The Curse of the Good Girl (thoughts)
This was supposed to post this morning, but since my internet thing-y (whatever it is that runs our wireless network) wasn’t working, it had to wait. :( This topic if very important to me, however, so I’ll make sure it’s at the top of the blog for twenty-four hours! -Eva
Hello. My name is Eva, and I’m a Good Girl grown up. As you might gather from the title of Rachel Simmons’ new book, The Curse of the Good Girl, this isn’t a great thing. Let me back up a little. I haven’t done a book tour all year, but when Trish e-mailed me offering me this title, I couldn’t resist. Back in March, as part of my celebration of women’s history, I read a whole bunch of feminist books on women in US society, and I loved it. Since then, whenever a book comes along that deals with girls or women, I want to read it right way!
Rachel Simmons published Odd Girl Out several years ago, in which she reveals the ‘hidden agression’ of schoolgirls. Now, she’s back, to explain to mothers the difference betwen Good Girls and authentic girls, and how to help their daughters become the latter.
Here’s Simmons’ description of a Good Girl, based on lists she had actual girls write, from the introduction:
The Good Girl was socially and academically successful, smart and driven, pretty and kind. But she was also an individual who aimed to please (people pleaser), toed the line (no opinion on things) and didn’t take risks (follows the rules). She repressed what she really thought (doesn’t get bad) and did not handle her mistakes with humor (Has to do everything right). The Good Girl walked a treacherous line, balancing mixed messages about how far she should go and how strong she should be; she was to be enthusiastic while being quiet; smart with no opinions on things; intelligent by a follower; popular but quiet. She would be something, but not too much.
Sound familiar? Now I’m not a ‘perfect’ Good Girl: I’ve always had strong opinions and been willing to fight for them, and in most environments I’m not a huge people-pleaser.
But then Simmons got into the specifics, about how Good Girls tend to shut down when hearing ‘negative’ feedback, because even a bit of criticism seems like the end of the world. Then the next chapter mentioned how Good Girls often have trouble in the real world post-school, because their unwillingness to promote themselves, their preference for hinting at their desires instead of coming out and asking, their unwillingness to risk making a mistake, harms them in the corporate world. And I began to see more than a little bit of myself; I hate networking, and my dad is constantly wondering why I sell myself short.
Simmons does a good job of describing the Good Girl psychology and its effects. Her style is simple and straight-forward; nothing fancy in the prose, but it does read quickly. Since Simmons works with real girls, there are lots of quotes and real stories from them. I loved this: getting to know the girls and their families, their histories, was just so neat. A peek back into adolescence! Nonetheless, I did worry a bit about the lack of larger studies, the lack of any footnotes or endnotes or bibliography. Most of Simmons’ conclusions appear to be drawn from her personal experience and knowledge of girls, while I would have liked to see more academic work to back up her theories. That being said, since I often saw myself, my friends, and my female family members in her various descriptions, it still rings true for me.
While the first half of the book explains the harm to your daughter of being a Good Girl, the second half goes on to give tips (primarily geared towards mothers) to help your daughter out of the Good Girl stereotype. Since I’m not a parent, I found it more difficult to evaluate all of the advice included. But then I remembered that though I’m not a mother, I certainly am a daughter. So I cast myself back to those not-so-fun adolescent years, and imagined my mom coming to me with these exercises (which include a lot of role play). I imagined myself scoffing at first and making a ton of caustic comments (I was the Queen of Sarcasm in high school-I swear 80% of the words out of my mouth at that time were sarcastic). There would definitely be eye rolling. But at the same time, if my mom persisted, I would be a little curious, and I think in the end they would have helped me.
I’d highly recommend The Curse of the Good Girl for anyone with an American daughter (Simmons discussions girls from a variety of cultural backgrounds, but most of the book focuses on the comfortable middle and upper classes) who they want to help navigate through adolescence-not as a standalone but definitely as part of their reading. Simmons is discussing important issues, and she offers practical advice as well. I’m a touch more hesitant to recommend it to people like me, women in their early twenties, because I was super-sad to realise I have quite a few Good Girl characteristics and there was no advice to help me (there is some advice to mothers to overcome society’s expectation of the Perfect Mother) reverse the damage. That being said, while it was an uncomfortable read, I now recognise that behavior in myself and can work on overcoming it. For those interested in girls and women in US society in general, the first half of the book will be neat, but the second half (full of exercises for girls to do) might drag a bit. That being said, at only 250 pages and with a fast writing style, this shouldn’t take too long to read! And for those who haven’t read any feminist books before, The Curse of the Good Girl would be a marvelous wake up call!