The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

On being a “good girl”

One of my co-workers is a young woman who happens to be Christian, and doesn’t personally wish to have sex before marriage. Today my boss called her a “good girl” for these very reasons, in front of the whole team. And it made me feel pretty shit. 

See, if that is the criteria for being a “good girl” then I’m not one. I know that the sentiments my boss expressed are not new, and I know that this sentiment has no actual baring on my worthiness or inherent ‘goodness’, but it still made me feel really shit.  I think it’s because I’m sick of knowing that my person and my morals and my history would make me less than valued or appreciated by a large section of society, and calling someone with very different morals than me a “good girl” just really hammered it home. 

I am the first to admit that in my personal life I live in a sex positive, feminist bubble of beautiful non-judgemental people, and that this sometimes skews my perception of just how common discriminatory sentiments are. However, this “good girl” sentiment has pierced that bubble a few times, and for some reason hits me harder than I would usually expect. 

I once had an ex boyfriend (who self identifies as a feminist) tell me that if I hadn’t started the relationship on purely sexual terms then perhaps we would have graduated to something more serious. I once had a male member of a progressive political party call me a slut. And when I tell people the number of people I have slept with, they often recoil in shock. Not at the high number, but apparently at the “relatively low number” considering my “sexual confidence and knowledge”.  I don’t think any of these things are particularly sex positive, and I feel that they all line up with the “good girl” sentiment which I don’t appear to fit. The latter example for me is the key, because the idea that by some (utterly fucked) standards I might be closer to being a “good girl” than people initially perceive, makes people dubious and unable to process me by their nifty little categories. 

The thing that really gets me is wondering what I would actually have to do to be considered a good girl. Would I have to advocate for social justice? Would I have to volunteer my time for charities? Would I have to help sick and injured animals? Would I have to be positive and upbeat in the face of adversity? Would I have to be willing to give my time to people without expecting anything in return? 

Because actually I do all of those things. And yet I’m still not a “good girl”. Evidently, all I would have to do to be considered “good” as a female-identifying human being is to keep my fucking legs shut. And I’m really sorry but I just can’t do that. So I suppose I will just have to make peace with being a terrible person.

19 responses to “On being a “good girl”

  1. Tamara October 11, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    This is completely unacceptable. I really hate the misuse of the word ‘good’ in these contexts. It really bugs me when children are described as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as well, since ‘good’ usually means ‘compliant’ and ‘manageable’.

    Isn’t it quite inappropriate for your boss to be making comments like that about staff personal lives? It’s pretty icky. And demeaning to your co-worker as well.

    • coleytangerina October 11, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      You are entirely right, however calling out my (new) boss would have resulted in the predictable “Oh I just meant…” conversation, where I am the one ‘over-reacting’. And I’m not willing to risk any bad feelings from her when it’s such early days. Maybe if we build up some trust and free and frank discussion then I will mention it in the future.

      • Tamara October 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm

        Absolutely, I didn’t mean to suggest you should risk your neck calling her on it. Interestingly I assumed your boss was a ‘he’. I think that’s mainly based on my personal history of having only male bosses. Good luck (and management) with the development of your relationship!

        • Rebugger October 12, 2011 at 11:35 am

          Ha interesting – I assumed your boss was a ‘he’ too! That kind of makes it even worse – that your boss has no idea how far women have come & far we need to go re establishing genuine equality in the workplace. Nothing worse that a woman acting like a man!

    • Draco T Bastard October 11, 2011 at 10:06 pm

      …since ‘good’ usually means ‘compliant’ and ‘manageable’.


      It took me awhile but I finally got over being that kind of “good”.

  2. Isabel October 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    “Good” can be so double-sided and in my experience it’s very rarely used as a straight-up compliment. I’ve often heard “good” used when someone is doing the sort of thing that most people think they ought to do but few actually manage, as a sort of code for “don’t get too big for your boots”. Not that that makes it better.

  3. AMB October 11, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Seriously, why do you even give a shit? If you know you’re a good person, then her opinion is totally irrelevant.
    I’m actually more stunned that Christians are still considered morally upstanding. Everywhere I’ve worked, they have been viewed as just as morally bankrupt as everyone else.

    • coleytangerina October 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

      Yeah I don’t really get on board with questioning why other people care about stuff. Respecting that things may not necessarily upset you, but they can be really upsetting to others, and not making judgements on that is a really big part of our “don’t be a dick” comments policy.

    • Deborah October 11, 2011 at 10:35 pm

      My partner is fond of saying that he rather likes christians, but he has only ever met a very few of them.

      In my experience, rather more people call themselves Christians than are actually christian.

