I have worked with many kinds of girls including the stereotypical “good girl” and the stereotypical “mean girl”.
Good girls are polite, sweet, kind, and caring. They are rule followers and they are people pleasers. They nod and smile and they are modest and selfless. So, they make “ideal” daughters and sought after students. The problem is I don’t know if they are being their real authentic selves. I appreciate the courtesy and respect but sometimes I am left wondering, “Do they really mean what they say and say what they mean”. I don’t know. It’s hard to tell. In Rachel Simmons book, The Curse of the Good Girl, Simmons asserts that we teach girls to embrace a version of selfhood that curtails their power and potential but we need to build up resilience, assertiveness, and integrity.
Mean girls are also polite, on the surface. Yet, below their outer persona of their best selves, mean girls have learned to express their feelings in passive aggressive ways: gossiping, excluding, and name-calling. They may project their feelings of anger or frustration onto innocent bystanders (usually the good girl!). Again, with mean girls, I don’t know if their meanness towards others is who they really want to be or who they have become for lack of alternative coping and communication skills. You just don’t know what is behind the mean girl protective layer.
I believe there’s a little of the “good girl” and the “mean girl” in all girls and I feel, as supporters of young girls, we need to help them understand and then choose to be real girls and strong girls!
Here are some ideas to transition from “good girl” and “mean girl” labels to real girls.
- Deconstruct stereotypes: no girl is all good or all mean – help them see themselves as a whole girl – with many different qualities and characteristics
- Help girls understand the difference between gaining power by putting others down and gaining power by building others up – the choice is theirs
- Teach girls to let go of who they think they should be to embrace who they really are – often girls are living up to the labels we have set out for them or the reputations they have created by mistake
- Encourage girls to know themselves by exploring what they enjoy doing, their strengths, and what they are learning to do – this is an ongoing, lifelong process
- Ask girls of their opinion – and give them time to think – girls need to know the value of their voices and they need the opportunity to practice expressing their unique ideas
- Help girls practice communicating their true feelings – they can say how they feel and explain their feelings – as long as they are kind and respectful with their words
- Teach girls they do not have to agree with the status quo or give in to the group’s opinion – they need to think for themselves and on their own
As we help girls shed their labels and stereotypes we can also help to be their authentic selves. It’s much less work to be who they are than to keep up an ideal image of perfection (the good girl) or toughness (the mean girl)!