The Good Girl Struggle Is Real
*Originally posted 1/10/17
Growing up, manners were everything.
My parents expected manners at every turn. We stood up when our elders entered a room, put our knife and fork in a certain position when done with eating and learned appropriate and very specific telephone conversation techniques.
"Good afternoon Mrs Smith, this is Jennifer speaking. May I please speak with Susan?"
My Grandparents even gave us a book of manners for Christmas one year.
Three children, one book. About manners.
You read that right. For Christmas. Three children. One book. About Manners.
If we didn't pronounce consonants properly my Mum's Mother would correct us with a stern look. There were definitely no elbows on the table at her place.
At the other end of the scale my Dad's Dad was rather silly. Whenever my Nana left the table to get something from the kitchen he would take one of her fancy silver napkin ring in his eye like a monocle and make silly faces at us. When caught he was given a proper telling off.
My parents expected behaviour somewhere in the middle. They were groovy modern parents of the 70s after all. I don't think this manners first approach was unusual for my generation. Manners are definitely valuable, as long as manners don't come at the expense of self expression and self-esteem. Not manners-first but manners-when-appropriate.
Raising a girl of my own showed me how striving to be a good child, a Good Girl in particular, can lead to a life of people pleasing, self-loathing and low self-esteem. Parenting certainly holds up that confronting mirror to your own behaviours, doesn't it. I was a little horrified that I was imprinting notions of niceness into my own daughter's psyche. I want her to have a strong sense of self, to know her own mind and be confident with her opinions. It took an enormous amount of self-reflection and brutal personal honesty to get to grips with where I felt I was going wrong.
Let's face it. Girls get angry, they get dirty, they feel like biting and punching and kicking, they have potentially dangerous and dark thoughts and often feel vile hatred in their hearts.
But we tell girls they should be nice. Girls are often told to smile by complete strangers. We praise girls for being Good and are very very uncomfortable with girls and women who behave contrary-wise. They are bitches. They are Nasty Women. Our culture still abhors the outspoken woman, the difficult girl. This behaviour is still unacceptable.
There is no girls-will-be-girls mentality, we don't excuse their brutish behaviour because of their sex. I can't really think of any arena in which girls can be outspoken or angry or shouty and it not be questioned.
What ON EARTH are girls meant to do with these very natural human feelings when they aren't allowed to express them? Squash them down deep deep inside so they live a half life filled with frustration and unmet potential, making sure they don't upset anyone along the way? I ate. I hid in the pantry and ate. I smuggled food into my bedroom and ate. I ate too much when we went out to Chinese restaurants and literally made myself sick from overeating at age 7. When I was sick I got to sleep on a mattress on the floor of my parents' bedroom. Ah, blissful attention and being singled out in a house of three kids. I was onto something. For me, this is where the eating disorder was born. Food became my solution. For every bad feeling I experienced food was there to distract me and make it all go away. If you're really busy feeding you have zero time to feel anything bad.
Until you begin to get fat. Then you hate yourself, then you eat because of the bad feelings and hate yourself some more. Let's think about that later.
The push for manners before opinions, to be good and responsible and reliable Good Girls at the cost of personal expression and integrity is incredibly damaging. Don't even get me started on where that people-pleasing quality has led us. I only need read one article about girls pressured into texting naked images of themselves to some ridiculous jerk boy to begin frothing at the mouth.
Clearly this is something I feel very strongly about.
Yet, to my horror, I began to notice I was shutting my own girl down when she got angry or upset, not allowing her to voice her discontent or frustration. Why? Because it is a learned behaviour. Because I had never stopped to question whether I was expressing my own anger or frustration (I wasn't) and I wasn't modelling any alternatives. Because I am extremely uncomfortable with confrontation of any kind. I always have been. For over thirty years I have done almost anything to avoid it.How on earth have I ended up here, raising a girl to be Good at all costs?!
All I can say is that when you know better you do better.
We try now to allow anger but to attempt to find better ways of expressing it. She is encouraged to tell us when she disagrees with our view point. I am working on speaking out and articulating my own rage or disappointment rather than letting it simmer. We certainly don't have it figured out yet but hopefully being mindful will help us all in the long run.
It is a work in progress. I am trying to lead a better example and am working to expose her to the coolest, angriest and funniest women around. She told me recently the people she admires the most are comediennes Tig Notaro, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Amy Poehler and Jerry Seinfeld. So maybe we're doing something right after all...
If you're interested in reading more about this topic may I suggest The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons. It kinda blew my mind.