The “Good Girl” Fallacy

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sexism by drake

Warning: some mature content – not for kiddos

I’ve been thinking for a long time about society – especially Western society’s- “good girl” trope. It’s literally impossible to grow up in the age of the media without being inundated with Us v. Them messages of good girls and bad girls, which sets up an entirely divisive dichotomy among women, who are cursed for being virginal and cursed for having sex. There’s no possible winning in this game; no matter how you hold yourself, someone will be critical. This plays into rape culture and victim-blaming (“alcohol condemns my actions but excuses his,” is a quote going around the protest circles of the interweb), it causes girls who become pregnant to be tagged sluts and bad girls, and it differentiates between and ascribes moral value to women on the basis of their sexual history alone.

Here’s how I’ve seen it work: if you’re a “bad boy,” you sleep around with “bad girls,” but you never let them tie you down. Instead, you wait, and when your season of youth and playfulness is up, you discard the “bad girls,” who were “never really worthy of you anyway,” and find a nice good girl to settle down with (A Walk to Remember, anyone?).

The troubles with this are many, and they include the fact that this culture commodifies women as items that can be used and thrown away. The sex culture asks girls to “give sex to get love,” as Jim Anderson explains, but when they have, a “good girl” turns “bad,” and disqualify themselves from the running for a good guy and a stable relationship.

I’m really oversimplifying this problem and leaving a lot out. But for the sake of clarity I’d like to define a couple terms at this point.

So, what exactly is a good girl, and why is this ideology so problematic?

A “good girl,” according to our society, is one who does what it takes to please the man she’s with, whether that means obliterating all body hair, obfuscating her actual needs and desires in order to put the needs of her (most likely) white, cis-boyfriend first. A “good girl” doesn’t complain. She doesn’t ask for more than what she has. She upholds whatever standards her man and/or society require, but does so with a fresh-faced “purity” facade. She doesn’t drink or smoke; she doesn’t sleep around or experiment. She keeps her sexuality reigned in, unleashing it only when it serves to cater to the needs/desires of her man. In other words, THE WORTH OF THE GOOD GIRL IS DIRECTLY CONTINGENT ON THE VALUE ASCRIBED TO HER BY THE BOYFRIEND, WOULD-BE BOYFRIEND, MAN-SHE-IS-IN-WAITING FOR, and if she dares to break out from the mold society’s cut for her, she’ll automatically become a “bad girl,” and, as they say, once a good girl goes bad, she’s lost forever.

If you are a good girl, here’s the kind of thing you get to put up with:

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Believe it or not, these are real pieces of advice floating around the internet, all of which imply that to be in a relationship, you’re obligated to be “obedient,” to “behave,” so that you can be rewarded. The stereotype that a man is to be worshipped and a woman, meant to worship, is harmful in so many ways, because this obedience complex being proliferated by the self-professed “modern man” is one-sided and misogynistic.

These memes, shown above, also justify a man’s propensity to “hit it and quit it,” making it the woman’s fault, because she’s too much of a “bore” outside of the bedroom.

But, in the moment a girl deviates, does something for her own pleasure – smokes a cigarette because she enjoys smoking cigarettes, drinks a beer because she wants one and not because it’s offered to her, engages in sexual activity because she wants it, and not because she feels obligated, or has intercourse with a member of the same sex, she becomes a slut, a bad girl, and is beyond self-redemption. A man, of course, can redeem her (see Effy & Freddie in Skins), if he chooses to take up with “damaged goods,” but for the most part, once you’re tagged a bad girl and a slut in a particular community, there’s no escaping that scarlet letter on your forehead. And that’s when things become pervasive, because the mentality stops being just in the outer community; it becomes internalized, a part of who she is.

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I recognize that this post fails to address “good girl/bad girl” stereotypes as they apply to Trans* women and People of Color – I will try to blog upon this in the future when I have more research. But as an important footnote, or addendum, here is a brief description of the differences between White women and Women of Color as regards the purity divide:

The purity myth that is detrimental to women is really detrimental to mostly white women. If you look at women’s sexuality from an intersectional perspective, you find differences in how rape culture permeates different races’ perceptions of sexuality. White women are assumed to be pure and untouched sexually which creates an expectation for those women to be virginal for as long as possible and they are chastised for being sexual or “slutty.” On the other hand, white women benefit from this stereotype because their rapes are taken more seriously because of privilege and they can reclaim words like “slut” via means such as Slut Walks without many repercussions. Women of color are assumed to be “exotic” or sexual so their rapes and assaults are not taken as seriously. The idea of “asking for it” takes on a whole new dimension when society assumes you are inherently sexual. Rape culture permeates even more in cultures of color for this very reason. In a very real way if white women are demonized for being “good girls” then women of color are demonized even more so for being “bad girls. -Jonathan Steinklein

So how do we fight these myths? To start, I believe we need to stop fetishizing “purity” in women, as though abstaining makes a woman more valuable because she hasn’t had a penis inside her. We need to recognize that a woman has the right to obtain pleasure, and her pleasure should not be contingent upon her pleasing or “behaving.” We have to stop with Robin Thicke “I know you want it,” and Drake’s, “You’re a good girl and you know it/You act so different around me.” What if we stopped trying to police women’s behavior, and instead, allowed them to experience pleasure without feeling shame?

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One thought on “The “Good Girl” Fallacy

  1. Interesting food for thought here. Your post brought to mind Neko Case, who has verbalized frustration with society’s gender limitations. If you haven’t heard her song “Man,” I would highly recommend it. While it is true, as you point out, that double standards exist for females, society imposes so many limitations upon individuals, even men. As I was reading your post, I thought of (to use a popular culture example) how George Clooney and Kevin Spacey were singled out years ago for being near the age of 40 and still single. Clooney, fairly or unfairly, was called out for being a “playboy” and many questioned, accurately as it turned out, Spacey’s sexual preference. Of course, this is an exaggerated celebrity example, but it is bothersome to see society extend such narrow expectations. The same can easily apply to females. Neko Case acknowledges that by by not being married or having any offspring while being well past 40, certain judgments follow. Ann Patchett has written about her frustrations with people assuming she had a maternal desire when no such desire existed. I guess I’m just trying to add: why don’t we try harder to look at others as individuals instead of through narrow societal constructions?

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