Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Feminist knitting designer.


Leave a comment

A good girl and you know it: the 21st-century Madonna-Whore complex

Pop music seems obsessed with good girls, but what does that really say about how male singers view women?

Drake

Do you wanna roll with a good girl? Because Drake certainly seems to. Photo: NRK P3/Flickr

You’re a good girl and you know it
You act so different around me
You’re a good girl and you know it
I know exactly who you could be

Let’s talk about good girls. I’m willing to bet that most of the women reading this have, in their lifetimes, been described as either a good or a bad girl. Personally, I used to fit so neatly into the good girl category that my friends would refer to me as “the perfect granddaughter” – and this is while I was university, where us teacher’s pet types are obliged to try on the bad girl costume while vomiting out of a taxi window at least once.

But what does being a good girl actually mean? It’s a phrase that is so culturally ingrained that it’s difficult to listen to music without hearing some guy crooning to a fictitious good girl about how he knows, underneath, that she’s actually bad. Naturally, he’s the one to help her embrace this side of her – with his penis.

In Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke is so sure that his good girl is actually bad, he’s willing to forgo asking for her consent altogether. He knows she wants it – she’s an animal – it’s in her nature.

Meanwhile, Drake is so obsessed with good girls that it wasn’t enough to just make them the hook of his biggest single, he had to get the idea into Beyoncé’s eponymous album too.

And just when I thought I was safe with 2014’s favourite breakout boyband, 5 Seconds of Summer, there it was again. There’s a whole album track about how “good girls are bad girls that haven’t been caught”, a line so unoriginal that it’s probably been lifted from one of their mum’s fridge magnets. And how does the hero of the song know that good girls are just pretending? Because he catches a straight-A student sneaking out to see her boyfriend, and she decides to let him in on the secret.

Good girls, according to popstars, are all hiding their bad girl nature underneath a veneer of good grades and coy smiles. All it takes is a man to bring out their true, sexy core.

And sex is always the line that they cross. In these songs, good girls don’t become bad girls by beating someone up, or selling drugs, or robbing a bank. They just have to fuck someone.

But where is the line? Sure, a one night stand is classic bad girl behaviour, but apparently so is having a boyfriend. What if you’re engaged? What if you wait until marriage, but you and your husband enjoy a little BDSM? And what about lesbians? Does their disregard of the status quo make them inherently bad, or can they still keep their halo intact somehow?

The truth is, this is a question that society has been battling with for thousands of years – since biblical times at the very least. The Madonna-whore dichotomy is an age-old way of understanding women. They are either motherly saints who should be protected from the world’s evils, or sluts who deserve everything they get. It’s an idea so deeply embedded in our culture that it manifests itself as a psychological condition, first named by Freud, which can keep men from seeing any women as real human beings.

You only have to glance at a tabloid to compare how they treat good girls like the “elegant” Kate Middleton to the more controversial figures such as “wannabe” Josie Cunningham. Bad girls are torn apart by the media – just look what happened to Tulisa – whilst simultaneously sexualised and lusted after.

The few good girls that manage to jump through enough hoops are then held on such a high pedestal that it’s almost enough to make the rest of us give up altogether. And while it’s easy for a woman to fall from grace (hey there, Miley), it’s impossible to climb back up again.

Let’s destroy the lot. Bad girls are only useful as sex objects, and good girls are actually all bad girls anyway. So what’s the point? In 1931, Virginia Woolf said that we have to “kill the angel in the house” in order to get anything done. Let’s kill the good girl along with her; she’s just holding real women back. Women who make mistakes; who like sex but don’t have to be defined by it; who have far more important things to do than worry about whether they’re living up to Robin Thicke’s lecherous standards.

“Good girl!” is praise that we give to toddlers when they count to 10 correctly, or puppies when they manage not to piss on the floor. It’s not an accurate description of adult women.

Advertisements