if i were not a girl guide :: more musings on female image in modern america

My perceived image is that of a girl who is “more bad” than I actually am. Like the city of Los Angeles itself, I have done entirely too good a job creating an externalized image that doesn’t exactly match what you see from the inside. Since about November – when I shattered myself and started to rebuild – the pieces of me have come together in patterns that are more like who I am, instead of who I thought I needed to present myself as.

I am, after all, a fucking Girl Guide at heart. Which, at twenty-seven, is even admirable. But for years, I felt like I needed to contrast that by being worse than I am. Like being part of the Guides Canada system, of the Girl Guide mentality, was something that made me vulnerable. When I was nineteen, I confessed to a very bad-girl then-friend that I’d been a nerd in high school, that I’d been a reject. And then when I told her I’d been in Guiding until I was seventeen, she suggested that was the reason why.

It isn’t necessarily about the specific Guiding organization – although I love Girl Guides. It’s one of the best things to happen to me, and as an adult, I realize how many of my core values, loyalty, service, community, are all things I picked up in Guiding. But this is more about the concept of the Girl Guide than it is that organization I was a legal part of.

In American society, a “Boy Scout” archetype has formed in the collective consciousness. “Boy Scout” is a metaphor term used for someone who is overly honest, earnest, a do-gooder. And depending on the speaker or the context, it can be very positive, or very negative. “Girl Scout” hasn’t picked up the same mainstream application in the American vernacular, possibly because Girl Scouts here aren’t as big a part of the culture, and American Girl Scouts are a watered-down version of Guiding. But I still think of it as applying to me. I am a Girl Guide. I am the girl version of the American concept of the Boy Scout.

Except I haven’t been, for most of the last ten years. For a long time, on and off, I’ve tried to present the image of a bad girl, a girl who would never, ever be part of something like Guiding or Scouting. And this leads me to the real point of this entry: why is it even important in this society, in this country, in this culture, to be a “bad girl”?

Two weeks ago, I gave away most of the “chick lit” on my bookshelves. I’ve stopped buying – or even opening – the glossy women’s magazines. I’ve even lost interest in Sex and the City, and SaTC was one of the shows I used to quote obsessively, like the Simpsons. “What’s wrong with me?” I’ve thought, more than once, in the last few months. “Why don’t I have any interest in this anymore?” And I think that part of it was that I was using all those things, the chick-lit and the magazines and the Sex and the City series, to figure out how to be a normal twentysomething female in America. To train myself in the mentality I didn’t grow up with. Because I wasn’t into clothes and boys and makeup at fifteen. I was a fucking Girl Guide, and I had camps to plan and service projects to do.

But a recurring archetype that comes up in chick-lit, in magazines, in books and TV, is the “bad girl”. The girl who doesn’t care what other people thinks of her, who defies convention. But who usually defies a set Christian-based morals convention as a way of doing so. Perhaps, in a radically Christianized nation, the morals and “values” that we have from the Protestant sects are what we have to rebel against. Which is why the “bad girl” goes against those. It’s always based on the seven sins: pride, lust, greed, avarice, sloth, gluttony, envy. And the biggest way that any female character can define herself as a “bad girl” is through the biggest, most marginalized and idolized and capitalized upon act in America: sex.

So if you’re using American (or, to an extent, Canadian) traditional values as a contrast, sex is the quickest, fastest way to illustrate a woman as a bad girl. The Bad Girl’s Guides even say so. Use your sexuality, bring it out in a way women more conservative will not! Manipulate with it! That’s a defining bad girl characteristic right there – using, inspiring, giving in to lust. We all know the character. We all know the image.

This has become a major thread in pop culture. I see teenagers wearing T-shirts that say, “bitch”, “diva”, “bad girl”. “Be a bad girl,” conveys a certain je ne sais quoi, a sense of not caring, of not being bound by convention. The “bad girl” is the one with the most attitude, the most pride, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to be a “bad girl.” But I also feel like much of the “bad girl” image has been reduced to a list of isotopes and a plastic concept, almost a Bad Girl Barbie. I feel like, in girls trying to be “bad”, the self-confidence has been leached out and replaced with a penchant for shock.

Yet this seems to be the most accepted and popular way of rebelling against the system, for women. Being a “bad girl” is the preferred way to live outside of this sort of feminine mystique that we’re still fighting off. But it seems almost like, in reaction to that, society just created a bad girl archetype, to tar all bad girls with the same brush, to make them more one-dimensional and, therefore, dismissable.

