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Advice On Raising Girls With Courage And Confidence

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Aired 10/8/09

The pressure to be perfect may be keeping young girls from discovering their true selves. We welcome back author Rachel Simmons to These Days to discuss her new book THE CURSE OF THE GOOD GIRL: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence.

"The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence" is Rachel Simmons new book.

Above: "The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence" is Rachel Simmons new book.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. There are a lot of traits children can exhibit. They can be creative or adventurous or inquisitive, they can be unruly or stubborn or disobedient but one thing they cannot be all the time is good. And yet my guest, writer Rachel Simmons, says that is the one trait that is still prized above all others for young girls. She says the pressure to be good, to excel in school, to be kind and courteous, to look great, to have lots of friends and never really step out of line is keeping girls from finding out who they really are and from developing the skills they need to succeed in the world. Although girls today have more opportunities and freedom than ever before, are we still asking them to be the nicer, quieter, less intrusive sex? And how is that message supposed to prepare them for the future? I'd like to welcome my guest, Rachel Simmons, the author of the new book, “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence.” Rachel, welcome to These Days.

RACHEL SIMMONS (Author): Thanks, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And we’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you encouraging your daughter to be a real girl instead of always a good girl? What are the messages society is sending to young girls? Give us a call with your questions or your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Now, Rachel, you were interviewed on These Days back when your first book came out. The show got a tremendous response. The book was called “Odd Girl Out,” and it was about the ways young girls show aggression. I wonder if it’s fair to say that the book, “The Curse of the Good Girl,” shows where that aggression comes from?

SIMMONS: Oh, definitely. Definitely, because when I was writing “Odd Girl Out” and I was asking girls why are you going behind each other’s backs all the time? Why are you giving each other the silent treatment? And they all said, because I don’t want to tell her how I really feel. If I do that, she won’t like me anymore. And there was this incredible pressure that girls were facing to be nice all the time. And so as I branched out in my work with girls and began not just to think about their friendships with others but to ask them about how they handled themselves in classrooms and on sports fields and in lots of other areas, it seemed like that same pressure kept coming up. What if people don’t like me anymore if I say a strong opinion, for example, or if I disagree with someone in class. So it’s definitely a follow-up, for sure.

CAVANAUGH: And when you use the term ‘good girl,’ what kind of traits are you talking about?

SIMMONS: Well, it’s funny. You can just ask girls what they think, which is what I did. What girls say a good girl is, is someone who is friends with everyone, nice all the time, she plays by the rules, she doesn’t have strong opinions on things, she’s modest, she’s generous and, of course, I would add generous to a fault, and she does everything right. She doesn’t make mistakes, which I would add to that she doesn’t have a sense of humor about those mistakes either because she’s so deeply invested in doing everything right.

CAVANAUGH: And the premise of your book is that, you know, there’s a lot of pressure in what you just described but there is no real – really anything bad about it. You know, it would be nice for people to be this way but these traits, you say, affect a young girl’s ability to develop a real personality. How do they do that?

SIMMONS: Well, I think also we’re talking about things in extreme. Everything in moderation is a good thing. I mean, it’s great for girls to work hard and want to please people to some extent. Where it starts to limit them is that if you are only or always invested in what other people think of you then you are naturally going to disconnect from what is true for you. And in every person’s life, there are moments where people are not doing things that are nice to them and girls don’t learn how to advocate for themselves in their relationships, and I mean all kinds of relationships if they are invested above all in being nice.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you talk about a kind of language girls use, you call it ‘good girl speak.’ Could you give us an example of that?

SIMMONS: Yeah, there’s lots of examples of those. I’m an educator also so – and I think any educators out there listening will know what I’m – will relate to what I’m about to say which is that when you teach a classroom filled with girls, or girls and boys, they raise their hands and they very often apologize before they speak, so they say things like ‘I’m not sure if this is right but…’ and then they announce their opinion. Or they will use up-speak to make everything sound like a question.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh.

