My brother linked me a parenting article this weekend that talked about how parents should choose their daughter's friends. The quote below the title is this:
We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues.
When I read that statement my reaction is to think 'wow, these people really ought to stop helicoptering so damn much and just let the kid be'. The author's conclusion was that parents should micromanage and meddle even more, carefully making sure their daughters circle of friends is firmly under the control of the parents.
To be fair, this article is posted on faithit.com, and from a brief glance at the writing there it is a safe bet I would be happy to set all of their articles on fire for one reason or another. However, I don't think this is just an issue of religion, but rather one of feminist principle.
In the article the mother in question decided that her daughter absolutely had to be friends with a new girl in her class and forced her to start that process. The story concludes with the two girls being good friends for years, which is fine and all, but I really worry about what message this sort of thing sends in the long run.
Women are socialized to be accommodating and nice. They are expected to be the ones that smooth over social situations, putting their own desires after that of others. There is already too much pressure put on women to let men get away with all kinds of crap and I really wouldn't want to contribute to that pressure. When we say to a young girl that she must accept someone into her social circle, give them time and energy, listen to their story, and place their needs above her own, we condition that young girl to do the same in adulthood.
When these young girls grow up they are going to be subject to harassment from men who feel entitled to their attention, time, energy, or bodies. Sometimes it is going to be catcalling, sometimes it will be sexual harassment at work, and sometimes it will be crappy behaviour at social events. The message I want my daughter to have internalized is that she should be decent to people, but that she does not owe them friendship, love, relationships, service, or intimacy. When walking down the street you have an obligation to not randomly punch people, but you do not have any obligation to sit down and have a chat with them either.
People do not have the right to demand your friendship. It is all well and good to be pleasant to people at first, and to avoid being cruel to those who do not have a support network, but in the end you get to decide who your friends are. Teaching children that others will decide who they associate with and that they should not expect to be able to set their own boundaries is a recipe for disaster in later life, both in friendships and in romantic relationships.
There is a crucial difference between encouragement and forcing. When I have heard about other children who are struggling to find friends in school and I thought Pinkie Pie might enjoy their company I have encouraged her to talk to them. If they are lonely then both children might really benefit from spending time together. But I won't make her to do it. I will give her the information, a bit of encouragement, and the freedom to choose. Figuring out who to be friends with is tricky, but it is a thing everyone needs to learn, and you don't learn much with someone else making all of the decisions for you.