The Curse of the Good Girl: Q&A With Author Rachel Simmons

Filed under: Books for Parents


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Did you know that being a good girl is actually a bad thing? It's bad for self-esteem, self-expression, risk-taking and personal authority. In short, it arrests a girl's ability to develop into a strong, confident woman.

Rachel Simmons, author of "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence," defines a "good girl" as someone who is "unerringly nice, polite, modest, and selfless." Unfortunately, good girls grow up to become perfect moms: organized, Martha Stewart-types whose yoga-trim bodies are often seen dashing from the boardroom to PTA meetings to their kids' sporting events to shifts at the food co-op. Trying to be a perfect mother can set a destructive example for your daughter.

ParentDish spoke with Simmons about how parents can help their daughters avoid the trap of "good" girlhood. An edited version of the conversation follows:

ParentDish: Can women use this book as a way to get a hold of their own subconscious good-girl tendencies?
Rachel Simmons: It's one of the central goals. I find that too much parenting advice focuses on what to do to your child in order to make your child smarter, faster, better, nicer, when actually, the reality is who parents are and what parents do plays much more of a role in who our kids become. In my opinion, a lot of parenting advice is very misplaced and actually ends up putting the onus on the kid to be something without actually having us look at ourselves. Particularly when it comes to women; women script girls in how to hold their bodies, how to speak about themselves, how to relate to other people, how to manage their feelings. And so who we are as women is far and away going to affect who a girl becomes more than what we say to our kid, like, "You are a good kid;" "You are a smart kid;" "You did a good job."

The thing that has most surprised me about writing this book is the number of adult women who have come up to me and have said, "I don't even have kids and I'm reading this book."

We know that when women hit a certain age, about 40 or 50, they start to say, "You know? I don't really care what you think anymore." But until that point there's not a huge amount that differentiates us from girls. So much of my mission is to get girls to have some of that 50-year-old fierceness earlier.

Author Rachel Simmons.
Credit: Tamara Staples

PD: I'm curious about what your childhood was like and why this has become your mission?
RS:
How long do you have?

PD: (Laughs)
RS: My mom and my mom's mom played a really big role in my upbringing. They're just very outspoken, independent women who experienced difficulty in their lives. My grandmother's a Holocaust survivor and my mom was born in a displaced person's camp. [They were] women who endured a lot of stress in their lives, so were very determined that I be independent and that I be able to take care of myself.

PD: What would you say is a father's role?
RS:
I think Dads are hugely important and underrated and I probably should have done a separate chapter about them, but didn't. A lot of times when a father can bring his own set of [behaviors] to his daughter, that's really good to see. Because a lot of times moms are strongly identifying with what their daughters are doing socially, particularly, that it's really hard for them to get any distance, whereas a lot of dads are like, "Wait a minute. Why are you guys giving each other the silent treatment? Just talk it out."

What's unfortunate is that fathers often perceive their very maleness as a disqualifier from helping girls, when, in fact, it is often that different set is exactly what girls need.


PD: What can parents do to help their daughters be strong?
RS: I always think of these things in terms of muscles. You want to develop your daughter's muscles in the areas we know that females don't develop. Muscles to say what you're good at. Muscles to say, "No." Muscles to say "thank you" when you're complimented.

Somebody says, "Sorry" and you say, "Oh, it's OK." "Oh, you totally betrayed me? Don't worry about it." You can use the word "skills" as another word for muscles, but I think girls need to practice ... [Girls] need to be able to fail and have a sense of humor about it. The idea of the muscle is that it takes repetition and if you don't use it, you lose it.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.