempts to tell my child to "know her place" or that she doesn't "belong" somewhere, they will hear from me. At least until she gets big enough and verbal enough that they get to hear it right from her. I'm not having any of it. Not "You're too loud," "You're too much," "You're taking up too much space" . . . if I hear that sh*t, we better be at a library, a funeral, or someone else's solo dance recital.

I'm not having any of it. Not "You're too loud," "You're too much," "You're taking up too much space."

I will not teach my daughter to hide, to shrink, or to wrap herself around what somebody else deems good, nice, or appropriate. And I will do all that I can to make sure no one else teaches her that convenient set of lies, either. Because freedom and expression, her right to simply be present (and within that, to have feelings, opinions, and make sounds); these things are her birthright. They are all children's.

And if two kids holding hands and singing the joy of dumplings makes you mad, you're probably the assh*le. I'll be the one to teach her "her place," thank you very much — her place is in the world. So is mine.