SIMMONS: And that, of course, doesn’t end up taking too much space up and it doesn’t make people disagree with you, and people still like you. And in my book, I talk about all these different ways that girls diminish their assertive self-expression in the classroom and in other areas. We also have things like ‘just kidding’ and ‘no offense,’ which are used to circumvent having to tell someone what you really think. So I can say, no offense, Maureen, but your radio show’s really boring, and you can’t get mad at me because I said ‘no offense.’

CAVANAUGH: Right, right.

SIMMONS: And there are all these verbal tools, these linguistic tools, that girls use to maintain a good girl image but often they’re trying to say something else.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Rachel Simmons about her new book “The Curse of the Good Girl.” We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. So, Rachel, what if a girl answers always everything with a question? You know, with that upturned sort of inflection? And what if, you know, she doesn’t want to give offense? Why is that potentially a disadvantage?

SIMMONS: Well, let’s just think about her professional potential for just a moment. Using up-speak to express your strongest opinions, making them sound like questions, does not instill confidence in your listeners so we want a girl – I think it’s fine if they want to use up-speak when they’re hanging out with their friends but if they actually have no idea how to do it differently, then they will not have healthy habits in terms of their speech that they will take with them into the workplace so other people may not particularly want to follow someone’s advice if it is constantly delivered in terms of up-speak. And I think that really what happens is when we – after college, when girls go out into the workforce, what we see is that they lack certain skills that make the difference between being good and great out in the world. They’re not advocating for themselves, they’re not promoting themselves, because they’ve learned to be good.

CAVANAUGH: Because that up-stick – up-speak, as you call it, does sort of stick with a lot of girls through high school, through college, and into adulthood.

SIMMONS: It absolutely does and it’s not just up-speak. For example, if you want to be a good girl when you’re growing up, you’re not going to talk about what you’re good at, you’re not going to own your strengths, which is very different from little kids. Six-year-old girls, if you ask them who’s the best runner in this class, everybody raises her hand, I’m the best runner. But then as girls get older, they learn that how they’re really supposed to be is modest, so don’t say you’re a good runner, don’t say you’re a good writer. And what happens when they go out into the workforce is that they don’t have what I call the inner resume, those psychological skills, those muscles that you need to go to your supervisor and say, I deserve a promotion, I deserve a raise because I’m good at these things.

CAVANAUGH: Right, and how – Well, what do you do to help a young girl expand her communication skills?

SIMMONS: Well, I’ve got lots of suggestions in this book.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, you do.

SIMMONS: There’s ten years of working with girls that have really gone into this book, and one of the things I think girls need to do is simply develop healthier habits of self-expression. So I think it’s important to ask girls what did you like today about your soccer game and how you played? Or, what did you like about what you did on this test? So we want girls to get into the comfort and practice of saying this is what I know I do well in life. Equally, they need to be comfortable talking about their vulnerabilities, too, because actually girls also struggle with finding out that they’ve made a mistake. So promoting those healthy habits is really important. I also do, as an educator and I work with a lot of teachers, I distribute whistles in my classroom and anytime a girl starts using up-speak, you’re allowed to blow the whistle. And it’s a fun exercise that makes girls very suddenly aware of some of the habits which for them are very unconscious.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Rachel Simmons about the book, “The Curse of the Good Girl.” And I’m wondering, in our listeners, do you know a young girl who uses that up-speak or has trouble with her communication skills? What do you do to encourage your young children, your daughters, to speak with courage and confidence? The number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. You know, Rachel, it’s widely assumed that girls are good at expressing their feelings but you don’t agree with that premise.

SIMMONS: No, I definitely don’t. I think we have this myth that just because girls have lots of feelings means they must be really good at managing them. And, in fact, girls can be quite emotionally illiterate at some of the most challenging moments of their lives. I think we tend to assume that girls are emotionally intelligent creatures. Many of them really have a hard time knowing what they’re feeling, saying it, and even accepting their feelings. And so I think one of the most important areas that we need to focus on in terms of helping girls become more confident and more authentic is developing their ability to connect with their feelings and express them out in the world in a way that allows them to be successful in their relationships.

