The construct of a an ideal good girl differs from culture to culture. Each culture has their unique conception and norms about how a good girl ought to be and behave. For example: An Arab might think of a girl driving her car is bad and so deserves punishment. Recently in Iran a girl was arrested for attending a men’s volleyball match. Such seemingly irrational norms(for outsiders) are present in all countries and cultures. Mormons in USA discourage a women to work outside the house, Indian Khap Panchayats ban jeans and mobile phones for girls lest they turn them in to bad girls!
Cultures preserve this image of the good girl and make girls confirm to this standard through social agents such as parents, religious figures, teachers, peers and media(eg. Saas Bahu serials). They use various forms of reinforcements and punishments to turn them in to good girls. Most girls voluntarily accept these norms as ideals and some thing to be aspired for. This is because of every person’s emotional need for positive regard and attachment with significant others. There is no denying the fact that girls feel more need to have emotional bonds with others, they attach greater premium to confirm to society’s standards than resist them.
I must clarify here that boys are also pressured by societies and cultures to live up to the ideal standards. But the cost of girls being ‘bad’ are higher than for men. In fact a ‘bad’ boys’ behavior is some times rewarded or justified by society.
Every society tries to make sense of the world around it and creates norms and values which if followed by every person in such a society leads to an organized and a civilized society. So if you think that the norms of an ideal good girl is ‘bizarre’ in some societies it is due to difference in your and their world view. Each culture’s norms of an ideal good girl is based on sound internal logic backed by past traditions and religion.
To keep it real, I feel that a girl born in to a particular culture is better off following its norms and try to be the ‘good’ girl as far as they can, because being bad has too high costs. A blogger in another post on this topic, has mentioned how she was interested in Hip-Hop but had to give it up as her mother wanted her to learn classical dancing instead. Can we really blame the little girl for trying to please her mother by giving up on her interests and would the result be any different if is she had rebelled?
Besides some of the norms of cultures are not too bad and are actually based on wise sayings from centuries ago. It is not always right to do whatever we want to do. For example, I don’t agree with the American extremist liberal argument that strippers in strip clubs deserve respect and it is just as like any other profession. I feel that strip clubs are nothing more than centers promoting objectification of women and society needs to hold an ideal ‘good girl’ image where girls are discouraged from choosing to become strippers.
Instead of trying to be bad or a rebel, women can work to change the norms in the society as a whole. Slowly but surely progressive ideas are percolating in to Indian society. For example, at least in metro cities inter caste and love marriages are no longer taboo and girls have more freedom to experiment with different fashions.
But there are some instances where the ‘good girl’ ideal of a society builds has debilitating and dis-empowering effects on women. The most extreme example is the practice of Sati. According to it a ‘good’ wife should throw herself in to the burning pyre of her dead husband. Though the practice is no longer present in the country, it shows the power of social pressure which makes people/women to go to extreme lengths(suicide) to prove themselves to be ‘good’.
This is a fine balance for women to maintain between conformity and resistance to cultural norms. The society around them provides them an identity and emotional support which they cannot ignore. At the same time they cannot sacrifice their own self interests, pursuits and their choice of whom they want to marry(love).
This calls for loosening of society’s hold over people especially women. These norms create a lot of unnecessary guilt, confusion and dilemmas in their minds. More progressive ideals need to be accepted in the society, which recognizes individuality and humanism. Society needs to give greater freedom of choice for a girl rather than making them confirm to a particular image of a ‘good’ girl.
This blog post is part of #Indispire edition 46