Monday, April 9, 2012

Good Girl 2.0

Years ago, when I was still a grad student at Ohio State, I baked some cookies for my Introduction to Folklore class.  It was the last day of the quarter, and we were watching a movie.  Plus, the class started at 7:30 a.m., and those folks deserved a reward for having dragged themselves to campus at the crack of dawn for the previous ten weeks.

When I got out the cookies, one of the students said, "I knew you'd bring cookies.  You've just got a cookie personality."

I wasn't really sure how to respond, because the comment was delivered in a positive way, so I decided not to ask too many questions about what it means to have a "cookie personality."  And I wasn't sure I wanted to hear the answer anyway.

This line turned into a running joke, and several years later, after I told that story to a class at the University of Northern Colorado, a bunch of them got on and left comments about my "cookie personality." 

A colleague at UNC was always kind of snarky about the "cookie personality" thing, referring to it sarcastically on a number of occasions.  It clearly irritated her, and she remarked more than once that she envied the label, even as she coached me to "grow a set," in her words.

More recently, I've run into a similar situation here: a former student told me that when my name came up in a conversation she was having with another professor, the other prof said, "Oh, Rosemary.  She ought to have little birds fluttering around her head." 

I can't tell you how much that irritated me.  Being a "good girl" is a double-edged sword.  Yeah, I'll be the first to say that there are a lot of benefits to it.  My longtime friend Christina and I are sometimes astonished at the stuff we got away with in high school because we were considered to be "good girls" and "good students."  (Don't worry, Mom: it was nothing dire!)

But when you get tagged that way, and--admittedly--when it's important to you personally to be thought of that way, it's a very restrictive and even a dangerous label.  

Recent events at work have left me feeling like being anything but a good girl.  I've been, by turns, enraged, depressed, astonished by people's short-sightedness, and just plain cranky.  I haven't wanted to be nice, or be a team player.  To do so would be to deny my very real, very powerful feelings.  And yet, I worry that if I show my true feelings, speak my mind, people will think that the "good girl" thing has all been an act--that I was just waiting to get tenure so that I could revert to my true, bitchy self.
I posted this image to my Facebook profile,
and a former colleague commented,
"Rosemary! This doesn't sound like you at all."
But it's what I'd like to say sometimes.

Those of you who know me are probably saying "Not bloody likely."  I know.  If only I could say what I feel, be bitchy, pitch a fit, sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of Morgantown.  Instead, the arguments, the sassy comebacks, the bitchy asides just play on a continuous loop in my head.  I'm not a nice person; I just hide my inner mean girl a little too well.

In the wake of all of this, I've been contemplating what "Good Girl 2.0" might look like, since "Good Girl 1.0" is so obviously an obsolete and buggy piece of software.

Good Girl 2.0 would maintain its signature features: trying to be kind, compassionate, reliable, helpful, and thoughtful. 

However, while these are integral parts of the Good Girl programming, they need to not be automatic functions in Good Girl 2.0.  Perhaps the new interface should have a series of pop-up dialog boxes: "Are you sure you want to say yes to that request?"  "Does what you're about to say reflect what you actually feel?" "Can you tolerate disappointing or angering this person?  Because it's OK if you do." 

That last one's tough, since Good Girl 1.0 has a tendency to crash if she thinks someone is mad at her.  And she's also worried that her niceness is an effective whitewash to hide her incompetence, so that without it she'll be revealed for the fraud she is.  Or perhaps the better analogy would be to liken niceness to a bunker:  "If I'm nice [or cooperative, or silent, or invisible], people won't hurt me."

How do you beta-test a new attitude? 

Well, one way is graphically.  Here's how I'm reframing the "fluttering birds" comment:

Any good student of fairy tales knows that in many older variants, the heroine isn't always sweet and docile.  Often, she's wily and intelligent--a trickster.  She often plays into the villain's idea that she's naive and powerless specifically to put herself in a more powerful position.  Folklore reminds us that there's always been a subversive element to good-girl behavior; in Good Girl 2.0, I think that feature needs to be more robust. 

But here's the thing: it's not about the program's interface.  It's about being more user-friendly--the user being me.  In short, I don't necessarily have to change how I respond to things, but where I respond to them from.  If the response comes from that automatic, Good Girl 1.0 place, then it's likely based in fear, or shame.  The 2.0 response might might look the same to another person, but feels entirely different to me because it comes more directly from my feeling in the moment.

Cinderella may still be smiling, but she's not doing it because she feels like she has to.

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Christy said...

I know how you feel, and fully agree that we're entitled to a full range of responses to our world without compromising our identities.

Shout that yawp from the rooftops, Rosemary. You've earned it.

Pam said...

I've often thought of writing a book called "Nurturing Your Inner Bitch" Since for our don't rock the boat upbringing we've learned to stifle it.

Rosemary said...

Thanks, both of's good to have permission to be as yawpy as I need to be. Though I know that the person who *really* has to give her permission is me. That's the hard part, dammit!

Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to be snarky, was not irritated, and would never have characterized our friendship as one in which I tried to coach you. Wish you wouldn't write about us.