Since the dawn of time sweetness, meekness and selflessness have all been highly lauded traits in women. The image of the “virgin” has been so admired, so respected, so worshiped, that it has pervaded every inch of our lives, lurking as the morally idealistic undercurrent of who we are supposed to become.
As a result we have rebelled. We have got sick and tired of trying to live up to the virgin ideal and we have striven to adopt the more male-like characteristics of aggression and ambition. We have become feminists and businesswomen relentlessly attempting to douse our femininity in the fire of “equality,” while at the same time still being haunted by the omnipresent feminine ideal of innocence, self-sacrifice and radiance. Some of us even become sexual “seductresses” in an attempt to escape from the horrifically oppressive and ridiculously unrealistic ideal of being “nothing but kind and pure.”
At the end of the day, no matter whether we have conformed to the feminine ideal and no matter whether we have rebelled and become “heretics” … we still feel a sense of inner disquiet. We are still miserable with ourselves, miserable with our relationships and miserable with our lives.
The truth is that rebelling is not the answer and neither is conformity. We must go into the core of what being a sweet, meek and selfless woman means if we are ever to liberate ourselves from the hold such an ideal has over us.
Are You a “Good Girl”?
Since the flames of our candles were lit in this world we have been immersed in a suffocating process of conditioning. Ever since we began walking and talking we were constantly rewarded and punished. Do you ever remember being complimented for being a “good girl” or punished for being a “bad girl”? Most of us went through this conditioning process, and it quickly taught us that if we did what others wanted (namely our parents) we were treated well, given special attention and loved. However, if we did something “bad” or didn’t please our parents in some way, we were treated badly, ignored and sometimes even smacked or physically punished.
As we grew a bit older we began to play with dolls, watch TV shows and movies. Soon we learned that the “good girls” or female protagonists were mostly princesses or heroines who were sweet, meek and selfless. We played with our Barbies and kens, tuned into Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony, and watched Disney movies with princesses like Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, Aurora, Rapunzel and Belle who continued to perpetuate the ever-growing feminine ideal.
Then we moved on to playing with our pretend sewing machines, prams, baby dolls, lipsticks and tea party sets, which all once again, continued to solidify this idea of what being a “female was all about.”
Later, as we entered our pre-pubescent and teenage years we were further steeped in the simmering process of socialization. Some of us went to church or religious schools and colleges that told us stories of saintly women like Mary the Mother of Jesus, Hannah and Esther, as well as the “evil” women like Jezebel, Delilah and Eve (who all met horrific ends for their “sinfulness).
Some of us were grounded for not getting good grades, wearing inappropriate clothing, speaking back to our parents and not doing what we were told. Our parents would tell us, “What happened to you? You were so sweet as a child,” “You’re dressing like a skank – get more appropriate clothes on,” “You were such a good girl once,” and so on.
And eventually, as we grew older and matured more, we developed the idea that in order to please other people and make ourselves happy in the process, we had to be “good girls.” Only then were we really of any true value.
Don’t Be Scared of the Bad Girls, Be Terrified of the Goody-Two-Shoes
Like you, I went through this process of socialization with the added “bonus” of non-stop religious conditioning since birth. Perhaps that was what contributed to my eventual ability to explore and see through the toxic farce of what being a “good girl” meant because I was one of them: a goody-two-shoes.
For most of my life I’ve taken an almost morbid interest in “doing the right thing” and pleasing others, my parents and my (then) religious “family” in particular. Even after leaving the corrupted and warped world of religion and parental influence I still continued to cling to the deep-seated ideal that I had to be a “sweet, meek and selfless woman.” I was so convinced of my righteousness, my moral highness and my goodness that it was unthinkable for me to be anything else, or anyone else.
And this is precisely the problem with the sweet, meek and selfless woman ideal: it is completely self-denying. Not only does this ideal prevent us from truly experiencing our own light, but it completely smothers our ability to “own” our darkness.
The truth about the feminine ideal is that it tears a huge rip in the fabric of our lives. We have been taught our self-concepts since childhood instead of being allowed to discover them for ourselves. The guilt, shame and worthlessness we feel for not embodying the virgin ideal in our lives is enough to make us not only build our lives completely around this archetype in an attempt to try and “attain” it, but to make us into self-righteous neurotics; deliberately blocking out anything that would threaten our delicate image. And that of course, involves anything we perceive as “bad,” or less than perfect.
Bad girls, although misguided, at least have come to understand their darkness. But good girls haven’t. And this can be extremely dangerous.
Your Shadow is Always One Step Behind
You might like to think of yourself as selfless, gentle, passive, compassionate, tender-hearted and unbearably fragile. You might like to think of yourself as a good person with a finely tuned moral compass and high ethical caliber. You might like to think of yourself as a person with pure and honest intentions.
But are you really?
Is that really all you are?
For many people this question is too much to ask, too much to bear, because the truth more often than not is very unexpected and very uncomfortable.
It was for me. And it took me quite a while to realize, even in the midst of my shadow work, that I am not righteous, I am not morally superior to others and I am not pure or “good.”
Instead, I am an intricate mixture of light and dark; savage and tamed; primal and evolved. And it is these very dark, savage and primal elements that I have disowned in the attempt to live the sweet, meek and selfless woman ideal.
Sometimes I am allured by debasement, sometimes I am intrigued by perversion, sometimes I am seduced by violence, sometimes I wish ill on others. But, by coming to terms with this “evil” within myself, I decrease the likelihood of finding some diabolical way of living it out with others. I don’t pretend that I’m perfect, and I don’t pretend that I’m truly sweet and well-intentioned. Through inner work I have come to own who I am, how I feel and what I think.
And that is the true danger of continuing on with the sweet, meek and selfless woman farce: self-deception and self-denial. It is true that many of us are kind, passive and naturally giving, but that is not all we are. And once we can realize the deep repression that occurs as a result of constantly denying the existence of the “bad” in us, we can begin to untangle, unwind, and make ourselves whole again.
So go, and consciously explore, your inner “bad girl.” It is worth it.