CAVANAUGH: And one of the things you point to is especially hard for girls who are living this good girl myth, is responding well to criticism.

SIMMONS: Oh, yes. You know, when you want to be perfect and when you want everyone to like you and your teacher tells you you’re not working up to your potential or your coach tells you that you need to hustle a little bit more on the field, that feels like a major good girl violation for a whole lot of girls. Constructive feedback is experienced as somehow I’ve let the person down and there must be something wrong with this relationship just because this person is talking about my performance, and what we also see is that girls begin to personalize criticism so this is shortly followed by the teacher hates me or the coach hates me when, in fact, actually it has nothing to do with the relationship, it just has to do with the performance that we’re talking about. When girls personalize criticism, it actually makes it much harder for the teachers and coaches in their lives to keep giving it to them. And so what I worry about—and I’ve heard this in the remarks of teachers that I’ve interviewed—is sugar-coating of evaluation because I don’t want to upset this kid. And what if I upset this kid and maybe her mother or her father’s going to call me and give me a hard time? So girls are the ones who lose out when they can’t handle evaluation and when their parents sometimes, unfortunately, contribute to that by saying, oh, yes, this teacher does hate you.

CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about the new book, “The Curse of the Good Girl” with author Rachel Simmons, and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a phone call from Carrie in Encinitas. Good morning, Carrie. Welcome to These Days.

CARRIE (Caller, Encinitas): Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to make a comment. Something that’s helped with my daughter to kind of maybe get away from the good girl curse is the soccer field. She just almost becomes a different gal when she gets out there and starts playing so I think that’s really – that’s helped her to be more assertive, maybe take those skills from soccer field into maybe the classroom or with her friends maybe in a way. And she just has really learned those skills over the years. It’s taken years but, you know, it’s been kind of fun to watch, as her mom.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that call, Carrie. And that was one of the ideas of Title IX and getting girls involved in sports. Do you see that that helps, Rachel?

SIMMONS: Oh, definitely. I think Carrie’s right on about that. In my book, I talk actually about sports and what they can do for girls because we know what a good girl is, we’ve talked a little bit about that, so I often ask girls to say what is a great athlete? And the definition of a great athlete is – often really undermines that good girl pressure because a great athlete is supposed to take up space and be loud and be aggressive and be out there. And so it’s a wonderful opportunity for girls to deviate from some of that pressure. I also think that a sports field is almost like the first workplace for a girl in the sense that she’s not going there just to hang out with her friends. She’s got a job to do. Not everyone there is her friend. And so it’s really important for girls to use sports environments as a place to develop different habits. One of the – The one thing I do want to say about girls and sports is that we sometimes romanticize it a little too much because just as girls sometimes give each other the silent treatment in the hallway when they’re upset at each other, quite unfortunately on the soccer field, they may not pass you the ball if they’re upset with you. And so I think it’s also important that we make sure not to forget some of the difficult things that might be happening on sports fields because what girls learn there might actually become the basis for who they become out in the workplace later on.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. When we return, we will continue discussing “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence” with author Rachel Simmons, and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

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CAVANAUGH: We’re talking about “The Curse of the Good Girl” on These Days here on KPBS. I’m Maureen Cavanaugh and we’re speaking with Rachel Simmons, the author of this new book. Taking your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. There are a lot of people who want to join the conversation, Rachel, but right before that I just want to talk about the pressure that girls have, young girls have, to be both bright and beautiful. Talk to us about the pressures to be attractive and how early does that start?

