The Good Little Girl


My mother used to read this to me. (from When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne)

If you are an eldest daughter, born in the 1950's, chances are you were a "good girl". You learned to speak quietly, reply politely and do as you were told. If your next sibling followed quickly (my brother is 14 months younger than me) it is likely that your mother was very busy.

Little girl with a little curl

When I went to school, I was terrified of the teacher speaking sharply to me or of being reprimanded.
I learned my role as "smart girl", conscientious, quiet...Hardly anyone ever noticed me or remembers me from school. I was always afraid that the day would come when I would be unsuccessful academically.  Since I believed myself inadequate in every other field of endeavour, I would not survive in the school world. Catastrophizing ....

We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man. Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. Now marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors not for jobs or accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are.”
― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists

The 1960's and early 1970's were confusing times for "good girls." Boys were allowed "to sow their wild oats???",  but no one would want to marry "well-used merchandise???" and while you might have excelled at school, you would definitely stay home to look after "your own children".  So often the language of relationship was the language of property and ownership.

Our socialization plays a significant role in our participation in the world. As a very mixed-up young woman, I married the first man who asked because I might never get another offer.  I'd be an unattractive, klutzy file-clerk for the rest of my life. Marriage is a life goal (maybe) and as in gym class, I would be chosen last. A wee bit of catastrophizing !

  The message is that little girl looking after others is good, little girl who spills her porridge
is horrid. Who could have dreamt that one up?

The first time I stepped out of my "good girl" role was probably leaving my husband. I had a husband who cared for me, a daughter, a house with a yard (never since) but I felt trapped. I couldn't explain it but I knew that I was not living my "true life".  None of my parents' close friends were divorced and unhappy marriages were never acknowledged. My younger siblings both married  the year that I separated. As I was no longer part of a couple, I was paired with my daughter at family functions. As a woman without a husband, I had lost status in my family.  The remedy for this loss (not) is to find another man as quickly as possible.


Chimananda Ngozi Adichie maintains that the worst thing that we have done to girls is to change them into beings who have turned pretense into an art form. Girls learn to hide their negative feelings, to smile, to avoid disagreements. Through these deceptions, a girl will (supposably) win the competition for a husband.

 This conditioning has caused me unhappiness throughout my life. In trying to follow the rules, I have caused myself pain. The people who set the rules have forgotten them or blame me for having chosen to follow them. It is made apparent to me that I no longer please as much as others whose lives were never dictated by this code.

If you are an eldest daughter of the 1950's, do you recognize some of these insecurities? Did you have a breakaway event in your life? It's liberating to know that no one dies from disapproval.




I wish I could have said this:

I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.

 Coco Chanel











Comments

  1. I married young but fortunately I married a man who believes in equality and equal opportunities for both men and women.
    My parents instilled many beliefs in me as I was growing up but not many were sexist. My father liked to say that children were to be seen and not heard at the dinner table, we were expected to be polite, always say please and thank you and we had chores to do as we were a family unit.
    It was expected that I would do my homework and try hard at school...that it was my job to prepare myself for the workforce.
    My mom was a nurse and she worked part time when I was growing up so she was an excellent role model...
    My husband and I are a team and he is my best friend.


    I’ve never been made to feel insignificant or marginalized in our relationship...even when I stayed home for 10 years raising our children.
    I feel very grateful.

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    Replies
    1. Your mother seems to have been a very good role model of gracious living and independence. The choice to care for a family should never be trivialized nor should the choice to return quickly to work . I enjoyed the time spent with my daughter when she was young and I was a part-time student.

      I think that it is very important to feel that we can make choices. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.

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  2. I do care what 'you' think of me but I wish I didn't care as much as I do! I, too, am a first born child of the 50's. My mom was a go-getter who excelled at everything - a chemist and musician when women rarely sought education beyond high school. But then she turned into a homemaker and let all of all that fall by the wayside. And through her example, I received kind of mixed messages. I do have a curl right in the middle of my forehead... a cowlick in fact!

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  3. It is the mixed messages that are confusing. When rules or expectations change or vary from child to child, the pleaser girl does not know what to do,

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