Often when women hear about the patriarchy as a system of oppression, their response is ‘Yes but it’s the women who’ve always stood in my way in my career. They’ve never been supportive. I’ve always been supported by the men.’
The reasons for this are complex, but one element that’s at play is a particular manifestation of the good girl archetype; Daddy’s little girl.
In the late 20th century, Dads in the West started to believe their daughters should have the same opportunities as their sons. They told their daughters, ‘You can do anything you want. You can be anything you want.’ Mums often said the same thing – wanting more opportunities for their daughters then they’d had themselves – but it was Dad who was out there, in the workforce, modelling the type of life that was possible for his daughter.
In speaking those words of encouragement and possibility, thousands if not millions of Daddy’s little girls were created. They did well at school. They went to university. They got good jobs that would make their Dads proud.
When they arrived in the workforce, they knew exactly how to relate to the men in their office; the way they’d always related to their Dad. Impressing the men with their confidence and ability. Placating them when their egos were bruised. Being a great team player and standing out just enough. Not in a brash way. Not in a way that could be perceived as overly ambitious. With a certain amount of sugar coating.
They progressed their own interests by keeping the men on side. It’s a fine line to walk, but Daddy’s little girls have been doing that their whole lives.
(NB: I’m writing specifically here about ably bodied, cisgendered, straight white women. I haven’t added all the intersectional aspects that create ever more hoops for Daddy’s little girl to jump over. Women of colour for example have walked a much finer line than white woman; placating all the men and all the white folk in order to eek out just a little bit of space for their own careers.)
The young woman uses her charm, her sexuality, her youth, and her appearance to support her efforts. Often unconsciously. She’s been playing this game so long, she’s forgotten it’s a game. In fact, she thinks those things are irrelevant to her career. She hasn’t yet experienced life as the Crone and is blind to the invisibility of age. She isn’t yet conscious of just how intrinsic her sexuality is to her success and she doesn’t know that the potency of her sexual power has a shelf life.
So she – consciously and unconsciously – works the Daddy’s little girl angle for all it’s worth.
Up until the point that she becomes a threat to the men (when she starts seeking promotion into their roles for example), she is supported by the men. The men are very encouraging of her.
She thinks she’s equal.
She has some power yes, but that power must never undermine the status of the men. Whilst his position is maintained, she is entitled to a seat at the table.
The young woman is the nemesis of the older woman in the workplace who’s fought tooth and nail to be taken seriously in her career for many, many years. This is the woman who was told she had to wear skirts to work – trousers not being viewed as sufficiently ‘feminine’. This is the woman who’s been the subject of unmasked sexism. Who has worked in offices where sexual harassment was rampant and viewed as a bit of fun rather than an illegal act. She’s the woman who has been chronically underpaid her whole adult life, despite working twice as hard as the men around her. She’s the woman who was never even considered for the promotion because she was a woman and married. What need would she possibly have for career advancement?
When the young woman comes in, aligns herself with the men in the organisation, and neither acknowledges or is even aware of the painstaking path the older woman has paved for her, it’s like being kicked in the face. When the older woman is then given little praise or recognition by the men in the organisation – their attention having turned to the younger women in their midst – she wonders why she fought so hard and for so long.
The fact that the younger woman is able to confidently speak up in meetings and expects to be seen and heard is, of course, the answer to the older woman’s dreams. It’s a situation she would have loved to experience in her own career.
And yet, the younger woman doesn’t realise the privileged position she occupies. She thinks she got there on her own. She thinks it was her hard work and her dedication to her career that got her the promotions and the praise.
Of course that played a part. But it’s only a fraction of the story. What she doesn’t see is that her success is also due to her own willingness to play a role – the good girl, Daddy’s little girl – in the patriarchy.
It’s due to the older woman’s years of toil. Years of being the only woman in a room full of men, pretending that her home life didn’t exist, that she could be as unencumbered as the men when it came to putting their careers before their families. Years of being asked to make the tea in a meeting despite there being more junior males seated in the room. Years of attempting to disguise herself as a man so she wouldn’t be treated as the sexual object they saw her as.
The younger woman is blind to these efforts.
She doesn’t know her own history and because she doesn’t know it, she doesn’t realise she’s a puppet.
She thinks she’s free.
She’s living in a gilded cage.
The Good Girl archetype has many faces; Daddy’s little girl, the dutiful daughter taking care of her elderly parents, the mother of young children who sacrifices all for them, the female employee whose career is advanced with the help of men and at the expense of other women.
You can never be free while the Good Girl archetype lives within.
There is a way to release yourself. You have to see her, understand how she’s influencing you, and clear out the stories that are keeping her in play.
That’s what we’ll be doing in the upcoming class Visibility and the Good Girl.