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The Curse of the Good Girl (thoughts)

September 21, 2009

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

The Curse of the Good Girl 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!

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2009 4:27 pm

    Wow! Sounds like an interesting book. Since I’m parenting my granddaughters (2 are teens) this might come in very handy!

  2. September 21, 2009 4:29 pm

    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.

    Uh oh…that’s my life in a nutshell :S

  3. September 21, 2009 4:35 pm

    I love how you realize analyze books, Eva. I always know that when I read your review, I’ll *know* what the book is about. With that said, I’m glad you mentioned it’s not as beneficial for someone in their 20’s who doesn’t have kids, because I was rather interested in the book! But I think I’ll wait till I’m closer to having kids, and in the meantime work on some things I’ve seen mentioned in the various reviews. :)

    Thanks for being on the tour, Eva, and for putting so much obvious effort into your review!

  4. September 21, 2009 5:18 pm

    That book sounds like it gives you a lot to think about. It certainly seems like a must read for everyone with a daughter. I think we all have some good girl in us.

  5. September 21, 2009 5:44 pm

    I’m a Good Girl, based on your description of one, and I have a five-year-old daughter. It wasn’t until I hit my 30s (I’m 33) where I finally broke out of that mold and started speaking up for myself in the work environment. It was a tough lesson to learn, one I still struggle with, but very liberating at the same time. This definitely sounds like a must-read for all women.

  6. September 21, 2009 6:29 pm

    Sounds like I’m a Good Girl too. I hate putting myself forward and/or asking people to acknowledge work I’ve done. The big reason I’m not in grad school is that I’m afraid to ask past profs for recommendation letters. I even hate asking past employers for references. It’s been a big issue for me my whole life, and you’ve really got me wishing this book had more advice for already-grown-up Good Girls.

  7. September 21, 2009 6:48 pm

    I have to say, as a “good girl” myself, this book intrigues me. I cannot wait to get it.

  8. September 21, 2009 8:05 pm

    Oh yeah, that was me in HS (even though I am not in the US). I think it would suit me.

  9. September 21, 2009 8:16 pm

    Wow, looks like I need this book even though I’m not the type who reads these type of books (is it found in the self-help section? that’s the part of the bookstore I tend to avoid at all costs). I should read it for myself, who still struggles with being a “good girl”, and because I have this wonderful, talented daughter who I don’t want to end up feeling like she can’t be totally herself!

  10. September 21, 2009 8:20 pm

    I read Odd Girl Out and really enjoyed it. Am super tired or would want to share more. Suffice to say, I’ve added this on my TBR list. :)

  11. September 21, 2009 8:48 pm

    Holy cow this is SO me. I should absolutely read this book. Thanks, Eva!

  12. September 21, 2009 9:22 pm

    So, my library has a copy of this book surprisingly and I am going to read it when they have it catalogued because now I am curious. :)

  13. Bea permalink
    September 21, 2009 9:41 pm

    Sounds like a really interesting reading. As a mostly unsuccessful Good Girl, I could relate to most of your description. And is something none of us would want our (potential) daughters to go through. It gets worse every passing year, not having opinions of your own, choosing careers to please your family, hiding your problems because you can’t deal with fail or with being a cause of worry to your parents… It makes you want to think and talk about it, doesn’t it?

  14. September 21, 2009 10:22 pm

    Wow, sounds interesting. I was too much of a misfit to be a good girl, although I certainly became a good girl (with a badgirl undercurrent) later in life. I’m now a recovering good girl. :)

  15. September 21, 2009 11:44 pm

    I’m a good girl too Eva. Maybe I should get my hands on this book. It looks great. Thanks for the review and I’m glad you are feeling better!

  16. September 22, 2009 4:12 am

    Terri, I think this would definitely be a good one to pick up!

    Nymeth and Kailana, I know, right?!

    Trish, thank you. :) All of the parenting advice books I read make me terrified to have children! lol

    BermudaOnion, yep-I think the good girl is pretty pervasive!

    Michelle, it’s crazy how we all identify with it!

    Memory, I’m quite close to a couple of professors, so I don’t have that problem. But I definitely sympathise!

    MKowalewski, I hope you enjoy it!

    Chris, I just pointed out the US thing since I figured it might bother non-US readers. :)

    Valerie, I don’t think it’d be in self-help…maybe parenting? Or women’s issues?

