Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.
i am playing along with elizabeth.
The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence
In The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons, bestselling author of Odd Girl Out, argues that in idealizing the Good Girl we are teaching girls to embrace a version of selfhood that sharply curtails their power and potential. Unerringly nice, polite, modest, and selfless, the Good Girl is an identity so narrowly defined that it's unachievable. When girls fail to live up to these empty expectations-experiencing conflicts with peers or making mistakes in the classroom or on the playing field-they become paralyzed by self-criticism that stunts the growth of their vital skills and habits. Simmons traces the poisonous impact of Good Girl pressure on girls' development and provides a strategy to reverse the tide. At once illuminating and prescriptive, The Curse of the Good Girl is an essential guide to contemporary girl culture and a call to arms from a new front in female empowerment.
Using the stories shared by the women and girls who have attended her workshops, Simmons shows that pressure from parents, teachers, coaches, media, and peers erects a psychological glass ceiling that begins to enforce its confines in girlhood and extends across the female life span. The curse of the Good Girl erodes girls' abilities to know, express, and manage a complete range of feelings. It expects girls girls to be selfless, limiting their expression of their needs. It requires modesty, depriving them of the permission to articulate their strengths and goals. It diminishes assertive body language, quiets voices, and weakens handshakes. It touches all areas of girls' lives and follows many into adulthood, limiting their personal and professional potential.
We have long lamented the loss of self-esteem in adolescent girls, recognizing that while the doors of opportunity are open to twenty-first century American girls, many lack the confidence to walk through them. In The Curse of the Good Girl, Simmons provides the first comprehensive action plan to silence the curse of the Good Girl and bolster the self, making clear her radical assertion that the most critical freedom we can win for our daughters is the liberty to recognize their authentic voice and act on it.
This first part focuses on the way girls navigate friendships and cultivate their good girl images at all costs. The thing that struck me the most is the way that girls will avoid conflict to the point of stifling their own expression, bottling up all their feelings and as a result, initiate the stupid, petty dramas that highlight the teenage experience. Girls are so afraid to express anger, discomfort, hurt feelings or other "bad feelings." They are afraid to be assertive. These are all traits of a "bad girl." The emotional landscape becomes a minefield. Girls are constantly interpreting others expressions, actions, silences and making assumptions that usually are not even true, but the mere act of assumption sets in motion a wildstorm of activity that results in drama and hurt feelings, girls pitting one against another, continually circling whatever the real issue at hand is. But they can't address the real issue. So instead it's about getting lots of girls on your side. And if you are confronted against, then it's about bringing it back around to the confronter and reminding her of all the things she's done. And so it goes every time. Hence, nothing gets resolved.
The author also examines how this lack of conflict resolution follows the girls as they become adults. She also examines how the Good Girl becomes the Good Mother.
I was really struck by how girls examine all their relationships, whether they be with friends or teachers or bosses at work, by whether they are liked or not. They work so hard to be liked that they lose part of themselves. They don't know how to stand up for themselves, be assertive, go for what they want. They don't want to be too good at anything for fear of making a friend mad. They don't want to acknowledge their own strengths for fear of being called conceited. As an adult this becomes a weakness.
I really found all of this information disturbing. But I also recognized how true it was. I remember feeling that way as an adolescent. I remember not wanting to start conflict. I remember a few occasions where I did actually try to assert myself. I asked my friends what was going on, why they were being, x y or z. And instead of anything productive happening, they just stopped being my friends. I remember being the subject of dramas as there were a couple of girls in the circle of kids I hung out with that did not like me for whatever reason. I was too new to the group. So-and-so liked me but he was off limits in these girls' eyes.
I remember adolescence being full of petty, emotionally wrought dramas. It was not an easy existence. But I know I did not bring those behaviors with me to adulthood. It took a lot of time and effort, but I worked hard to become assertive and outspoken. To stand up for myself. Negotiate my own salaries. To know my worth. I will be the first person to address a situation if I feel that it needs to be addressed. Sadly, though, I know that this whole idea of conflict avoidance does run rampant in my experience of adulthood with others, but it isn't just the women who run for the hills. I wish more people saw the value in speaking up for themselves, in addressing a situation, calmly and rationally. Working things out knowing that by doing so doesn't mean that the relationship will automatically end or that it means the person won't like you afterwards. Conflict resolution skills are important and necessary to navigate life. It's a shame that young girls are being fed conflicting messages about what it means to be a girl. Be successful, but not too successful. Be nice. Don't show anger or pain or upset feelings. Take care of others before yourself. When will it end?
I am glad for all the food for thought this book is providing. It is difficult reading in the sense that the subject matter is somewhat painful. It makes me feel a little sad. It is not a fun book, but it is a good one.