Like a zoologist studying an animal, I study my two daughters, often comparing my own upbringing to theirs.
This generation will grow up differently, not only because the world has changed but because we have the opportunity to shape this generation, by changing the conditioning they receive.
In this blog post, I'll share my personal experiences with the "good girl" concept, shed light on the impact of patriarchy, highlight the various types of "good girl" conditioning and explore the transformative journey of breaking free from it.
Let me explain.
Growing up as a young child, I was rewarded for being a good girl. I'm sure you can relate? I would be told to be a Good Girl, I was encouraged to be diligent and neat and tidy, and the reward would be praise and gold stars from my teachers.
I attended school without fail so I could be awarded the full attendance award at prize giving at the end of the year. I worked really hard to be placed 1st in class because of the accolades I’d receive.
When I behaved myself, I could watch TV or receive treats. As a latchkey kid, I looked after my brother in the afternoon after school and often made dinner or did other household chores. My mom would be happy and I would be praised. Not that the same standards existed for my brother though, but that’s another story.
When I look back at how much of a good girl I was during my childhood, I can see a clever yet awkward young girl trying so hard to be loved in a home that wasn’t the most functional.
When puberty hit, a predictable rebelliousness came out of me that surely aged my parents. I'm not sure if it was the effect of hormones or living through the 80s in apartheid South Africa that brought forth a fire in me. I saw the injustice everywhere and started questioning everything! I pushed the envelope as far as I could.
As I grew older I pushed it even further. Dating across the colour line (in then apartheid South Africa) or even changing religions. I was determined to question everything! But I digress...
One word, massive repercussions
One thing I remember vividly from my childhood was my gran saying to me one day that I was a spiteful child. I can’t remember why she said that, but I was probably arguing with my brother about something and she just blurted out those words.
I internalised those words for decades. Throughout my twenties and thirties, even though I was searching for my identity, I still tried to fit in. At work, with friends, in social settings. I had to check myself sometimes after interactions with people to see if I was being kind enough, nice enough. I wanted to belong and I went out of my way to ensure no-one ever called me spiteful again.
Patriarchy to blame
Patriarchy is highly interwoven into this space because it effectively created the Good Girl Myth as a way to control young girls and later women as they stepped out into society.
Patriarchy dictates that women should be selfless, nice, and malleable, denying their autonomy and freedom of thought. However, questioning societal norms and embracing our bodies and sexuality is essential for personal growth and empowerment.
And how dare any woman be a free thinker or enjoy her body!
Think of patriarchy as a software programme that was downloaded into our brains at birth and through our parents, communities and friends, it kept playing in the background of our subconscious, unknown to us.
Being a good girl does have its benefits though. You win approval from your parents, teachers and employers. You work hard to prove yourself and you’re easy to manage. You don’t ask uncomfortable questions and you say yes to everything. People want to be around you because you’re so nice!
Rules are necessary
I’m not saying we don’t need rules in society. Having rules is necessary as it provides structure and boundaries for children(and adults) to feel safe. It also creates a sense of belonging within our communities. If you follow the rules you can be one of us.
Rules make society function. But most of us are conditioned to behave a certain way to receive a specific reward or validation. When we grow into adults, we unwittingly keep following the same rules we grew up with as children.
Speak when you’re spoken to, be nice, don’t rock the boat. This leads to us living unfulfilled lives, staying in bad marriages, accepting bad treatment from bosses, being taken advantage of by friends, and ultimately burning out due to perfectionism.
The Five Good Girl Myths
In the fascinating book, Break The Good Girl Myth : How to Dismantle Outdated Rules, Unleash Your Power, and Design a More Purposeful Life by Maja Molfino, she speaks about 5 self sabotaging tendencies or myths that keep us a Good Girl.
See which ones you can spot for yourself.
1. The myth of rules
If I follow the rules, life will be easier and I’ll get ahead. Here we follow our parent’s expectations for us for a career or a husband, we do the things we think we “should” be doing. We give up so much of our purpose and self-authority when we follow all the rules. Our sexuality (and ultimately our creativity) dies on this altar. We are not supposed to be sensual beings. Good girls don’t dress like that, don’t use their bodies like that. Shame is used as a powerful force to keep the good girl in check. How we untangle ourselves from this is when we start to question the rules and the use of the word “should”. Who said we should be doing this? Why? When we become aware that we always have a choice, we regain our power and sovereignty.
2. The myth of perfection
This is a dominant myth for me. It expects us to perform at a high level and check everything about what we say, how we dress and what we put out into the world. It basically robs the world of our true essence because we are fearful that we will not be good enough, perfect enough.
It robs us of time too because it is the biggest cause of procrastination and projects running late. Ask me! The patriarchy loves shoving this in our faces through the relentless barrage of advertising, media and celebrities. We will always feel not good enough, clever enough, rich enough … and it’s a form of manipulation and control. We overcome this myth through a steady diet of daily self love, weaning ourselves off social media, being vulnerable, accepting ourselves as we are and realising that we are magnificent, truly unique beings. This authenticity saves us from this need to be perfect.
3. The myth of logic
The patriarchy trains us to choose logic over intuition. It rewards us for achieving great degrees, positions in our careers (but only below the ceiling) and gives us credibility. While we may be fascinated with the esoteric or the spiritual, we daren’t go there because what would people think? Here we need to choose intuition and tap into our creativity and inner artist.
4. The myth of harmony
We are taught to keep the peace, not to upset the boat and definitely not to draw any attention to ourselves. We don’t say what we mean, say yes when we want to say no. We please others relentlessly and then become bitter and resentful. This then manifests as disease within our bodies. To overcome this myth we need to find our voice and speak our truth, however hard it is for others to hear it. We need to embrace the conflict needed for change.
5. The myth of sacrifice
This is an age old myth passed down through generations of women. It’s the one I watched my mother suffer from when it came to our family and her own mother. When we put the needs of others first we suffer in terms of a lack of our own time and energy for the things we need to be doing. We become resentful too. Here what’s needed is a conscious understanding of choice – ask yourself am I making this choice because it will serve me or am I doing it to make others happy or to make myself look good? What’s the payoff for me with regard to sacrifice?
The sins of our mothers
“You are behaving so well! Be a good girl!”. I often catch myself saying these phrases. You see, I have two daughters aged 3 and 4.
I am specifically watching the two girls closely. They are precious beings with strong wills and personalities. I am working out their quirks and characteristics, but more so I’m trying to catch myself before I turn them into good girls.
I know that I am then accepting a world where they are given the space to question me and my rules, where they will rail against the boundaries I set and where I am forced to question these boundaries too.
I need to ensure they are coming out of a place of benefit and not my own programming. Basically I’m signing up for the full package!
And it will be hard at times.
I want them to be able to make their own decisions and assert their own authority when the time comes. I want them to come from a place of strength and knowledge so they can make the most powerful choices for their sovereignty and life. I want them to break free from the patriarchy that strives to keep all of us girls in our places. And I want their brother to learn from them and be his own magnificent being too.
It’s time to decondition
You see some rules don’t serve us as we reach adulthood. By being aware of the Good Girl myth, hopefully you can wipe out some of the conditioning from your life and start to make conscious choices based on your true feelings, intuition, purpose and calling. How is this myth holding you back? Remember you’re a work in progress. You don’t suddenly become deconditioned overnight. Personal growth and self awareness is a messy but ultimately rewarding journey.
Be patient with yourself.