Miss Goody-Pants Strikes Back

Miss Goody-Pants Strikes Back

- in Culture
Illustration: Eva Ericsson

In her renowned book “Duktiga flickors revansch” (‘The Vengeance of Good Girls’), Birgitta Ohlsson says that being good must be valued more. Lovisa Svedlund gets to the bottom of the “good girl”-dilemma.

Text Lovisa Svedlund – Translation Cecilia Eriksson

Late one night, a politician is called up to her male superior’s office to be scolded. She is the prime example of a good girl. She is the one who had to duck to avoid gravy-soaked potatoes while placed between the messy boys in the school cafeteria. In the office that night he, the male superior, finds her competence a threat to his power.
This is a clear example of the paradox “good girls” deal with. You must try living up to the sky-high expectations of society, but if you succeed, you will find yourself being dejected or made fun of for being an overstressed do-gooder. Usually, these manoeuvres spring from people who a certain politician refer to as local bigwigs, as self-important pompous people of the male gender who likes to bully women. This politician is called Birgitta Ohlsson, a spokesperson on foreign affairs of the Liberal Party, who has come out with her new book Duktiga flickors revansch (‘The Vengeance of Good Girls’).

This book is a manifesto of redress for all the good girls. Obedient, calm girls who has to be the buffer zone between boys in school, and the careerist who is forced to cosset men in the work place are two such examples. Birgitta Ohlsson says it’s time to affirm these girls and provide them with strategies to get ahead in life. At the same time, the book also provides a party program about building a liberal society that, according to the author, creates the best prerequisites for the good girls.

Few swedes probably missed the debate that succeeded this book. Advocates are saying that being good must be something positive and not something you are teased for. Critics are saying Ohlsson is disregarding the class perspective.

In the podcast En varg söker sin pod (3/3), Caroline Ringskog Ferrada-Noli and Liv Strömquist take it even further by making a joke that Ohlsson might as well die for saying that we should feel sorry for good girls. Try being a prostitute, an EU immigrant or a boat refugee. The combination of martyrdom and it now being “the time” of the good girl is a joke. It has always been their time, says Ringskog-Ferrada-Noli.

There’s a point to be made from the criticism saying that there are bigger problems than vengeance for good girls. But are we once again going to find ourselves in the trap where equality is placed at the bottom of the list? But after all, the tributes of the book prove there is a need to talk about the good girls. The question is whether Ohlsson is doing it in the right way.

“Have the guts to take risks. Follow your values. (…) For your own sake, don’t ever stop being good”. Completely right Birgitta Ohlsson. Good girls need vengeance for being good, if being good is what makes them happy, if it gives them a sense of self-expression, of being free without feeling anxious or like there’s a weight on their shoulders.

We find some of them in our culture. Think about Noora in the tv-series Shame, telling off the guy who says horrid things to her friend Vilde. A performance that must leave Noora with the feeling of being undefeatable. Think about book worms like Rory Gilmore and Hermione Granger. Performing away at prestigious (magical) schools is what makes them happy. The racially scientific research projects that Elle-Marja must endure in the new movie Sami blood are repulsive, something anyone would want to run away from. Despite this, her desire to reach Uppsala is a power she finds deep within herself. A few lines of text from Frida Hyvönen’s song Kan du imponera på mig? (‘Can You Impress Me?’) from the album Kvinnor och barn (‘Women and Children’) describe how the goodness is in need of vengeance:

För du kommer irritera dig på det
hur fruktansvärt kapabel jag är
Efter ett tag kommer du försöka få mig
att göra mig mindre än jag är
Min kapacitet är obarmhärtig
mot den som inte svarar upp
Vi har sett den skörda offer
Vi har sett den skrämma vuxna män

The capacity of these people is unquestionable. The Noora-power, the Rory-power, the Hermione-power and the Elle Marja-power. Just as Hyvönen describes it, Birgitta Ohlsson’s book is also about women’s goodness systematically being reduced, often by men. Being “diagnosed” as a do-gooder or a nervous wreck in need of acknowledgment must cease.

The book gives girls the same “Go, just go!” that Zlatan is so used to getting simply because he loves football. Or the way that a guy at the School of Economics gets because he simply loves econometrics. Good for you kid, climb higher. But the life calling of girls should be met with the same kind of whole-hearted encouragement – for sitting there in the lecture halls, libraries and offices at Lund University, simply loving what they do.

The book often misses the fact that much of the good-girl-norm lies beyond performing for oneself. “Diligence is grand” and “Making demands on men means you care”, Ohlsson writes. This analysis just barely accepts buying pancakes at ICA for the children’s outing and being only kind, not foolishly kind. But burnt out women is a huge social problem, so what would happen if we didn’t buy the pancakes at ICA? If we encouraged good girls to stop maintaining a good atmosphere, to turn down careers they’re not interested in and, in general, to live the good life. Encourage them not to make demands on men to show that they care, but to do it because they are furious with the injustices.

It would be a lie to say that the calm girl doesn’t follow her true calling in life when she is trying to avoid the gravy-soaked potatoes flying overhead. It would also be a lie to say that the, on average, higher grades from girls is a result of all of them wanting to be better than their male classmates. Sky-high demands on good girls are made externally and that, Birgitta Ohlsson, is nothing they need vengeance for.

So, to you who is a good girl, listen to your inner Noora-power but you should also use it to kick things that the local bigwigs and others put in your way.

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