Food&Drink Editor Cara-Louise Scott reflects on the damaging idea that women are taught to behave as ‘good girls’, arguing that it is necessary to reject these restraints to allow women to be seen as powerful
Funmi Lijadu of Cosmpolitan has debated why women constantly analyse themselves, questioning why we wonder if we are a bad girlfriend for replying late to texts, cancelling plans with friends or if we are a bad daughter for not studying something traditional at university, or if we are struggling with university in general. She realised that what she was grappling with was what it meant to be a good girlfriend, a good friend and in general – a good girl.
So, what is the good girl complex?
The good girl complex is compiled from extensive social behaviours internalised by young women. The socialisation of young girls means that women are taught to please others, even at the expense of their own needs and wellbeing. We can see this social pressure to please at home, education and at work. Gender can act as a restraint, especially for women – the demands are exhausting.
For example, female politicians feel a pressure to present themselves in a likeable manner – something that that male politicians are not inclined to do. They will put emphasis on their relationships with men, particularly if they are married. On Hillary Clinton’s Twitter bio, she has included ‘Mom, Wife, Grandma.’ I argue that an example like this demonstrates the way that the worth and acceptance of a woman is often defined by who she can be to others.
Propaganda surrounding the way women should act makes up this good girl complex. We are often taught that good girls get good grades, and if you do not, you will be labelled as rebellious. You should also laugh and smile at inappropriate or offensive jokes at the dinner table because that’s what good girls do. Through socialisation and propaganda, we are also taught that we must put others before ourselves. How often do you see women dropping something immediately to help their others, or changing their ways and silencing their views for other people?
Lijadu further argues that ‘this all stems from a sense of feeling grateful for love, which I thought was something to be earned…I was busy trying not to be rejected that I became resentful…a good girl’s pride is how much she can bend and shrink for those she loves’ She further argues that ‘self-reflection and setting boundaries is the antidote to the good girl complex.’ I agree that it is important that we consider what we personally want, and set boundaries to make ourselves happy. It is important to prioritise and protect our wellbeing despite these social pressures.
It can be difficult with the overwhelming presence of social media at times, where we often look to other women as role models. Women see other women on social media and want to push themselves to be the ‘perfect’ girl they see on their Instagram feed, which creates more of a burden and pressure on themselves by chasing damaging stereotypes.
But what are the consequences of rejecting this complex? Well, you may be called a ‘nasty’ woman. Whilst running for president, Hillary Clinton was explaining her views on social security when Trump decided to call her ‘such a nasty woman’ as he interrupted her every couple of minutes. This happens everywhere, not just in politics. A man might show a woman interest in a bar or club, and she may reject him, saying she isn’t interested or perhaps she has a boyfriend already. He will say “well you’re ugly anyway.” In an alternative world, she may decide to sleep with him and then she will get called a slut whilst he will get called a stud. Double standards feast on the good girl complex. Good girls will not complain though, because we have been taught to normalise this kind of behaviour.
People feel threatened when some women become opinionated as well as being nice or kind; they feel their place slipping and are scared of their views being questioned. It makes their own complex halter and rebels against the more comfortable idea of the ‘nice’ girl in society. But the only way to break down the complex is indeed to rebel, to show that not only can woman be nice, they can also be many other things, obtaining all adjectives, and most shockingly to some people out there – powerful.
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