SIMMONS: It’s amazing how early it starts. It’s starting earlier and earlier, as young as kindergarten. You know, you hear stories about one girl calls another girl fat as a way to marginalize or humiliate her, and body consciousness is become a bigger and bigger issue in a negative sense because there is a billion dollar industry that is aiming straight for girls and they’re going younger and younger because they know that females actually possess most of the buying power in the United States and so what’s happening is these advertisers are going earlier and earlier, turning girls into consumers as soon as they can access technology which, as any parent knows, is earlier and earlier. So there is this enormous pressure for girls to look a particular way. Pretty much everything is airbrushed now so it’s not even a way that they resemble, while at the same time they’re also being told be really, really smart, be great at everything you do, and it’s a combustible combination of pressures for these girls.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s start to take some calls. Anna is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Anna. Welcome to These Days.

ANNA (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. I appreciate you taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, hi. How can we help you?

ANNA: Well, I wanted to add to the conversation. When you mentioned earlier about the up-speak in classrooms, trying to motivate the girls to recognize it and be kind of metacognitive and stop using it but one thing that I notice as an educator – I’ve been teaching for 14 years, mostly upper grades and sixth grade, and I notice that when these kids are pressured to do well, they’ll either shut down or not participate, kind of marginalize themselves, so one thing I do very, very wholeheartedly in my classroom is community building and making sure that every single kid in the classroom has a role. And what I try to do is also break stereotypes so that the kids who do have those roles are able to not have stereotypical roles. For example, we have a pet that’s a bearded dragon…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ANNA: …and my – the pet is like 21 inches long and it could be pretty intimidating. And the first day of school, most of the kids are, you know, kind of cautious about touching it but the petkeepers can be a boy or a girl. I have two at a time. They feed it worms. The girls handle the worms, you know. And so, literally, they start becoming very much on equal ground because of all the community building. And not just the pet but their ability to speak and to participate in class, whether it’s academic or just to speak their mind.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Anna, thank you for that. Thank you for sharing that with us. You know, Anna’s question made me think about all the parents out there who work very hard to make sure that their daughters have just as much opportunity, just as much freedom, as their sons, and I wonder, what – where’s the disconnect in that? What is going wrong in your opinion, Rachel?

SIMMONS: Well, first of all, I just want to just remark on Anna’s work as a teacher. I think that that’s really important for educators to talk directly with young people about some of the stuff that happens but that nobody actually talks about, so you really want to make transparent some of the issues that are affecting them in terms of how they talk in stereotypes. I think that’s just, you know, A-number-one great to do. But to your question, Maureen, I think that one of the issues that I see in my work with families is that the mother is such a valuable role model for the daughter. It’s from our mothers that, you know, young women learn how to speak, how to assert themselves, and moms are under huge pressures themselves to sacrifice their feelings and their needs in order to have the, you know, supposed ideal family. And that pressure, that pressure to be a perfect mom, often leads women to set unwittingly destructive examples for their daughters because there’s a curse of the perfect mother that many women are capitulating to without really thinking it through. So in the book, I talk a lot about how important it is for moms to hook into that – into that pressure, not because it’s their fault but because the culture is putting terrible constraints on mothers today.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Jessy is calling from Del Mar. Good morning, Jessy. Welcome to These Days.

JESSY (Caller, Del Mar): Good morning. My comment was on the up-streak (sic) and the questioning tone of voice?

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

JESSY: That as a young engineer and also as a more mature one, I’ve found that sometimes they can be used as a tool just like any other tool in your toolbox of vocal intonations or getting work done. The up-speak I’ve used to say I was an inexperienced engineer and I was trying to get people who were work – would work beneath – you know, under me, to do what I wanted them to do, but at first they were older males usually and they didn’t necessarily respect me. I would give these up-speak and respect and build rapport with them and eventually I could deal with them straight across, straight up, and everything worked out fine. But at first, because I was young, if I’d have been in their face with my opinions—and I saw other women do this—it didn’t work as well.

CAVANAUGH: Umm.

JESSY: Now this was 20 years ago, okay?

