So, I’m reading a book that’s blowing my mind.
It’s called The Curse of the Good Girl and it’s by Rachel Simmons. I’ve had it on my book shelf for about three years – I bought it in the same shopping trip as The Purity Myth, which also blew my mind. Clearly, this was a good day at the bookstore.
The Curse of the Good Girl is primarily about teaching adults about the internal struggle that girls, particularly teenage ones, face while trying to balance being “good” and being themselves. From there, adults can better communicate with their daughters/co-workers/students with a context of how they’re actually doing internally. In fairness, this is also true for guys, but in the spirit of the book, I’ll stick with girls.
I gave some excerpts to my Grade 12s and there was a strong censensus of “yep, that’s how it is,” which is difficult because we work really hard to teach living an authentic life in all of our Music classes. In the excerpt, some of the girls in the book were asked make a list of what constitutes a “good girl” and some descriptors included: quiet, good grades, no opinions on things, follower, well rounded, tons of friends, generous, boyfriend, conservative, doesn’t show skin, people pleaser, has to do every right, doesn’t get mad, skinny, organized…
… and the list goes on. First off, does that list strike anyone as even remotely possible? Yet, that’s the expectation. Before you even try, culture has already shown young girls that they can’t win. That’s the theme of this post: You can’t win.
(Also, it breaks my heart to see “no opinions on things” is considered a desirable quality… ugh)
After the girls from the book made that list, they made a list of what constitutes a “bad girl” and that looks like this: speaks her mind, loud, proud, rule breaker, doesn’t care about her body, doesn’t care what people think, parties, piercings, rebel, slut, center of attention… and the list goes on.
So, according to them, speaking your mind, not caring what people think, or being proud and loud are not socially-acceptable attributes. Most adults get out of this (though I can certainly think of ones that haven’t), but kids are still stuck in this web.
When I showed this to the Grade 12 girls, some of them had grown out of this way of thinking, but they affirmed that that mindset was real when they were younger. But worse than the acknowledgement of both sets of lists is that the adults in their lives are trying to tell them to do something else. We’re telling them to be themselves, not to care what other people think, to speak their mind, to be well-rounded and others. We’re really picking from both lists because the lists don’t exist to us. However, they do exist to them.
Now the student has to be good to their peers while still trying to be good for the adults. They are now caught in a double bind that they can’t win.
Do you remember that feeling?
This double bind is perfectly, but differently, depicted when it comes to Chapter 3 of the book, which is about the politics of female fighting. Simmons writes: “Some girls told me that denial was the only safe alternative, because they felt punished by peers when they tried to be honest and when they tried to avoid confrontation altogether. Rebekah, a junior, articulated a troubling double bind of truth-telling among girls:
“If you’re honest, you get the reputation of being a bitch, because you’re just, like, PMS-y all the time, so you don’t confront people, and [then] you’re a bitch because you’re hiding your feelings… So it’s just easier to, like, lie and completely forget about it. Either way you’re going to be considered an angry bitch because you don’t about it or an angry bitch because you brought it up.”
Again, either way, you can’t win. To be said another way, Simmons writes this:
“[Girls] sort of make it a battle instead of just, like, a conversation,” fourteen year old Sarah said. “It’s, like, who can play their cards the best, instead of how can we figure this out together.”
What’s interesting about fourteen-year-old-Sarah’s statement is that she demonstrates understanding of how it should be handled. From that perspective, she has an interesting internal struggle between what she and everyone else is doing versus what she should be doing. And in this position in that age, you guessed it, you can’t win.
Can you imagine anything more infuriating than playing a game for years and years that you can’t win? I’ll bet you can because you probably did. I probably did too. Maybe you grew up and stopped playing, or maybe you grew up and didn’t and are still playing the same games at work or with your family.
This is where our book from the last post, The Art of Possibility, begins. Why play a game you can’t win? Then, it does something interesting: It presents you with a possibility that you may not have considered: you can stop playing, then it tells you how 🙂
I really recommend both The Curse of the Good Girl and The Art of Possibility, whether you’re a parent or a teacher or a kid. Allow yourself to be challenged, don’t give up, and consciously think about the material. Even if you don’t agree. Especially if you don’t agree.
Get reading 🙂