What Is A Good Girl, Anyway?
Every woman I talk to groans, “Oh God, yeah, right?” when I talk about the social shoulds we women are literally heir to.
We know the Good Girl by our lifelong attempts to push her aside. We are all too familiar with holding back our opinions, hearing the internal messages that hold us back from our authenticity, judging ourselves harshly by a set of standards that are rarely, if ever, real.
So, we know her well. We make a mistake in thinking that she cannot be challenged or grown; she can. But first, we have to know the nature of our shared condition.
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys
In the 1980’s I started attending workshops to deal with “my issues”.
And eventually the question arose in me: Are these choices and responses of mine all “mine”? When it comes to feeling held back from saying “no” to someone who is pressuring me to take a job, or to have sex, or to agree to put money down on something I’m not quite sure about yet, what is that about? Why am I giving in when I would rather not? Why am I giving away my power?
Is it because my Uncle Saul or my Aunt Sally did some horrific thing to me when I was a kid, and now I don’t know how to say “no” in certain situations? Or is there something else going on here?
Our culture is well defined, much as it is being questioned right now by movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo and #TimesUp.
We know the standard setups: We know that men are paid 30% more than women. We know that the boss in any business has more power than his or her underlings, as well as the power to hire and fire. We know that the games of communicational power we play in the boardroom and the bedroom are subject also to what we wish to gain from the other, and what we have to gain or lose by the nature of any particular interaction.
The one with the least perceived power in any situation is the one who is going to be expected to yield. And that one usually does.
So, out of necessity the Good Girl learns to agree, to soft-soap an impassioned reaction, to keep her opinions to herself, and most damagingly to align herself psychologically and attitudinally with the system in looking at herself with judgmental harshness.
In other words, the Good Girl takes on the dysfunctionally narrower and more socially popular of masculine viewpoints rather than defining and enacting her own feminine viewpoints.
Have We Really Come a Long Way, Baby?
Show of hands! Any of you watch Mad Men?
I did. And we women loved to see how we have advanced over the years. But we also had to admit: not as much as all that.
The Mad Men values still prevail as a social norm, and those social norms impact us to the core. Take a look at Jean Kilbourne's work on the damage that is done to womens' self-esteem by the advertising world, and your eyes will open. Here is a short 15-minute introduction to her series called Killing Us Softly.
We haven't yet begun to challenge the ideological prison we not only live in, but have taken on as our identity in many ways.
Social idea: If you’re not pretty, you’re not desirable.
Impact/Reaction: I’m not pretty enough, like a model, no one will like me, and I should be grateful if anyone does.
Social idea: If you’re too opinionated, that’s unattractive and will cause some kind of retaliation.
Impact/Reaction: I have to wait and see what my boss thinks so I can measure what I can or shouldn’t say.
Social idea: If you’re too assertive, you’re being bossy, pushy and bitchy.
Impact/Reaction: If I say what I want or need, I’ll be perceived as bossy pushy or bitchy, and no one will like me. So I’ll just hold back and not even have a shot at asking for what I want or need.
In other words, the Good Girl is agreeable. She doesn't make waves unless it is in service to her family. The ideal is the same as it was in the 1950's: she is attractive, agreeable, entertaining, malleable, amenable, helpful, loving. What she isn't is opinionated, self-confident, goal-driven outside of the house, "overly" emotional, capable of independent thought and decision.
Abiding unquestioningly by these kinds of rules leaves a grown woman without her power and without her authentic life.
So, the first question we have to answer - and most I have spoken to answer a resounding "YES!" - is whether we would like to be able to challenge those rules and gain some freedom of self-expression and self-determination in our lives.
The next question will be how we do this. And that is where the crossroads of consciousness and action come together. When you understand and act in ways that stretch you, your Good Girl coveralls get holes in them.
And that's when you begin to get a great deal cleverer, and happier.