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

JESSY: I don’t know how it is now for a young engineer but I have also taught a few men how to deal with superiors when they’re more knowledgeable on a particular subject that their superior has to give the final opinion on, how to use some of those not-quite-so-confrontational tools to get their point across.

CAVANAUGH: Well, than you for that. I’d like to get your reaction to that, Rachel.

SIMMONS: I’m – Yeah, I’m so glad you called in because I think what you’re talking about are what some people term the very distinctly feminine characteristics of management. And, you know, maybe that wasn’t the best way to put it. In other words, there’s this idea that there are – because women are so relational and because we are so often invested in other people’s feelings, we can be more sensitive as managers, so the fact that you were showing men how to perhaps be a little bit more diplomatic through their intonation is the wonderful thought of these verbal or linguistic or in-tone habits that we have. And it makes a lot of sense. I also think, too, that, you know, the reality is, like I can go tell girls to assert themselves out there but they’re still doing it in a world that is very uncomfortable with it so there’s no question, even for me, that I’m going to use my tones very carefully if I don’t want to put people off, and I just know that. That’s the reality that we live in.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call from Ashley in Point Loma. Good morning, Ashley. Welcome to These Days.

ASHLEY (Caller, Point Loma): Hello.

CAVANAUGH: Hi.

ASHLEY: First off, I want to say that I think that this book is amazing and that you’re doing a great job and address this to like young women today.

SIMMONS: Thanks, Ashley.

ASHLEY: I’m a communications major at Point Loma Nazarene University and I’m on the competitive speech and debate team on the collegiate circuit and I’ve been doing it for a few years now. In this arena, we often rely on our feminine like speaking styles and when you are seen as far too – using up-speak and being very polite, you’re seen as a pushover. And if you become aggressive in asserting yourself, you’re seen as very masculine and you’re usually docked points for this. And to the point where if a girl curls her hair and wears a nice outfit, such as a pink blouse, she’ll get higher speaking points versus a girl who wears a power suit, she’ll be seen, again, as masculine. And I have a real problem with this because I like to assert myself. And I was just wondering if you had any like opinion or comment on all that?

CAVANAUGH: I just want…

SIMMONS: Well, I just need you to wait while I pick my jaw up off the floor.

CAVANAUGH: I know, I wanted to ask you, Ashley, do you – is this documented in some way, what you’ve been saying about the pink shirt and the power suit and the docking points?

ASHLEY: There have been some studies within the debate community about this.

CAVANAUGH: Wow.

ASHLEY: And it’s been more of like you’ll – you – when you look more feminine, like statistically boy-girl teams or male-male teams do a lot better on the circuit than female-female teams. And I’ve personally experienced a lot of it and I was just – It’s kind of off-putting but I love debate so much and it’s done so many positive things, especially for females. It’s just like we’re a little – we’ve got a little bit more growing to do, I guess.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Rachel…

SIMMONS: Wow. Well, I think – I mean, look, I’m not surprised. I mean, I am surprised. My jaw was on the floor. But on another note, it does make sense and I think the previous caller, the engineer, was saying, you know, there are clearly times where using our more feminine wiles is going to get us further. That said, what you’re describing is actually discriminatory and quite sad. And I think – Look, I think that it’s a very – it’s a very complicated thing. Ultimately, we want to find the work environments and the colleagues who can support us for being assertive but we’re not always going to do that. We live in a society where when Hillary Clinton ran for president, it was her physical appearance that was constantly being commented on and they issued a nutcracker novelty item which was intended to, you know, mock her outspokenness that, you know – and so this the world that we live in and I think part of what I’m trying to say in this book is that despite all of the opportunities that we have given to young women like Ashley who can tour and speech – do speech and debate, there is – there are still mixed feelings in our culture about how far girls are allowed to go and, as a result, we see girls not necessarily having the confidence to walk through those doors because they are coping with mixed messages.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Rachel, you give, as you say, a lot of tips in your book about what parents can do to help their daughters get out of this real girl – I mean, this good girl trap and become real girls. And I wonder if you’d go through just a few of them for us. One of them I was particularly drawn to was being goofy.

