BY KATE LEIPER
How often does this flippant remark waft past your ears? Perhaps it even falls out of your mouth regularly, in the role of parent, family member, teacher. I’ll hazard a guess that you, too, may have been on the receiving end of that statement when you were growing up.
I see it in families. Where daughters are laden with shame because they are not acting like a lady, not fulfilling their duties as a woman, or not representing their parents in a socially acceptable manner.
I see it in young women. They are used and abused physically, emotionally, and sexually, due to a lack of self-respect, confidence, and the skills to communicate their no’s — allowing situations to unfold for fear of being labeled frigid, controlling, or precious.
I see it happen in workplaces. Where a woman is denied the same benefits, pay, and working standards as her male counterparts and is punished for raising concerns to her superiors.
I see it in marriages. Where a woman puts herself last in her relationship without fail. She suffers in misery, plays the blame game, or learns how to expertly manipulate in order to get her needs met.
I see it in pregnancy and childbirth. A woman dares not challenge her medical care provider, even though she feels desperately out of alignment with their approach, and is pressured and dismissed for how she wishes to birth.
I see it in friendship groups. When women bitch and gossip to bring another woman down, because she has not conformed to an acceptable (read: safe and compliant) representation of womanhood.
I see it in motherhood. When a woman turns to martyrdom, her children now defining her existence. Living as a poster girl for resentment, and perpetuating the good girl complex into the next generation.
It’s an epidemic.
Can you identify with the “good girl” complex? Perhaps you spent your years desperately trying to be one, but knowing deep down that you were a rebellious soul who simply didn’t fit the good girl mold.
If you are unsure, here are a few tell-tale traits:
- You keep quiet in situations you know are unfair, unjust or inappropriate, so as not to “rock the boat.”
- You aim to please others, often at the expense of your own happiness.
- You go along with the status quo, even when your instinct or curiosity wants to explore something different.
- You are deeply concerned with how you appear to others.
- You prefer to “intellectualize” problems, rather than listen to your intuition.
- You answer “I’m fine” even when you’re clearly not.
- You put a lot of energy into ensuring you look flawless and “put together.”
- You trust those you perceive as an authority without question.
- You work hard to keep your emotions in check, not wanting to appear “too much” or “out of control.”
- You dislike your body and find aspects of womanhood to be a burden.
If any of these traits ring a bell for you, I’m not surprised. We have grown up and continue to live in a culture that prioritizes and celebrates the raising of “good girls” and “good boys.”
Of course, I could write a whole article on how the “good boy” complex might manifest; but let’s just say that while different, the implications of living up to the label still have the potential to greatly stifle a sense of self and restrict access to one’s authentic gifts.
In specific reference to girls, here are some examples as to what we might actually be saying when we use the “good girl” label:
- “You did what I said.”
- “You didn’t challenge my authority.”
- “You kept quiet.”
- “You remained in your place.”
- “You didn’t draw attention to yourself.”
- “You were neat and tidy.”
- “You didn’t cause me to feel discomfort.”
- “You achieved according to my expectations.”
- “You didn’t question the way things are done.”
It is such a default pattern, so habitual, that we say it all the time without even realizing. In fact, it slips out of my mouth daily towards my daughters and I am conscious of it!
In my defense, on the times I catch myself about to say it, I will instead make a concerted effort to offer an acknowledgment of exactly what made me happy or impressed in the moment. For example:
“I could see you trying really hard at that. Nice work.”
“You were listening so well just then.”
“I am so grateful for how helpful you are being right now.”
“You managed that all by yourself! Well done.”
By using concrete phrases communicating clear feedback to our children, it actually supports their learning and growth.
Instead of guessing at what might have been “good” about their behavior, they receive a solid understanding of exactly what Mum or Dad needed from them in that moment and how their actions displayed a commendable quality; i.e. effort, attention, consideration of others, achievement.
Of course, these parenting patterns take time to dismantle and a conscious commitment to replacing them with a new approach.
I’m not saying there is anything inherently dangerous about referring to a little girl as “good,” however, the damage can occur when what “good” means is never actually stipulated. All the expressions of “good girl” just blend into one blurry message, which internalizes the ideal version of a female as submissive, unquestioning, neatly packaged, and proper.
The reason it is even more important to address this epidemic is that women everywhere are awakening. They are beginning to advocate for themselves, their children, their personal safety, their pleasure, and the potential for their life.
If we are to continue moving forward in our rising, amplifying our energy towards a more loving and connected world, we must be prepared to do away with the diminishing patterns that keep us small.
When we acknowledge and heal our own “good girl” complex by facing and de-programming the truths that do not belong to us, we make room for the real, exciting possibilities that an authentic life can provide.
As we free ourselves, we ensure that our daughters aren’t held captive by the same limiting constructs. We show them a woman who defines her own worth, who sits comfortably with herself, her flaws, her not-so-together-ness and relishes in the messiness of a multi-faceted life.
Let’s teach our girls that to be good is meaningless.
But to be a dichotomy of soft, powerful, open, well-boundaried, expressive, curious…the list goes on.
And that — that is remarkable.
For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends 52 Ways to Live a Kick-Ass Life: BS-Free Wisdom to Ignite Your Inner Badass and Live the Life You Deserve.
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