    Christina, I still need to read Odd Girl Out! And totally understand the tired thing. :)

    Heather, I thought of you when I was reading it, since you read so many awesome feminist books!

    Kailana, I want to read your review!

    Bea, it certainly makes for a good discussion. I realised last fall that I was going to grad school to get into a career I didn’t actually want, in large part because it seemed becoming a teacher wasn’t high achieving enough for my parents/friends/etc. I’m just glad I realised that in time to change course, and everyone’s been super supportive!

    Daphne, I definitely wasn’t in the ‘in’ crowd in high school!!! lol

    Nikki, thanks! I hope you enjoy it if you get to it. :)

  17. September 22, 2009 4:14 am

    I’m another Good Girl. I’m like Memory above, I have trouble even asking professors and employers for references and I don’t keep up with my contacts mostly because I don’t want to irritate anyone with emails. I’m a failure at networking – it’s a huge problem for me. I might read this book anyway; I’m outside the age range but help is clearly necessary. Great review, Eva!

  18. September 22, 2009 5:48 am

    I think I should definitely read this one. I have twin girls about to reach teenage years. I might be able to put them on the right route early.

  19. September 22, 2009 7:16 am

    I must read this – I do believe that under every chronic illness lurks the worst of the good girl. And I see it in my students all the time.

  20. September 22, 2009 10:42 am

    I know lots of kids who would fit that description, and I would in many places too I still don’t speak up for myself very often. Would be interesting to read to see if a teacher could build in any of the techniques. My top set girls are very clever but won’t let themselves step past that accepted norm and do something original to get themselves that top mark

  21. September 22, 2009 1:35 pm

    That post-school work world thing is definitely true of me. Maybe I should investigate this. I am often too reluctant to speak up for myself, though I’ve always put that down to not being sure what the Real World Standards are for when you should speak up for yourself and when you should hush and let it go.

  22. September 22, 2009 3:38 pm

    This book sounds so familiar…maybe because it sounds like my life! Today’s moms are quite fortunate if they have young daughters and read this book. I had no idea the difference between a good and an authentic girl. But it makes so much sense. It would have saved me a lot of time and some money if my mom had read this book….and listened to it. Ay, there’s the rub most likely.

    Fascinating book and subjest, Eva. Thank you!

    ~ Amy

  23. September 22, 2009 5:38 pm

    Uh -oh, are there any of us who aren’t good girls? I certainly fit part of the mold – successful in school, not so successful after university. Really have difficulty speaking up for what I want, but my youngest son who has no problems with that is teaching me all about it! lol My daughter on the other hand – I’m going to have to get this book just so I can help her break the cycle early. She’s determined to be good and hates making mistakes, and she’s 6! But I also need to read the Odd One OUt, because that was more most of my life……

    Excellent review, Eva.

  24. September 23, 2009 5:05 am

    Great review, Eva! It certainly sounds like it would be worth a read. I can already see the eye-rolling here should I try out the exercises though. ;)
    I’m really, really interested in getting my hands on that other book you mentioned, too…you know, the self-esteem one.
    Just what would I do without all your recommendations anyway? :D

  25. September 23, 2009 10:59 am

    Meghan, I don’t want to annoy people w/ e-mails either! It doesn’t really give advice to people our age though. :(

    Vivienne, I think this’ll give you some good tools!

    Litlove, I strongly agree. I think it’s part of why chronic illnesses tend to have so many more women sufferers than men.

    Katrina, there’s definitely some advice aimed at teachers and coaches! :)

    Jenny, Simmons pretty much says we should always speak up for ourselves. ;)

    Amy, I think modern-day parents have a great amount of resources available to them compared to former generations!

    Susan, when I was in kindergarten, I refused to use an eraser and would just write over a misspealled word. I thought an eraser would be admitting a mistake. :/ I think this book would help you!

    Debi, thanks! lol @ the eye-rolling I’ll be reviewing the self-esteem book soon!

Trackbacks

  1. Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, on tour September 2009 | TLC Book Tours
  2. Women Unbound: A Reading Challenge « From Fragile Thoughts to Explosive Ideas
  3. Women Unbound: a New Reading Challenge « A Striped Armchair
  4. Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

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