SIMMONS: Yes, I’m a big fan of being silly and bear with me on this one. So right around middle school, maybe early middle school, there’s a group of girls that crop up in the classroom and usually they’re popular girls, and they suddenly stop playing around and being what I would call dorky, and they start to either punish or make fun of the other girls who are. And they – these girls are trying to act like more like women, in their opinion, and they don’t think it’s cool to be silly and playful anymore. And I think that is a very, very terrible thing because when girls are being silly, it is most often when they feel that they’re being themselves. And we want girls to feel connected to themselves. You know, when you ask girls how do you feel yourself or when do you most feel yourself, they almost always say when I’m being wild and crazy. And yet that begins to get eclipsed, so I think it’s crucial for girls to – you know, whether it’s in your family, in the car, in the kitchen, whatever it is, make time for just being silly because that’s often the time when they feel most physically and emotionally at home.

CAVANAUGH: And you mentioned before that the idea that mothers have of being perfect mothers can be actually a bad role model for girls who are trying to be, you know – trying to find their own personalities and become real girls. I wonder what kind of a role fathers can play in giving their daughters more confidence and courage.

SIMMONS: I think fathers have a huge role to play. Unfortunately, some of the dads I talked to believed that they should be deferring to mom, especially in the adolescent years because it’s all this quote, unquote, girl stuff. And I really challenge dads not to, not to do that because if you are a kind of conventional guy and you have some of those qualities that are not feminine in the sense that you do speak your mind, you’re not as invested in what other people think, your daughter needs a strong injection of that as a role model. And by you listening to her stories and saying, well, I think you should just do it this way, you know, I don’t think you should care what other people think, she may not take your advice but your presence is giving her enormous permission to do that when she’s ready. You know, I think what parents need to understand, particularly as girls get older and get into adolescence, they may not seem like they’re listening, they may not take your advice, but they are taking this in and you are making real deposits that are almost certain to pay off when they are ready to draw on them.

CAVANAUGH: Sarah is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Sarah. Welcome to These Days.

SARAH (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

SARAH: I was wondering if Rachel has advice. I have a four year old who, pre-school level, is already having started at school, she’s already beginning to obsess about her appearance. Unfortunately, she’s extremely pretty so she gets a lot of feedback from the outside about how beautiful she is, from strangers, from family. So I’m wondering if there are positive steps I can take. I do concentrate on asking her how she feels about things, what her opinions are, but what could I do about her beauty apart from cutting her hair off?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you.

SIMMONS: Well, Sarah, I think that’s – I mean, I think that’s – it’s honest of you and great that you’re interested in that. I would, first of all, make a point of telling people in my social circle, family and friends, to lay off on the ‘you look so beautiful and you’re so cute and what a pretty girl.’ Most of us, when we do that, we’re not even thinking about it. I mean, this what I do for a living and I still find myself doing it with my friends’ kids, so it’s a good reminder just to ask them to say that you’re trying to focus your daughter more on her intrinsic qualities rather than her external ones. I would also be really careful about how you respond to her on issues of appearance, and it may be one of the ways that she communicates with you or perhaps she wants to spend time shopping or, you know, looking at pretty things, and I would be really careful about not being too responsive there and just doing the redirect, as I think you’re already doing with, you know, how are you feeling? And also getting her involved in things that allow her to connect with her personal value as a human being, so making sure that the activities that she’s engaging in are related to her own skill development. I’m not – I have no idea if this is true for your daughter and I’m guessing it’s not but, you know, girls are getting pedicures and manicures younger and younger, and this is becoming an activity that mom does with daughter and we’re all going to go out and do that together, and I think that’s really, you know, inappropriate. Not only is it turning kids into consumers from a younger and younger age, but it’s getting them body conscious and aware. So think about those activities, and I think you’re doing a good job as it is.