I, Jillian, qualify as a bad girl, still, under those same ridiculous Christian-inspired archaic systems. But for years, I have tried to make myself into a worse girl than I am. Whether it was through slutty clothes, or attitude, or self-indulgence, through sex or liquor or whatever, I have always tried to make myself seem worse than I am, to cover up the derision I imagined as being present towards my inherent Girl Guide characteristics. Being a “good girl” seemed like the path of least resistance, boring, staid, whereas being a “bad girl” – THAT would take work. That’s something that people would respect me for. That’s an image worth having and fitting in to.

So I’ve been thinking about why we like encouraging this “Bad Girl” image in our society, and, worse, why we need the archetype and need to emphasize certain surface characteristics in order to make it easily understandable.

Here’s my usual anti-Capitalist theory: “bad girls” make the corporations more money. They buy things, they have credit cards, they spend money. Because part of being a bad girl is greed and avarice: shopping. Shoes. Consumer goods. Even drugs or liquor. And because “bad girl” is an image that has come to represent strength through defiance, it’s a saleable image to women who want to exhibit their strength. It’s tradeable. It’s sexy, sex sells. And every good “bad girl” has a degree of decadence about her that requires money to be fed into the Machine. Drinks and cover at clubs, clothes, cars…vanity and pride is part of being the plastic image of the “bad girl”, and that takes cash.

The Girl Guide, by contrast, does not bring in as much money. Do Girl Guides spend money on shoes? clothes? liquor? No. Does a Girl Guide throw a couple hundred dollars into the economy partying on a Saturday? No. She’s probably at home, sleeping, because she’s perceived as not being popular enough to have the friends to go out with. Does the Girl Guide need to dispose of income on consumer goods? Not really. The perception is that the Girl Guide isn’t socially attuned enough to pay attention to fashion; the reality is that the Girl Guide probably used her sewing skills to re-make her jeans into a beribboned skirt, or glue rhinestones onto a bargain T-shirt, thereby not throwing more money into the local mall.

I would like to suggest simply that American society loves and hates its “bad girls”. The “bad girls” defy the strangling Christian idiocy that permeates this entire fucking country. They are often strong and proud, values not held high in women. And so, the “bad girl” has been turned into a plastic, saleable image, one which is sold to women as something that will make them defiant and stronger. And while the “bad girl” may not fit in with the preferred established models for women in the twentieth century, the image certainly brings in lots and lots of money in the form of wifebeaters with “DIVA” on them in rhinestones. Money into corporate pockets is a nice consolation prize.

So, readers, are you still with me thus far? Because I have a couple questions for you:

1. Why do we have a bad girl archetype at all? Why do we need to pigeonhole girls who defy what we think of as convention? Why do we need to apply such a label to girls who do not fly within radar? Because I feel “bad girl” gets applied to a lot of artists and women who really, well, aren’t “bad” at all.

2. Why is a “bad girl” unable to share characteristics with a Girl Guide? Why are the two types fundamentally separate? Both are self-suffiencient, both are independent, but why is it that a Girl Guide can’t be a bad girl, or that it seems so incongruous to people that I, a “bad girl”, am really a Girl Guide?

I believe that I felt the need to project myself as a “bad girl” to symbolize my own rebellion against conventional society, against a system of morals and values that I found stifling and selfish. And “bad girl” was the best way to do it. Or so I thought. Then I realized that being a Girl Guide was the best way to tell the system to fuck off. Because I feed the whole thing – the patriarchy, the Right, the War, the machine, capitalism, all of it, far less as a Girl Guide than I do as a Bad Girl.

And now we’re back to where I began this entry: I feel like I am seen as a “bad girl” more than I am a Girl Guide. Part of it is image I projected all on my own, when I felt like I’d be more socially accepted if I played down my inherent nerd tendencies. And part of it is that I don’t play by the Christian rules when it comes to sex, because I don’t care about those so long as sex doesn’t affect or unbalance my spirituality or my state of Zen. But when I took a long look at who I really was, I realized: Guiding, and what it represents, is always going to be part of who I am. These days, I just replaced “Guides Canada” with “CodePINK”. And in the course of re-accepting who I was at sixteen, if being in Guiding did have anything to do with teenage social rejection (which I don’t think it did), then that’s the rest of the world’s problem for not having the respect for the Girl Guide that they should.

And the point of all this is simply: I don’t feel like I need to be a “bad girl” anymore. It’s OK to be who I am, which is really more the Girl Guide. Because being the Girl Guide is actually being just as rebellious against the stupid, idiotic, short sighted aspects of the American mentality as being a “bad girl”. And changing that mentality is all I care about.

By the way, the title of this post is from a song I loved singing, as a Guide, which was a silly repeat-back song. Really, it was more about yelling. It’s here for those of you who need to relive it.

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