Who Are You Calling a Brat?

By Jahleese Ladson on Mon, 09/03/2012 - 23:00

Jahleese Ladson contemplates the double standard regarding spoiled behavior in boys and girls.

In my family, everyone says that Saniya is spoiled. And honestly, she is. It’s no surprise to me though. My niece is seven years old and an only child. Raised in a household where she has had constant access to not only her mother but both grandparents, and an aunt and uncle --and being cute as a button to boot-- she has gotten away with a lot more mischief than the average child over the years.

In my opinion, she is a typical child. She can be extremely helpful at times and unwilling to cooperate at others. She is as quick to aggressively defend her peers as she is to antagonize them herself. She is very headstrong, and while she is developing an acute sense of self, it is tinged with insecurity. Like any normal child, she can be obstinate, and because she is “spoiled," she is obstinate more often than not.

It’s an annoying character trait to deal with on a regular basis, but to be both blunt and fair, we made her this way. So it was not surprising to me when a few weeks ago while visiting my mother’s home, I witnessed a disagreement between Saniya and her grandmother (my mom).

My mother had asked Saniya to pick her things up from the living room floor and put them into her room. Interrupted while watching a Disney channel sitcom, Saniya grudgingly picked up her items but balked when asked to pick up some socks that did not belong to her. Angered at her stubborn disobedience, my mother threatened to punish Saniya if she did not do what she was told, and Saniya made her displeasure with the situation abundantly and audibly clear through grumbles and stomping.

This kind of thing happens regularly.

My mother exclaimed, “She is so spoiled!” To which, I replied, “You know who she sounds like when she does that, right? Poppa.”

Poppa (a.k.a. David) is my younger brother by 10 years. The youngest sibling and long-awaited only son, he has had a upbringing similar to Saniya’s. He’s fourteen and spoiled.

Given how similar they are to one another, I expected my mother to acquiesce to my explanation of Saniya’s behavior. Instead, I was shocked when she nodded and said, “Yeah, I know. But it’s worse because she’s a girl.”

In seconds, my mind produced dozens of questions. What does spoiled behavior look like in a boy versus a girl? Saniya’s model of behavior is a male child who is not regularly chastised for his behavior, but she is discouraged from exhibiting the same behaviors that he does. Why is that? Are generational differences driving this double standard in gender roles and expectations? Is this a question of gender at all? If so, then why? How does my mother’s relationship to my brother as her son versus her relationship to my niece as her granddaughter affect the way she views Saniya’s behavior?

My inner ultra-supersonic-lightning-power, feminist revolted and I prematurely blasted my mother for her statement. I insinuated that she was a sexist and that my niece’s behavior was her fault.

Bad idea.

My impulsive response cost me the opportunity to have what could have been a interesting conversation with my mother about her motivations as a parent and grandparent and her perspective on gender roles given our generational differences. And that conversation just might have provided answers to the questions her statement had elicited. 

brilliant insight

I enjoyed reading your article, and I particularly enjoyed seeing your keen insight into how your quick response instigated conflict and how the situation could have provided an opportunity for critical dialogue.

Please draft another post to expound on this story. It is very difficult to remain clear when our emotions are fired up. I fall victim to that more than I would like. I'm trying to come up with a way to train my brain to stop (perhaps some buzz word I say to myself over and over) and pause before speaking when moments like this occur. This is not to say that I want to avoid conflict, rather I want to navigate it successfully. I would love others insight on techniques they have found useful.

ps: Saniya is pretty cute!

I love this! I have had many

I love this! I have had many experiences similar to this. It bugs me that there are different standards for boys and girls. just as you explained. You did a great job portraying this issue!

This is very well written and

This is very well written and a great example of the gender gap in today's society....I enjoyed reading it and can relate with you :)

How does your sister feel

How does your sister feel about your writing an essay regarding her "spoiled" daughter and the way she is being raised? How do you think your mother felt about your comments about her "sexist" attitude when she was actually getting her granddaughter to take responsibility for her actions and clean up her own mess? It's easy to sit in judgement of other mothers, but it's very hard to be a parent. As women we need to build each other up, not tear each other down.

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