How often does this flippant remark waft past your ears? Perhaps it even falls out of your mouth on the reg, in the role of parent, family member, or 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’ve dabbled with resisting the “good girl” complex for much of my life.
Like many girls, from childhood I was programmed to believe that if I acted or behaved in certain ways I was much more… palatable. In this respect I learned pretty quickly that I would reap rewards if I complied with society’s vanilla expectations of how a girl should behave.
But this never came easy.
A curious, emotional, leader type, I was never a shrinking violet. My family mostly encouraged and embraced my feisty nature and desire to perform, but I remember vividly the first time it really hit home that I would be put in my place quick smart if I dared challenge authority in the wider world.
I always loved writing. Filling notebooks with creative stories was a passion as early as I could string a sentence together. Subsequently, I was a very strong speller and took pride in my neat writing. My male teacher in Year 7 was not impressed however, when I corrected him a number of times on his spelling.
I remember so clearly his commitment to pulling me down a peg or two whenever he had the chance. Out of a class of 30, in a little awards ceremony for the class, he announced me as the only student NOT being awarded my ‘pen licence’. For those unfamiliar, it meant that I was not eligible to use a pen, but was relegated to a lead pencil as apparently my writing was not up to scratch.
23 years later, I still ponder that situation. What was so lacking in his life to cause him to humiliate a 12 year old girl, in order to assert his power in the classroom? Had I not been the “good girl” he required me to be, to ensure he remained the all-knowing, all-powerful one?
Although a pen licence is seemingly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, as a grown woman I see this kind of scenario playing out so often. Women I know intimately, women clients, women in media reports, all finding themselves in situations where the “good girl” complex keeps them confined in a box of misery.
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 labelled 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.
Do 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 mould?
If you are unsure, here are a few tell-tale traits:
- You keep quiet in situations you KNOW are unfair, unjust or inappropriate, so 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 curiosity wants to explore something new
- You are DEEPLY concerned with how you appear to others
- You prefer to “intellectualise” 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, then I’m not surprised. We have grown up and continue to live in a culture that prioritises 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 ones 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 realising. In fact, it slips out of my mouth daily towards my daughters and I am CONSCIOUS of it!
In my defence, on the times I catch myself about to say it, I will instead make a concerted effort to offer an acknowledgement 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 behaviour, 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 internalises 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. I wrote about my own journey of reclamation in my last blog post, which you can read here.
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-togetherness 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… well that, that is remarkable.
If you are struggling to shake the good girl complex and crave more depth in your experiences, a good place to start is with my free guide to Fuelling Your Feminine Fire. Go on, get curious!
Also, head on over to the FREE private Facebook group, the Diamond Women Sisterhood to join other mothers on their journey as they awaken their ultimate potential. Real, raw and meaningful is how we do it – and we’d love you to be part of the conversation.
See you on the inside, sister!
Love Kate x