The Mandatory, Frogmarched Return of The Good Girl
The good girl is the one who always nods and smiles and says the right thing, or, even better, nothing at all. She doesn’t start arguments or finish them. She concedes to authority. She agrees that authority has authority. She stays positive. She says yes. She’s pretty but not too pretty. She powders her nose and draws on her face before she leaves the house. Always. She never cleans her plate – she’s always watching her weight – but she cleans everything else. She wants to be successful and society tells her there’s a template for that so she’s committed to following the rules and speaking from the script. She goes to school, gets a good job, gets married. She does good.
As long as she tamps down her anger, as long as she does everything for everyone else, as long as she avoids friction and confrontation, as long as she doesn’t ask for too much – and ‘too much’ is anything – as long as she conforms and complies, The Good Girl gets by.
I was born and raised a good girl. She’s in my bones but she gets in my way. She makes me try to teach boyfriends how to behave rather than admit they know and choose not to. She makes me throw three-day birthday extravaganzas for small humans who just want to get their fingers and faces in some cake. She makes me stay quiet in meetings. She makes me make coffee for meetings. She makes me smile when I want to scream. She make me follow the rules that were designed to keep me down. In the face of injustice, she makes me say nothing and stay sweet.
It’s a phrase that way-right evangelical Christians use to describe and prescribe women’s behaviour. Hair and skirts and patience with the patriarchy must be as long as possible. Smiles and good cheer must be constant. Questions and complaints? Never. Stay positive. Stay sweet.
This is what the forces hostile to women demand.
So why, in pro-women’s spaces, businesses, practices and our lives, are we demanding it of each other and ourselves?
We’ve fought so hard and long to vanquish the good girl. Now we’re bringing her back like she’s a JT song.
Even now, even after all the work and rights and battles and books and blogs, an angry woman is a bad woman.
But anger is useful, essential. It’s borne into us (my five month old is a testament to this). Anger is an instinct and a life-saver.
Anger is what alerts me to problems. Anger is what gets me out of danger. Anger is what got me out of a bad marriage. Anger is what got me publishing my work instead of keeping it to myself in a journal. Anger is what makes me work to protect my children and other women’s children and other women.
So that’s why I’m so taken aback and, frankly, angered by the relentless push for positivity and the absurd lengths we’ll go to preserve it – like happiness is a finite and non-renewable resource rather than a regular ol’ human emotion – that I see in women’s spaces. I’m furious when I see notable women, women in leadership positions, counselling us not to watch the news lest it upset your fragile lady bliss.
I gave birth. I can handle the news.
I can even handle my Facebook feed and that place is a xenophobic sewer right now.
I can handle being uncomfortable. I can handle being upset, sad, disheartened, discouraged. I can handle not being happy all the time. I can handle being angry.
All of those emotions are (a) legitimate, (b) normal and human and necessary, and (c) rocket fuel. They make you take action. They make you stop the bleeding. They make you tap into your own competence and capabilities and do something.
And isn’t that the point of all this positivity? To make you feel good and strong and sovereign so you can do something with your life and your power?
This essay is part of my musings on the The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. I’m writing a book about these cultural imperatives, so if you’d like me to send you excerpts and ideas and rampantly feminist encouragement, please sign up to receive my Sunday love letters.