All parents want their daughter to be good. But while she's getting straight As and building a killer résumé, few stop to think: Does she really know herself? Is she being authentic? Is she happy? Too many girls today are so eager to please that they're not developing vital qualities that will help them grow into powerful, capable women, writes Rachel Simmons in her new book The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence . The educator and author tells us why the good-girl ideal has got to go.
What's ‘the curse of the good girl?' It's the pressure to be nice all the time, liked by everyone, unreasonably selfless, modest and flawless at everything you undertake. It's such an impossible set of standards to achieve that anyone who tries is automatically setting herself up to fail. A good girl also lives with a sense that she's never going to be good enough.
What's the fallout? You will constantly be overwhelmed by your mistakes. Girls trying to be good don't often devote as much time as they could to improving their performance and instead are often felled by overwhelming feelings of shame or self-criticism. … If you don't shake the curse, you don't have an opportunity to know and express the fullest extent of who you are.
You say good girls should aim to become real girls. A real girl is able to know how she is feeling and act on that in her relationships. She's able to express a full range of emotions, so she is not just only accessing positive emotions but she can express feelings that are uncomfortable. She does not always worry about what someone else thinks. She understands there are times when her needs need to be acknowledged.
But doesn't every parent want their daughter to be kind and respectful? I think it's important for everyone to be nice, but you can't be so nice that you don't know how to defend yourself or advocate for your most important feelings and needs.
What's the struggle parents have with ensuring their girls are well-rounded in that external résumé sense but are still authentic and courageous? Are parents not helping girls strike that balance? It's complicated. Parents who give their daughters every opportunity to succeed by exposing them to activities and programs that enhance how they look on paper [are]wonderful, that's great. [But]sometimes being an overscheduled, overbooked, overachieving girl is as much for a girl about pleasing her parents and doing what she thinks they think is right than about what she authentically feels passionate about. It's important to check in with your daughter and make sure from what you observe as a parent and through your own conversations with her that she feels truly interested in all these different activities that are making her college application so terrific.
How do parents ensure their daughter is being truthful if she's lived up to this good-girl ideal for so long? How do they shift their own expectations? Parents need to be open to the fact that a girl may suddenly be saying it right in front of you. And if it's not easy to see, it's your responsibility as a parent when you have a girl who is so efficient, who is so machine-like, to stop her and say, ‘Are you okay? Is this the life you want? Because it looks like you don't have a lot of time for rest.' You don't want your daughter having a meltdown at 25 or 35 because she's realized she actually doesn't know how she got here.
You say that a lot of good girls can't express their emotions, which leads them to assume things, which can lead to conflict or an explosion of anger or frustration. One of the biggest myths about girls is because they have lots of feelings, they know how to manage them – that couldn't be further from the truth. If we gave them permission to be themselves, we would allow them to develop those psychological muscles.
That lack of permission to be themselves can lead them to lie, you write. That doesn't sound very good girl. It's about integrity. If your primary objective is to be liked by other people and to be nice all the time, when you have a feeling or a situation that comes into conflict with that, you may end up having to not be truthful. I do not think this is because there is something wrong with girls, I think it's because there's something wrong with the culture that forces girls to split themselves and to project this good girl to the world and hold their real feelings inside.
Are girls modelling their behaviour on celebrities acting out the good-girl ideal? It's pretty common. So you have Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato and it's like ‘gone are the days of Paris and Lindsay and Britney and Nicole.' Now it's about these young starlets who volunteer, who are advocates for causes, who are wearing promise rings but seem to really mean it, and of course that sets up a lot of pressure. And as soon as they make one wrong move – Miley Cyrus is photographed, or her pole dance – the whole world comes down on them. These young celebrities are living this all-or-nothing pressure that so many girls are faced with.