Bad Girls Go Everywhere
“Never laugh at a joke before he does.”
So advised my grandmother. You see, if you laugh at a joke before a guy does, it means you understood the punch line before he did. He might think that you’re smarter than he is. Guys don’t like that at all. So just smile and look pretty and keep that brain locked up, sweetie. If you don’t, then no guy will want you. That’s the theory.
My grandmother grew up in a different time, of course. Women don’t have to play dumb anymore. But some of us still do. Some of us are taught to do it from early childhood. Some of us are pressured to do it in middle school and high school.
That’s part of the tragic and infuriating message of Rachel Simmons’ new book, The Curse of the Good Girl.
Rachel, a Vassar alumna and former Rhodes scholar, is the founder of the Girls Leadership Institute. In her newest book, she examines the destructive stereotype of the “good girl” and how it prevents young women from reaching their potential.
Based on her work with middle school and high school girls, Rachel describes the “good girl:”
The Good Girl walked a treacherous line, balancing mixed messages about how far she should go and how strong she should be: she was to be enthusiastic while being quiet; smart with no opinions on things; intelligent but a follower; popular but quiet. She would be something, but not too much.
Rachel, meet my grandmother.
They both have a point. Rachel is right that if you play dumb, stay quiet when you want to speak, and pretend to be what you’re not, then you’ll be unhappy and unfulfilled. My grandmother is right because even if the culture has changed, male egos haven’t. They’re still as insecure as ever.
Do you want a guy if you have to play dumb to get him? Well, what if the alternative is to be alone? We can talk all day about honesty and authenticity, and how a guy should love you for who you really are. But that word is scary: alone. It certainly scares me.
Simone de Beauvoir nailed it in The Second Sex. We’re supposed to act a certain way because that’s how men like us:
Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being, she is simply what man decrees. …. He sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential, the object.
Minus the philosophical jargon, de Beauvoir basically says that woman is a fashion accessory for the man’s fragile ego and a sex toy to keep him amused in the bedroom. When you come right down to it, that’s what the “good girl” stereotype is all about: Don’t be who you are, be what men want you to be. At least some men. I know quite a few who aren’t like that. Maybe I’m just lucky.
I’m not saying that anyone should play dumb. But it’s not as simple a question as we might think. If you’re a lesbian, or if you can be happy sharing your abode with a dozen cats, then it works out fine. Otherwise, as the saying goes, it’s nice to have a man around the house. At the very least, there are itches that sometimes need to be scratched. I’m not against letting a guy come to my rescue, even if I don’t need to be rescued. It makes him feel good and it saves me some trouble. And I’m not against letting a guy show off his smarts, even if I’m a bit smarter than he is.
Maybe there’s a happy medium somewhere. I hope so. I know that I don’t want to be a “good girl.” Does that make me a “bad girl”?
Well, they say that bad girls go everywhere. This one is going back to school next week. It’ll be good to see my friends again, and I’ve got some great classes. And no worries about guys, except for those occasional itch-scratching encounters with the sturdy lads of UMass or Amherst. 🙂
Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.