"Her soul was too deep to explore by those who always swam in the shallow end." — A.J. Lawless
If you're anything like me, one of your regular struggles is navigating niceness versus rightness.
In fact, as a woman, I would be incredibly surprised if you have not encountered this dichotomy innumerable times in your life—maybe even daily, multiple times a day.
As women, it is our social conditioning to be good.
The good girl. The good student.
At first, the concept sounds benign, preferable even.
What is so wrong with being good?
Unfortunately, that goodness poses itself not as boldly creating positive outcomes for yourself and those around you, but rather goodness in this case equals docility.
Being a good girl has nothing to do with the character of your heart, and everything to do with how others perceive your presentability.
"Good girl" is a remnant from decades, eras, centuries past.
It is the too much/not enough dilemma. To be beautiful, but not vain. To speak well, but not better than your male counterparts. To be universally liked, but not too forward.
How is it that as women we can find ourselves both too much for this world to handle and yet always coming up short at the same time?
Good girl conditioning starts in schools, where we learn to accommodate the needs of authority, but not necessarily our own.
Follow rules, do the requested homework, get your good grades and you will be deemed good.
Does that sound familiar to you?
But when the assignment is to think for yourself, as is often required outside of school years, and which is definitely demanded of women looking to lead, we often come up short.
We spend so many years looking for how to please others that it's not until later that we really learn how to please—or think for—ourselves.
I say this not as a scathing critique, but as something of a lament for our own wildness.
I have been a good girl if ever there was one.
The good student, always ready with the answer.
But when I got to the work world, I was startled to find that no one was asking questions of me. Without the prompting, I didn't answer.
I scarcely spoke up at all.
Even knowing this, even working at an organization based on conversation and communication, I still have difficulty speaking up on a regular basis.
I didn't use to be like this. I was bold when I was younger, ready to argue for fun, convinced I would be the president or an astronaut or a prestigious lawyer (see: arguing for fun).
But subtle cues from all sides eventually taught me that righteous indignation is cute for a kid, and not wholly acceptable for a young woman.
I know the shift in my behavior started earlier, but I remember it catalyzing around the time that my body was changing. There was unacknowledged shame and confusion around becoming a woman, and the subconscious realization that my sex was not afforded the same privilege as the other.
Being a good girl is a protective strategy. If you are "good," as in not too outspoken, you will accepted. Which means you will be safe.
It is an incredible luxury not to have to think about safety. It is the privilege of heterosexual men, who do not have to fear the same fears or to the same extent as women must. It is the privilege of white women, who do not have to fear in the same way that women of other racial backgrounds must.
If what we gained by quieting ourselves was truly satisfying, perhaps it might be worth it. But what we lose in return for this so-called safety is devastating,
What we forfeit in return for our protection is self-actualization.
No small loss.
Think hard and long about whether being good means enough to you to give up feeling personally fulfilled.
Do I have answers for how to overcome our good girl conditioning?
It is a hard and alienating—but incredibly worthwhile—process.
Reclaiming wildness requires repeated awareness each time you silence your heart for the sake of safety. It requires speaking up in service to your heart anway. It requires facing possible backlash when you do not uphold the norms that have been holding us back. It requires talking so loud and so often that more marginalized women—women who risk much more than you—feel they can begin to whisper and gradually speak with more volume.
In return for your efforts, you will hold the knowledge that you can make tangible progress on realizing your own desires by letting others hear your heart's call.
You will actualize your goals rather than keep them behind closed lips.
Let go of likability for the sake of visibility.
Let us not strive to be nice but to be kind. Let us forsake tameness, because we are not tame.
Do not be good—be wild.