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Listen now! Polite, selfless and modest — this is how a '"good girl" is taught to behave. But, in her book "The Curse of the Good Girl," author Rachel Simmons writes that this paradigm actually diminishes girls' power and potential to succeed. An excerpt. Introduction Our culture is teaching girls to embrace a version of selfhood that sharply curtails their power and potential. The Curse of the Good Girl erects a psychological glass ceiling that begins its destructive sprawl in girlhood and extends across the female life span, stunting the growth of skills and habits essential to becoming a strong woman.
Almost ten years ago, I founded the Girls Leadership Institute, a summer enrichment program for middle- and high-school girls. I began asking largely middle-class groups of girls to describe how society expected a Good Girl to look and act. Here is a sample response:. The Good Girl was socially and academically successful, smart and driven, pretty Good girl with a bad side kind. 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 but a follower; popular but quiet.
She would be something, but not too much. They graduate at higher rates. In high school, girls pursue more leadership roles and extracurricular activities than boys do, and they are ificantly more likely to see themselves as leaders. It urges girls to be perfect, giving them a troubled relationship to integrity and failure. It expects girls to be selfless, limiting the expression of their needs. It demands modesty, depriving girls of permission to commit to their strengths and goals. It diminishes assertive body language, quieting voices and weakening handshakes.
The Curse of the Good Girl cuts to the core of authentic selfhood, demanding that girls curb the strongest feelings and desires that form the patchwork of a person. The curse is the product of a culture that remains confused about gender equality. Nearly twenty years later, little has changed. In a study by Girls, Inc. Another study found girls ificantly less likely than boys to want to be the boss or in charge of others.
The Bad Girl was the picture of female failure, a reckless rejection of femininity, everything a girl was told not to be.
She was the odd girl out with a bad reputation, low to no status, and few friends. Yet she was also independent and authentic. She was comfortable being in charge center of attention. But she was nothing if not an outcast, an example to Good Girls of what happened when you strayed from the program. Being Bad was social suicide: a big, red F in Girl.
So despite the age of girl power, attitudes are slow to change. Go on, we seem to be telling girls, but not too far, and at your own risk. Be something, but not too much. Being Good is a richly rewarded pursuit. Good Girls enjoy social largesse, holding center court in cafeterias and dominating leadership positions at school. Yet many of these overachieving girls learn to succeed by sequestering the most genuine parts of their developing selves.
Mia was fourteen, overbooked, and underslept: a golfer, avid volunteer, and staff writer for the school newspaper. But, she told me:. Time to be Mia that everyone wants to be friends with My parents love me. I do all the activities that everyone wants to do.
One of those pleasing people. Psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler observed a spike in stress levels and psychological crises among girls who, she writes, are:. They barely know who they are or who they want to become. At what price is success?
Many of the most accomplished girls are disconnecting from the truest parts of themselves, sacrificing essential self-knowledge to the pressure of who they think they ought to be. Placed at odds with their most important feelings, many do not develop the skills to speak their minds when they need to, or the skin to endure the claims of someone else.
Lacking a full emotional vocabulary or the permission to use it, some girls turn inward, ruminating self-destructively. Others become explosive, able to articulate little more than anger and frustration. The psychological muscles a girl uses to manage difficult feelings begin to atrophy. Emotional intelligence is compromised, stunting healthy self-expression: the more Good girls try to be, the more they must discredit themselves.
These toxic lessons in relationship and conflict management follow many girls into adulthood. To be absolutely kind and selfless is impossible, making Good a finish line girls never get to cross. As a result, girls who aspire to Goodness are ruthlessly hard on themselves. When the standards for selfhood are beyond reach, self-acceptance is futile. Girls become their own worst enemies. The terms of being an acceptable girl are rigged: Good Good girl with a bad side are doomed to fail.
The Curse of the Good Girl is both a warning not to try and a setup to fail when you do. The cost of the curse emerges initially as a relational phenomenon. But what emerges as a social phenomenon in relationships begins to limit individual strength and potential. At the Girls Leadership Institute, I watched thirteen-year-old Julia play rambunctiously with friends, while in classes her sentences trailed off like a volume dial being turned down. People at school always say I have crazy opinions. Shannon could not look anyone in the eye while she talked, and she sulked in the corner when anyone disagreed with her project ideas.
Lottie commandeered a group project, refusing to ask peers for help because she feared angering them. One afternoon at the Girls Leadership Institute, I watched Catherine struggle to complete an exercise in which she was asked to list her talents and strengths. She hesitated. Some of the other girls looked down.
I began asking the girls how they felt about leadership. Take a risk and put yourself out there, the girls told me, and people might not like you. The girls were no longer talking about their friendships. They were talking about critical, individual skills for leadership and life.
What these girls feared about being strong in relationships was what they now feared about being strong on their own. What made them nervous about standing tall in their personal lives was precisely what made distinction at school nerve-racking to them. Their fear of disappointing or angering others, their intense need to please, had spilled over into their skills and potential as individuals. Overall, 60 percent of girls surveyed said they knew they should behave assertively in the conflicts, but only a quarter said they actually would.
Today, middle- and high-school girls indisputably outpace their male counterparts. By college, the ranks of female leaders will have thinned. When they become lawyers, the amazing girls will make up barely a quarter of law-firm partners. Only one-third of business-school students will be amazing girls. They will earn less and ask for raises less often.
Good Girls may enjoy success in high school, but as they enter college and move into the workplace, the rules of the game change.
It is no longer enough to be smart and hardworking. The skills required to self-promote, negotiate, and absorb feedback are among the new criteria for success. Young women are ill prepared.
They introduce young women to the real rules for success. Good Girl habits are firmly in place. In this book I will show you how to identify and address the Good Girl behaviors in your daughter right now.Good girl with a bad side
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The Bad Side of the Good Girl