Why “good girl” messages still get sent

Now that we know what I mean by the terms “good girl,” let’s consider why many of us think that “good” is what we’re supposed to be and do. Parents, teachers, religious leaders, authority figures, and other close family or influential people – are the messengers of these “good girl” expectations. From almost all corners for most of our formative years, girls are socialized to believe this “be good” message that gets sent to us. At some point we adopt this thinking as “the truth” even though it’s merely a belief. Most of us also carry this thinking well past our actual girlhood into our lives as women. So why are others so invested in our buying into the “good girl” message?

There are plenty of reasons. Although people like our parents generally aren’t conscious of manipulating us with such “good girl” demands – and some of them even work diligently to send us different messages – there is a natural appeal to promoting the “good girl” mantra.

  • “Good girls” are less “inconvenient” to the adults around them. In other words, “good girls” are more obedient and more easily accept others control.
  • Our parents, of course, were inculcated with these same “good girl” edicts and they’ve likely not stopped to examine if they truly believe them or not. Thus they unconsciously pass them on.
  • Besides the nefarious motivation to control us and make us easy to live with, many adults also want us to be “good girls” because of fear. They fear for our safety and well-being if we stray from the “good girl” path. “Bad girls” have bad things happen to them.
    • On the most drastic end of this fear spectrum adults fear that these girls will have to “pay for” their “sins” with results like rape or unwanted pregnancy.
    • Far more benign are fears that “bad girls” will be teased, looked down on, or shunned from the normal circle of girlhood pleasures.
    • Somewhere in between may be fears parents have about being judged for raising a “bad girl.”

For numerous “logical” and emotional reasons, therefore, our culture at large perpetuates these “good girl” expectations with each new generation. Women emerge from girlhood with “good girl” rules well known and many continue to live out the “good girl” commandments well into adulthood. When one considers how much of the “good girl” rulebook is applied to women (the All-American woman, the “perfect” mom, for instance), it’s easy to see why so many women have difficulty leaving “good girl” demands behind.

Is trying to live up to this “good girl” myth negatively affecting your life?