CAVANAUGH: In just the couple of minutes we have left, Rachel, I’m wondering if you would tell us – because a lot of your book is really aimed at the future of young girls rather than perhaps just about changing behavior right now. Tell us what happens later on in life to women who don’t shake the good girl mindset.

SIMMONS: Well, I think – I’ve been amazed since this book came out by the number of adult women who’ve come up to me and who have said, I’m still struggling with this. And I think primarily what ends up happening is that you don’t feel satisfied in your relationships because you don’t advocate for yourself, you don’t speak up, you don’t say what you need. You maybe expect other people to know how you’re feeling, and get upset when they don’t. Or you become very invested in doing everything right so you only speak when you know you’re absolutely correct, and so you’re not challenging yourself or exposing yourself to activities or opportunities that might be a little messy for you. But I think fundamentally that good girl curse culminates in not feeling fulfilled or recognized or understood in your relationships. And as I always tell girls, if you don’t tell people how you feel, they can’t change things for you. Telling people how we feel creates change in our relationships and I think that’s the fundamental – one of the fundamental ways to break the good girl curse, is create change in your world, tell people how you feel.

CAVANAUGH: Rachel, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

SIMMONS: Thank you so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Rachel Simmons is the author of the new book, “The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence.” To those people whose calls we didn’t get to, you can post your comment at KPBS.org/TheseDays. Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll talk about the Mo'olelo production of “9 Parts of Desire.” You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar image for user 'sgoldbla'

sgoldbla | October 8, 2009 at 11:29 a.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

Great topic and an interesting conversation. I especially enjoyed Rachel Simmons' explanation of the importance to be goofy. Totally in agreement on that.

As a mother of a daughter and a former middle school English teacher I've seen, firsthand, girls struggling and reaching to find a sense of self as dictated by something internal, something they find within themselves.

If we are aiming at raising "authentic girls" I think it behooves us to turn away from the idea that there are a set of "rules" we need to follow to give our girls a sense of self. If we're telling our girls to speak a certain way and act a certain way and blow the whistle on them when we feel they're being too "this" or too "that" we're just sending them more messages that there's a given protocol they have to follow which again, leads to a model of perfection.

Authenticity comes with practice. It comes with feeling a sense of certainty about what we feel and how we express ourselves (that takes time and practice and modeling and mistake making). As an English teacher I have read hundreds of essays and poems written by girls and can say with confidence that the disparity between the literal voice I heard in the classroom and the writing voice of girls was wide. In their writing, these girls were able to exert themselves and their opinions, which led them to eventually exert themselves more vocally in the classroom. So, more than rules and avoidance of a nail salon, girls need a place where they can learn to express themselves and do so without running the risk of being chastised or corrected for it.

Right now as I write this, my daughter is home sick from school and drawing in her sketch book. Yes, I have conversations with my daughter about the importance of her being her own person, but I think more powerful than these conversations is the time she spends sketching and writing and navigating her own ideas within the freedom of the blank page. She needs the mentorship of people in the world--her teachers, authors, artists, books, friends and family--to model what it means to be authentic. But paramount is the fact that she needs a place to be messy and experiment with that authenticity. (And, truthfully, it's okay for her to see the materialistic, catty side, too. The easy, peasy world that's often displayed on television shows or on the painfully happy face of a Barbie doll--these unrealistic models of girlhood can help her discern between that which is real and that which is undoubtedly fake. She can be authentic knowing that it's a choice she has made, knowing the flip side of that.)

Our girls need the opportunity and space to express themselves--this is the "practice" of which I speak. They need the safe haven of a blank journal or page or dinner table conversation or stage or an athletic field or whatever space where they have room to create and falter and find who they are and what they want.

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Mom2Two | October 12, 2009 at 3:41 p.m. ― 4 years, 6 months ago

This is great advice! Excellent segment.

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