Mean Girls once were Good Girls. That's why they became Mean Girls.
Author and Life Coach Rachel Simmons says something like that in her new book, The Curse of the Good Girl. And while she describes scenarios involving elementary- and high school-aged girls that are all too familiar to those of us who are mothers, teachers and, well, girls, she also gives advice on how to fix a curse that has plagued young women for centuries.
Yes, the charicature of the Mean Girl was broadly ~ and hysterically ~ drawn by Regina George and The Plastics in the 2004 flick. But the Good Girl/Mean Girl curse could be contributing to the "glass ceiling" that is keeping our daughters down.
Those of us carrying around two X chromosomes have all experienced the Good Girl Curse at least at some point in our lives. Lord knows that my Peeps spent much of middle and high school trying to stay out of the way of Regina George and her ilk. I'm happy to say that they waded through that morass and came out pretty well on the other side. I wish I'd had Simmons's guidance, however, to help negotiate the swamp.
My own teaching career is full of examples of Good Girls gone bad.
Take A. She was in my AP Lang class a few years back, and also served as Yearbook Editor. Smart as a whip, A. excelled in almost everything she did, academically and on the extra-curricular scene as well. But as she got older, she started to internalize her feelings; she was tentative when it came to delegating authority. In fact, she was one of those "I'd rather do it myself" students on many group projects, in English class as well as on the Yearbook staff.
As a high school senior, A., the Good Girl, turned into a classic Rachel McAdams version of a Mean Girl. In other words, she ended up blowing more than one gasket. She was so busy trying to be a Good Girl that her emotional and intellectual responses became skewed. It was too hard being "Miss Perfect," so she had the classic Good Girl meltdown.
Simmons posits that A.'s interactional problems will only get worse instead of better; that in her quest to be a Good Girl ~ in her case, the Best Girl Ever ~ she had thrown up emotional roadblocks to her own success.
Here's the Good Girl Curse in a nutshell, according to Simmons and her self-help primer: We, as young women, learn that behaving like "good girls" is the best way to get ahead. This path, however, is "riddled with disconnection," according to the author.
"The Curse of the Good Girl restrains girls from exploring their most challenging emotions," Simmons writes, "turning the volume of self-expression down like a knob on a stereo. So much silence leaves much to be imagined, and girls do: They make anxious assumptions about what people mean, what they feel, and why they act the way they do. Their assumptions send relationships off well-lit roads where the truth is spoken and into rocky, dangerous territory where it is only guessed."
And who is there to fill that void? Why, Regina George and her fellow Plastics. In fact, Simmons infers, The Curse of the Good Girl can turn your Good Girl into a Plastic faster than once can say, "That's so fetch."
Simmons's 253-page book is a manual, of sorts, for negotiating life for the young woman and trying to avoid the potholes of Good Girl-ism that will slow her advancement in life. From girls refusing to answer in class because they're afraid they'll have the "wrong" answer, to those who coach those who compete on the playing fields of our nation's high schools, Simmons has a scenario ~ and a solution. Her book is divided up into two basic parts: The first lays out the problem; the second lays out strategies that could help us break the Curse of the Good Girl and get in touch with our real feelings.
After all, no one wants a "faker" in a corporate boardroom. And getting ahead in life is not about who's friends with whom, and who's in the biotches' Burn Book. In fact, as a high school teacher, I preach part of Simmons's mantra all the time.
"In 10 years or so, no one at work is going to care if the boss was 'mean' to you."
I'm not much of a self-help book fan, and I have to say I was a tad tentative when asked to review this book by the publisher. But I received my gratis copy, and I'm glad I did. In fact, I read The Curse of the Good Girl from cover to cover, and learned quite a few things about a subject I previously thought I had mastered.
And I only had one real problem with Simmons's approach. She spends a lot of time dispensing some worthwhile advice; but she could have saved some trees by keeping references to her Girls' Leadership Institute to a minimum. I get it that she's in the business of helping young girls get in touch with themselves; she doesn't have to keep reminding us of this fact.
The Spice Girls preached Girl Power in the mid-'90s. Simmons has taken this creed several steps farther.
"Taught to value niceness over honesty, perfection over growth, and modesty over authentic self expression," Simmons says, "girls are locked into a battle with a version of themselves they can never attain. Their internal resources are drained by the energy and ruthless self-evaluation required to live up to this impossible set of personal standards."
I agree. Giving our girls a chance to shine ~ on the playing field, in the classroom, in the boardroom ~ is a good thing. But opening the door is a first step. Walking through that door is a whole different thing.