      • Rebugger October 12, 2011 at 11:31 am

        Totally agree – there is nothing worse than the ‘Sunday’ Christian (all goodness & purity on Sundays but assholes Monday to Saturday)….one of the main reasons why I left Church (Protestant).

  4. MJ October 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Coley, are you in my brain? =/

    I’m Catholic. I donate time and money for a ton of charities, I get involved in a wide range of social justice issues and I do it because I genuniely want the world to be a better place for future generations. But I’m also a raging lesbian, and therefore will never be considered a “good girl”. A good girl is not a dyke, a good girl is not a slut, a good girl doesn’t swear like a fucking sailor, a good girl is not outspoken or brassy or opinionated or in your face.

    And it took me a really long time to say… fuck it, if that’s your definition of a ‘good girl’ then thanks, but no thanks. A really long time.

    • MJ October 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      Dammit, I meant to say “I was raised Catholic”, the tenses are a little trickier due to my relationship with religion and my sexuality.

      • coleytangerina October 11, 2011 at 5:49 pm

        Yeah I know what you mean. I’m Christian also (as you know MJ) and so I suppose I’ve come to terms with the fact that for some I am the antithesis of Christianity and for others I help to make them realise not all people of faith are the same. However occasionally the big sweeping moral statements about someone’s ‘goodness’ really fuck me off.

    • Deborah October 11, 2011 at 10:36 pm


      I’m Catholic.

      Yes. Sometimes, I describe myself as a Catholic atheist…

  5. coleytangerina October 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

    Hilariously, I just realised that I’ve had ‘The Purity Myth: How America’s obession with virginity is hurting young women’ on my desk for the last two days. So maybe I’ll just push it a little closer to my boss.

    • tallulahspankhead October 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      Not to be all ‘why do you care’, because I absolutely understand why, but I have so little interest in being ‘a good girl’ it’s not funny.

      I care about being a good person, and a good woman. If someone’s narrow definition of those things means I should never have had sex: meh.

      But, yeah, like MJ, it took me a good amount of time to get me to that point. It meant letting go of my (also catholic) upbringing, and an awareness that the people whose good opinion I cared about, didn’t care about that.

      Doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking hurt when someone calls me a slut, but.

  6. Rebugger October 12, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Fantastic post! You know I thought you were going to say you felt shit because your boss was taking the piss out of your workmate’s choices. I would love to know how anyone’s choices regarding sex have any relevance to ones workplace. Your boss sounds dodgy quite frankly – the fact that he has even observed & commented on any of his subordinates choices is worrying!!! But I digress.

    I have written on this issue too ( but from a different – more Christian – perspective (I used to consider myself a Christian and while I no longer do, I feel like I am more of a genuine Christian these days that what I ever was when I was all preachy!). My values have come full circle – before marriage & babies, well actually before a long-term relationship that I knew was going to end/start with marriage & babies, I would have had a lot in common with you!

    “Good” or goodness etc are such subjective terms and while my views might make you feel crap, that would never be my intention. Your moral compass is determined by your values, experience & beliefs and you should never feel that just because you don’t see sex as something preserved for marriage, that you are somehow not worthy, not a good girl.

    Abstinence is by no means synonymous with goodness. I hate the term “good girl”. It just belittles women down to nothing more that what they are prepared to do in the bedroom. Goodness is about how you treat others and about the intention behind your actions.

    Being ‘pure’ & doing good works etc don’t mean you are a nice person. But living with integrity, honesty & consideration for others does. Just my 2 cents worth 🙂

  7. Max Rose October 12, 2011 at 8:54 pm

    I have to say I’m gobsmacked: I’ve never heard anyone use “good girl” in that way in an unironic sense, at least not in my adult life and certainly not from someone in a formal work situation. That may be because I mostly move among happily godless sluts and perverts who would never consider that any “good” could come from enforced abstinence, but mostly because most of the people I’ve worked with have had the good sense and professionalism not to pass judgement on their co-workers’ sex lives.

    Of course, there are more subtle versions, such as the heteronormative and mononormative assumptions behind celebrating colleagues’ engagements & weddings or inviting “a” partner to work parties. The latter is not just an academic question: many years ago I brought not just my girlfriend but also my girlfriend’s boyfriend to a work Xmas party, and while my own mindset is such that I rather enjoyed the raised eyebrows and scandalised gossip, the logistics and arguments with HR were a little tiresome. For those in more serious relationships non-traditional relationships than I was, or in less open-minded workplaces with more direct power in individual hands, it could affect their career prospects. As sickening as this incident must have been for you, perhaps it’s good that your boss’ prejudices are out in the open, rather than bubbling below the surface so that you could never know what might have affected a performance review or promotion.

  8. Pingback: Linksplosion!: Approaching sexuality (again) edition « Zero at the Bone

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