“Be a good girl,” I said to my daughter as I hugged her goodbye this morning.
As I kissed her on the cheek, I heard the words echo in my consciousness and suddenly remembered having my arms pinned behind my back as the same words were whispered in my ear.
“Be a good girl, and do what I tell you.”
I was 14, and in that liminal Lolita world between thinking like a child and looking like a woman. He used those words on me when he pushed me into the deep end of his family swimming pool, and pinned me against the tile with the pretty floral pattern.
“Be a good girl, and do what I say.”
Which I did.
Which is why to this day the smell of chlorine makes me sick to my stomach.
This scene from childhood is rarely dredged up — but it’s been on my mind while I’ve been glued to the Dylan Farrow/Woody Allen tragedy like a gruesome train-wreck.
The words I heard are the same ones Dylan Farrow claims Woody Allen used on her:
“I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl….”
Whether you think Woody Allen is guilty or you believe Mia Farrow manipulated her daughter into believing something hideous happened in that dark attic when Dylan was seven years old, there’s a reason why that phrase is a part of the narrative: “Be good” is too often heard by the victims of sexual abuse.
“Be a good girl, and don’t tell anyone.”
“Be a good boy, and don’t cry.”
When did I first hear these words? I can’t remember — they’re ingrained in my genetic memory through fairy tales, and goodnight prayers. Good girls do what they’re told. They follow the rules. They listen to grownups.
And I did. I raised my hand before speaking.
I didn’t question authority.
I didn’t kick or bite or scream when I clung to the deep end of the swimming pool.
I was a good girl.
And here I am, on parenting auto-pilot using these words on my almost-six-year-old little girl. My almost-six-year-old with the pink cheeks and shining eyes, with the cascade of bronze curls that tangle at the end, with the chubby knees and the pianist’s fingers.
My almost-six-year-old who nods her head and does as she’s told.
My almost-six-year-old who will one day be listening to the song “Blurred Lines” and hear, “I know you want it, I know you want it, but you’re a good girl.”
I am drawing my own line at the phrase, “Be a good girl.” I don’t want that for my daughter. I want her to be kind. And brave. And honest. I want her to stand up for others, and live with compassion. And I want her to always question what she’s taught — by others, and by me.
Because beyond the way these words can be potentially warped and wielded on our children by predators, we need our kids to speak up, to question the rules, to be resilient.
So as I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her again, I said:
“You know what? Forget about being good. You are already a kind, brave, compassionate girl. Have a great day, ask lots of questions, and just be yourself. You’ll do great.”
As a former good girl trying to be a good mom, my lesson learned the hard way is one I hope she won’t need.
“Speak up little girl, and give ’em hell,” I whisper as much to myself as to my daughter as I watch her walk away. “I have your back and I trust you. Let no one else define your goodness, you’re great just the way you are.”