18 Jun 2011

About Good Girls, Bad Girls and Why We Write.

A few days ago, I read Justine Musk's article '"Well-behaved women seldom make history": redefining what it means to be bad' on her website: Tribal Writer.

It deals with how our culture defines women, how women define themselves, the emphasis on desirability and attractiveness on the one hand, and traditional dictates of quiet, pleasant and unobtrusive behaviour on the other.

I don't agree with everything that is said, and I believe we sometimes confuse personality issues with women's issues, but the article is an interesting piece of writing, with insightful comments by both women and men. If you have some time, I would highly recommend reading it.

These past few days, much of what Justine and her readers wrote has been whirling around in my head. This is a topic close to my heart - and as it happens, to the title of my blog.

Ever since I started writing again, I've been confronted with this good girl / bad girl dichotomy on a daily basis. Writing makes it much harder to ignore or suppress parts of you that 'don't fit in', because it's exactly that wonderful source of 'self' we need to tap into to let our stories take root and to make our characters grow.

I was raised to be a Good Girl, yet trying to be one drained my energy for the bigger part of my life. Along the way I've discovered that I'll never be a Bad Girl either. I might not have many boundaries in my mind, but I keep my behaviour on a short lead, which is probably why I'm still alive and well.

This contrast fuels my writing and much of my life, and I've come to love it. It's hardly ever dull in the borderlands where a wild heart and an exacting mind co-exist.

In her article, Justine writes:
'I once said to someone, “I don’t know if I’m a good girl with a bad streak, or a bad girl with a good streak.” But I was being ironic. My real point was that, like any other woman (or man), I am both and neither.'
I think she hits the nail on the head there: women as well as men are complex and diverse creatures. We live on a planet and in communities that don't necessarily have our individual best interests at heart, and we try to get by and live meaningful lives - whatever that means for us individually.

In living our lives, we need to understand that culture - like statistics - focuses on large numbers and quantifiable majorities. As a result, social norms and widely held views will rarely reflect or respond to minorities' needs.

That does not mean we need to accept this, shrug and keep silent.

To the contrary - we need our role models, our Maya Angelous, our Isabel Allendes and our Margaret Atwoods. We need our Neil Gaimans and Amanda Palmers to fly their freak flags proudly. We need them, not so much to confront majorities with an alternative, but to show those who don't fit in the standard moulds it's okay to be who you are.

I couldn't help wondering if this is partly the reason why so many of us are drawn to being a writer, blogger, photographer, teacher or artist, or why we share our work, our thoughts or emotions on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, ...

I'm sure we first and foremost respond to a need within ourselves to create and to share with others. But could the driving force underneath our work be that we know first-hand what it feels like not to fit in?

Could that be the reason why we want to put our work out there – as beacons that might have given us strength, hope or courage at a given point in our own lives?

If that is the case, it only makes it more important that in our writing or whatever it is we do, we stay true to ourselves, with pride, dignity and confidence - an authentic, living, breathing tribute to our own uniqueness and to human diversity.

We are lucky. We have a voice, energy and an audience, be it big or small. That gives us great opportunities to show how within, underneath and on the side of mainstream culture there are other, valid ways to get by, to do well and to live meaningful, fulfilling and creative lives.

What makes you unique?

Photo 1: '365:299 Choices' by Jehane, available under a creative commons license. © 2008, Jehane.
Photo 2: '365:140 Fairy Liquid' by Jehane, available under a creative commons license. © 2007, Jehane.
(Check out her wonderful - and brave - photography project: 365 days (of me).
♥ Bookmark or share this post ♥


  1. I certainly agree with the sentiment that every individual is both good and bad, sometimes within the same day. Ultimately it's a choice of which we identify with stronger, and that has to do with our backgrounds, life experiences, relationships, etc etc. Personally, I am a good girl with a rebellious streak that pops out every so often and surprises people. Which I like.

  2. Karen: that's a good point: the importance of what we identify with. 'A good girl with a rebellious streak': I like that! :-)

  3. What a beautiful post, K.C.-- and quite obviously straight from the most genuine place inside you.

    What makes me unique is what makes me like everyone else-- my desire to be known for who I truly am, without misinterpretation.

  4. I am an alpha mouse and a bad piece of business.

  5. I think the article is phenomenal. It still amazes me that we cling to the words 'I am a good girl' - because so many can't bear to be categorized as a badass. Not that I like to be categorized, but when I think "good girl" I think of women who play by the rules even if they don't internally agree with them - they're considered "sassy" because once every five months they speak up, versus the "bad girl" who says what she wants, when she wants, and doesn't censor herself because of what society has told her she needs to be. I see the good/bad thing in the workplace constantly - I have recently worked somewhere that the person sitting next to me has been seen as 'the funny guy' for repeatedly insulting others, including myself, backhanded comments, passive aggressive behaviors, and others. Yet when I turned around and gave him a taste of his own medicine, suddenly he got all sensitive on me - yet didn't change his own behavior when I explained to him that his behavior was offensive. He's still the popular guy, I'm still the 'bad girl' who can't seem to play well with others because I refused to be repeatedly insulted by his words and actions.

    yes, i could go on...but thank you for this post :)

  6. Just last night, my sister and I were talking about this and she said, "What you don't understand is that, unlike all the other little girls who were walking down the one path, you were always on the left side and refused to follow what didn't make sense to you -- which is why you were always bringing notes home to Mother from the nuns!" I did follow a different path and have had the exquisite advantage of being surrounded by people throughout my life who didn't try to force me into any "role." Although I understood the women's movement, I couldn't apply it to my life because I was never stopped from trying whatever I wanted. The dark side is that you are no longer that sweet malleable woman that the world seems to want. They SPEAK of singularity but they don't want it in their neighborhood!

