“I wish I could have an apple right now.”
These words from “Emmie’s” mouth make my jaw and upper-body muscles contract, as if someone who’d never touched a violin before just picked one up and began to scratch the bow across the strings. It’s not the desire for an apple that grates on me. The wish could be anything: a hankering to play outside, to watch a TV show, to wear a just-purchased pair of shoes.
What drives me nuts is the way Emmie asks for what she wants–or, rather, the way she doesn’t ask. She doesn’t make a direct request. As she’s been doing since the age of five, she floats a wish into the air and waits to see if it will be fulfilled.
Who taught her this passive behavior? Who trained her not to express her desire for what she wants? And why is it that I only hear this form of request from my daughter? I’ve never heard my son ask for something concrete this way.
Maybe I’m overreacting to what is simply a childish peculiarity of speech that will dissipate over time. But the feminist in me can’t keep from cringing each time my daughter’s simple request to, say, play a game emerges in the form of a princess-in-need-of-saving asking a genie to fulfill a wish. Somehow, my daughter seems to have absorbed the language and behavior of the helpless maiden, and that’s not the role I want my daughter to play in life.
I want my both my daughter and my son to work hard to obtain the things they seek in the world, and, when appropriate, to ask for what they desire. So over the past few years, I’ve tried gently to coach Emmie away from the fluttering-eyelash, wish-floating expression of her wants and toward making direct requests.
“Emmie,” I say in a soft voice to make sure she knows I’m teaching, not scolding, “if you would like an apple, can you ask me for it with a question?”
She dutifully rephrases her request, not really understanding why except that her mother has asked her to do it. As far as she’s concerned, I’m instructing her in one of those lessons about manners, like saying “please” and “thank you.” And given how difficult it would be to explain the importance of feminine assertiveness to a now eight-year-old, I’m content to leave it at that, for now.
Only recently has the “I wish” language begun to fall off a bit from Emmie’s speech. I still wonder where it came from, whether it was peers or media or some other influence that taught this passive expression to her. I wonder, too, what other societal lessons offered to girls we’ll encounter in the future. Here’s hoping they will all be this easy to spot and combat.