Anatomy of a
Good Girl

by Anusha Subramanian

A guide to gaining membership into this elusive category

Anatomy of a Good Girl

Am I a good girl?

Objectively speaking, yes I am. I am focused and independent, I am ambitious, I have good work ethics, and lastly, there isn’t a lot of evidence to the contrary. Simple answer. Brb I solved existentialism in three lines.

But wait — do I think I am a good girl?

I think about this for a second because existentialism has returned with a vengeance. How is it that the answer to objective notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come easily and yet psychological ones don’t? I quickly iterate through a mental list of ‘good girl values’. I’m not the epitome of obedience — my parents can attest to that. I’m also not the tamest shrew in the lot — my very angry tweets can attest to that. Like-able? Opinions vary. Cool? More like control-freak. Easy-going? Yikes, let’s not even go there.

Therefore, I will be going with a hard, no, I don’t think I’m a very good girl.

While preoccupations with general concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are common, they become infinitely complicated when you attempt to weigh yourself on those pedestals. At first glance, the two questions that I started with seem like one and the same and yet, they are really not. In comparison to the first one, the second forces you to weigh yourself on a metric created by society.

So am I a good girl? Yes. But am I society’s version of one? No.

Sometime back in the days of yore, the public defined ‘good girls’ as synonymous with obedient girls. Girls that stay out of trouble, that are dependable, satisfactorily conformative and do not exhibit wildcard tendencies. And in the same vein of thought, ‘bad girls’ were defined to be the exact opposite. Bad girls do what they want, flout ideals of ‘femininity’ and most notably, put themselves first. Cue the repertoire of ‘good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere’ quotes.

In today’s world, what is considered to be ‘good’ is ridiculously linked to the gender-binary. Rebellion in a man is considered visionary. But if a woman does the same, Indian aunties and uncles brand her ‘risque’ in the same tone reserved for an overweight relative labelled ‘healthy’. ‘Good men’ who are ambitious, risk-taking and independent are hailed as assets to the society while the same society weighs women on a spectrum of values that are only relevant in the context of others. A ‘good girl’ is one who can do something for the others i.e values such as nurturance, obedience, likability, dependability, selflessness — all that are only relevant in the context that they add something to the experience of others. Self-centric values are almost absent when society passes judgement on the morality of women.

For a man, you understand the gravity of wanting to make something of himself before he turns to building a family. But today, I still have to bring to your notice that for a female, the implication that putting your career (or yourself) first is synonymous to compromising your family, is dramatically incorrect.

And it all starts with a system that teaches its daughters to be obedient. A system that links ideals of submission and selflessness, at the cost of personal growth, to that of ‘goodness’, almost exclusively for females. A good girl puts others first. A bad girl puts herself first. A good girl gives her all to family. A bad girl is too focused on her career. A ‘good’ boy will set a ‘bad girl’ straight. ‘A good girl’ will not compete. She will take what is given, not what she wants.

Teach them that obedience is the same as discipline, and you teach them to be complicit in a network that invalidates the female struggle. The problem with raising obedient girls is that they never learn to fight the system that keeps them down. They never learn to ask the uncomfortable questions. They never learn that if a system cannot stand up to scrutiny, it is not their fault but that of a broken society. In the ‘good girl’s’ quest to be good and likable and do right by their loved ones, they become soldiers in a war against themselves. You and I might be privileged enough to take what we want. But a girl from a generationally patriarchal family has probably spent years believing that her dreams of a successful career were blasphemous to her ‘good’, obedient, upbringing because they clashed with filial devotion.

There will be many times we find ourselves questioning our character for following our dreams. There will be times we worry that we are being impulsive and selfish and ungrateful to everything that has been given to us. There will be times we will think of ourselves as ‘bad’. For not putting individuals ahead of ourselves. For not wanting a child. For not wanting to get married. For not fulfilling the generational, cultural and monetary expectations placed on us.

But the only moral metric we should ever weigh ourselves on should be OUR personal notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. And these have to be cultivated by constantly questioning assumptions that we often take for granted. Such notions of morality, when adopted directly from the previous generation, serve little purpose except to tighten the hold of regressive ideologies on modern times.

I consider myself a bit of a formalist in that I believe form informs function. If writing is a reflection of society, then typing up the ending in a neat, bow-tied manner would be the greatest disservice to everything I have spoken to. There is work to be done, all is not well and I don’t intend to give you a full-stop, beyond which the English language releases you from the responsibility of creating change.

Instead, I leave you with the continuing realization that under this system, females have to be ‘bad girls’ to go places and achieve things and ride the high of successful careers. And that we live complacently in the dichotomy of the idea that a woman picks, not between her family and career, but between her moral standing in society and her desire for self-reliance.

Anusha Subramanian — Content Lead at AFH

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