  7. There are so many definitions of what is "good" and what is "bad". I try to live life so that I hurt no one including myself. I think that pretty much keeps me in line. I was lucky also that I was allowed to just "be me" as I was growing up.

  8. Oh, K.C., you know this resonated with me. I've had people look at me cross-eyed all my life because I don't fit their preconceived expectations. People have always tried to put me in a box marked "good girls." Fine. I'm nice enough, but what they don't understand is that's only the packaging. Inside things get much more complicated.

    I like people who fly "freak flags." :)

  9. Suze: thank you! :-) And I think you're right about that desire: being understood - and possibly loved - for who we are. :-)

    Munk: Hail to the Alpha Mouse! :-)

    EcoGrrl: there definitely are the double standards and I know of a few pigs-around-the-office, but even though their behaviour annoys me, I haven't really suffered from it myself. I tend to be outspoken and I believe in handing people back what they're dishing out - preferably threefold. So far, that's kept most of the pigs at bay, but probably because they're not the worst kind. :-)

    Sharlene: I recognise some of what you wrote, including the notes-from-nuns. ;-) Still, I hate fights and scenes and I aim to please, so that does create the odd internal conflict.

    mbj: I like your philosophy of trying not to hurt anyone, including yourself. What I find hardest is when my interests conflict with someone else's and I have to make a choice. The older I get, the more I learn to choose 'me' on a regular basis, but it's still difficult.

    L.G.: Thank goodness there aren't (many) mind readers around. ;-)
    I've always been drawn to interesting people who don't fit in for plenty of different reasons, and we tend to get along well, even though I'm (still) too much of a people pleaser myself to fly my own freak flag (too often), but who knows what the future will bring. =)

  10. and well-behaved men seldom conquer women's hearts :( if I may add.

  11. I loved Musk's blog and the resulting comments and thank you for this one! I'm old enough to be your mom, probably, but in the garage, I have the first couple of years of Ms Magazine, which my mother bought for me. Sad these are still issues.
    I for one, love the good guys. I'm married to one and am proud to write them, with just the hint of darkness potential.
    Loved her reference to the Sweet Valley High novels, which I sold a ton of in the late '80s, early '90s. They were about a set of twins and Jessica wasn't really bad, she was just a bit high strung. I'm working on notes to do a YA novel about a not very nice girl and flashed back to a science fiction juvy by Robert A. Heinlein called PODKAYNE FROM MARS, who was truly badass. Much to think about. Thanks, all.

  12. DEZZ: I've noticed I like interesting people, and whether or not they're well-behaved doesn't always matter that much. I do hate scenes and I can't stand abuse of power, so there's definitely behaviour that would make me take my heart back. ;-)

    Julee: when I told one of my friends about Justine's article, she responded with: 'the more things change, the more they stay the same'.
    I don't notice a lot of discrimination in my own life, but I'm aware that I'm in a privileged position because of the country and times I was born in.
    Nice to meet you! :-)

  13. Wonderful post and so much truth in it. I've usually strived to behave in a socially acceptable way, especially when church and faith have defined me to some extent.

    Yet there have been times when I was strongly aware of the opposing sides to my nature, even if I didn't act upon them. Maybe that's why I was more daring when young, and now I'm getting a bit more rebellious!

  14. The older I get, the more comfortable I feel about my gender and its position in society. You see, in my 20s there was a general acceptance that bad girls were good fun. Good girls were boring. I was boring but I would have loved to be good fun. Now I'm just me and it's such a relief. I've just tagged you on my blog, by the way :-)


  15. "Mutant and proud." ;-)

    Great and thought-provoking post!

  16. Rosemary: it's those opposing sides that make life interesting, don't you think?

    Rosalind: thanks for the tag, I guess. ;-) To be considered good or bad seems to depend on the environment as well. I've always lived in very different, parallel worlds. In some of them I'm less daring than average, in others a lot more. All a matter of perspective. :-)

    Samantha: LOL yes. I just saw the film last night. :-) (I thought Hugh Jackman's brief appearance was brilliant.)

  17. What an interesting post. I was definitely a good girl, but I do love writing strong female characters. I'm struggling right now, because my MC is a good girl and to be quite honest, I'm finding her a little dull!

  18. Thanks, Talli. :-) I'm sure your MC has a few dirty secrets or guilty pleasures she hasn't told anyone about - yet. :-)

  19. I clicked on this as I read about the award (thank you friend!)and it struck me right in the heart as I get ready to publish my first novel, a dark story of overcoming sexual violence, murder and recovery... a "women's issues" novel if there ever was one, and in a panic this morning i sent an email to my editor, asking if I should publish the sequel first, it's not so dark... and reading this, I realize what I'm scared of. Being a bright happy person who's a people helper, I've also seen the darkest dark side of oppression and this book goes there and then kicks the shit out of it... and now everyone will know I know that side too.
    I'm a good girl. But I know everyone has a dark side, and it's the duality that makes for great writing. Fearless writing.
    I'm not that fearless yet. I like to hide behind vanilla sugar frosting. I hope I find the courage to publish this book!

  20. Thanks, Toby, that means a lot. I'm right there with you behind the vanilla sugar frosting – with a spoon!

  21. This post is great! This is my favorite quote because for me, it's all comes down to this:

    "Could the driving force underneath our work be that we know first-hand what it feels like not to fit in?"

    Yes, yes, and yes.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...