Women rights activists shout slogans during a protest against what they say are violence and animosity they face in the society. Reuters
Rachael Revesz, The Independent
All this talk of breaking international law has made me reflect on how promptly I do my Spanish homework. Every week, without fail, for six months now, I have completed mi deberes on time, like a Good Little Girl.
If I don’t do it? It feels wrong, like a small part of my world will cave in. Like I will have to explain myself to the teacher, to the rest of the class. Like I won’t progress to the next level.
It’s hard to pinpoint when that whining little Pollyanna entered my mind and started to dictate most of my actions. Perhaps it was when, as girls, we were told to play nicely, to not climb on the furniture. Or, a little older, we were told to not walk home alone at night.
To not interrupt, to not dress that way, to not drink too much. Maybe it started with my daily hour of piano practice after school, which lasted an entire decade until I reached grade eight. The girl mutated from passing exams to paying taxes, from cleaning my room to becoming the household manager.
The Good Little Girl syndrome has affected my career. While women are often seen as reliable or a safe pair of hands, they are less likely to be seen as visionary. I’m thinking of an old boss who put his hand on my cheek, leant down and whispered, “You’re so diligent.” Not great chat at a Christmas party. Another boss once said to me he liked me because, “I was quiet and just got on with it.” It was painful to understand that we don’t really reward people who are honest, diligent and hardworking in the same way that we seem to worship the rule-breakers.
The women at the top stick to the rules, too. They are likelier to be dressed in a demure pantsuit and known as a policy wonk than to quote Latin with their hair in a mess. I’ve heard German Chancellor Angela Merkel is a hoot. But she doesn’t tell many jokes. Why is that? And despite those leopard print heels, her Abba dancing and crying at the podium, Theresa May has been called a “robot” more often than I’ve washed my hands during lockdown.
The rules appear to be subjective, and futile, even when 50,000 people in the UK have died from the virus. The Great British Public are being inundated with restrictions that range on a spectrum of minor inconvenience (using hand sanitiser) to downright traumatic (giving birth alone), yet we have to witness our male leaders exhibiting a kind of chaotic freestyling that started with a trip to Barnard Castle and is ending in potentially disrupting peace in Northern Ireland. The rules don’t apply to them, yet the rules have applied to every waking moment of our lives.
Some rules are designed to keep society functioning, to keep us healthy and safe. Others are imposed to keep us in our place. At the age of 31, I often feel I am driven more by compulsion and guilt rather than a sense of what I am striving for. When I was younger, I thought the rules would add up to a kind of freedom. I didn’t bargain for the incessant hamster wheel, of the complete absence of meritocracy. But I can’t seem to stop. It’s laughable really. Who cares if I don’t make dinner by 6pm, or reply to that email? Michael Gove has gone into Pret without a mask; £52m has been spent on PPE that doesn’t work; Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is still in prison and two foreign secretaries have failed to get her out; Chris Grayling awarded a £13.8m ferry contract to a company with no ferries. Gina Miller risked her life and her livelihood to make sure the government did not break its own rules on Article 50, only for Dominic Cummings to cite her case to come up with an excuse to break them again. And there are no repercussions.
I’m not advocating for us to be law-breakers, losers and suckers, weirdos and misfits. But perhaps more of us could wave goodbye to the Good Little Girl. After all, she did nothing for the artists, the activists, the people who inspire us and motivate us and whose quotes are printed on postcards.
Maybe next Sunday I won’t pick up the vacuum, or make a lasagne, or do my homework. I’ll throw away the to-do list. I’ll look at the bigger picture instead.
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