I was raised to be a “good girl.” If we are honest with ourselves, I think we would all agree that the good girl versus bad girl binary is easily defined and very suffocating. Additionally so, there are racialized layers that add further complexity.
Traditionally, a “good girl” as I have seen it defined: goes to church, marries “right,” dresses modestly, never raises her voice, always smiles, is always friendly and approachable, never curses, doesn’t drink or only drinks the appropriate amount of alcohol, does not gossip, does not stir the pot, and is emotionally available to people but never too emotional herself. A “bad girl,” as I have seen it defined: parties too much, laughs loudly, takes up way too much space, drinks entirely more than deemed acceptable, dresses in ways that would be defined as slutty, walks with too much confidence (like a woman with purpose), and pours their emotions into everything they do.
I was quickly taught that this narrative was of no service to someone like me.
How we define these good and bad personality types have nothing to do with actual morality but more to do with socially imposed expectations of women. When I began to realize that I was raised to be a “good girl”, but somehow ended up being something much more complicated, I started to realize the many ways in which society had begun to disregard my existence. In other words, I embody the deviant. I am a brown immigrant woman from a lower income bracket. I am already perceived as bad by the white dominant narrative that prefers their women white, made in the USA, and from good neighborhoods.
When I first started school in a white serving institution, I functioned within the “good girl” narrative but was quickly taught that this narrative was of no service to someone like me. I remember when a peer of mine, at Vanderbilt, said something to the effect of: “I would never get into a fight with you because you would kick my ass.” This stopped me in my tracks because, while I never want to be considered someone that people can mess with, I did not understand what cues she had picked up about me that, according to her, made me violent.
Slowly, white people taught me that no matter what I did and how I behaved, I was never going to read “good” to them because of the deviant brown body narrative. Whether intentional or not it taught me that my value cannot be externally regulated. So I began to dress however I damn well pleased. I began to curse whenever I wanted and I took up space because living unto myself became political for me. Taking up space meant I was not going to apologize for being born in this beautiful brown body. All of this felt urgent. It was and is a survival mechanism.
It taught me that my value cannot be externally regulated.
When I came home I was unrecognizable to my family because to them I had suddenly become a “bad girl.” Unfortunately for me, I was also single. So I was also a “loca who had no sense of restraint.”
Some days I wonder when my parents will understand that becoming a “bad” woman meant surviving white spaces. Some days I wonder if they will really understand why this is important work and some days I just wish I could be read as “good” no matter what I wear on my body and how much space I take up. People deserve to be assumed innocent until proven guilty. But that courtesy is only ever extended to white people.
So I am a “bad woman” because I take up space, wear whatever I want, curse if I want to, laugh entirely too loudly, believe in things I find believable, and I don’t take no shit. I am okay with all of these associations and the reframing of this word has been crucial to my own acceptance of who I am really supposed to be…