A full decade ago, writing in the late and much-missed intellectual magazine American Outlook, I noted that conservatives were incorrect in saying that the culture was declining and becoming increasingly hostile to traditional values. On the contrary, I noted there and in a pair of follow-up articles for National Review Online, there was in fact no single, monolithic American culture that would move in toto in one direction or another.
Instead, I noted, the American culture is an omniculture, providing all things for all people. What conservatives typically overlook when they complain about what is wrong with the culture is that there is so much that is good happening at the same time. The fact is, I noted then and reiterate now, the culture is not monolitically getting better or worse but simply more diverse and widening the extremes, with a proliferation of what traditionalists would say is good and also what they would designate as bad.
But conservatives aren’t the only ones who see the culture as a monolith that moves from "good" toward "bad" and vice versa. And the "progressives" have a hobbyhorse of their own: an open hostility to certain types of ideals. An article at The Daily Beast, "Good Girls Are Back," exemplifies this view:
But lately, raunch culture appears to be in remission. In its place is a new cultural paradigm: the nice girl.
Instead of being photographed getting carried out of bars at last call, nice girls, like Harry Potter star Emma Watson, enroll in Ivy League schools (she’s headed to Brown). They, like Disney singer/actress Demi Lovato, give interviews about being bullied in school and how much they love their parents and best friends. They wear purity rings to show the world just how virginal they are, like American Idol’s Jordin Sparks. They are everywhere in teen culture: Abigail Breslin, Emma Roberts, Dakota Fanning, Taylor Swift, iCarly’s Miranda Cosgrove.
An adherence to modesty—the antithesis of the thong—is also intrinsic to the nice girl package, and we’ve seen it in the jumpsuits and maxi dresses in fashion this summer. The September issue of Teen Vogue, a magazine that has always championed niceness, has a story about how its readers can set appropriate boundaries with teachers, coaches, bosses, and other authority figures.
Note the use of the terms ‘remission’ and ‘in place of’. First, it seems absurd to say that raunch is ‘in remission’. Does it really appear to you that there is a scarcity of vulgarity in the culture? I’m not seeing that. And the implication that such a thing would be lamentable is bloody quaint.
No, while there is indeed a rise of niceness among young ladies in the culture, it’s not pushing aside the raunch culture. They coexist. There is an ebb and flow of how much attention each will get from Entertainment Weekly, and an ebb and flow in the total cultural tendency toward each (though that must be very difficult to measure, if not impossible), but there will continue to be plenty of each as long as we retain a little of what remains of our liberties.
The rising cultural respect for "good girls" is certainly happening, however, and it’s a very good thing, in my view. The Daily Beast writer, however, thinks good is not so good. She laments all this niceness:
But all this niceness can be stifling. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and the founder of the Girls Leadership Institute, takes a critical look at the pressure to be nice in her new book The Curse of the Good Girl. “Unerringly nice, polite, modest, and selfless, the Good Girl is a paradigm so narrowly defined that it’s unachievable.”
But that’s why it’s an ideal, not an expectation. No one realistically expects anybody to be perfect. Ideals are made for us to aspire to, and are very good for that. Accepting whatever people feel they can do without much effort is simply moral relativism. The author, by contrast, sees the presence of ideals as an offense and as a crippling obstacle to young people’s development:
The problem with nice is that it doesn’t particularly encourage a full range of emotions. Nice girl culture doesn’t give much in the way of advice for how to deal with normal conflict or disappointment. As a result, Simmons finds that good girls are paralyzed by self-criticism.
The author doesn’t provide any evidence of this paralysis, however, and the copious examples of perfectly healthy and in fact thriving good girls in the culture absolutely contradicts this claim. And she cites many of them in her article, so she can hardly be unaware of this. Undaunted by the facts, however, she goes on to propose an alternative to all of this niceness:
“Without having robust models of revolt that mainstream culture embraces, young girls are far less likely to explore their own self-defined, diverging paths,” writes Maria Raha in her book Hellions: Pop Culture’s Rebel Women. Uniformly nice culture creates female personae that is just as limiting as raunch culture’s ersatz rebellion. What girls need is to be encourages to show a range of traits: The good, the bad, and the full spectrum in between.
Um, no, thank you. What girls and boys alike both need is to be encouraged to be good always (which may indeed at times require revolt, as the Tea Party movement suggests). There’s plenty of temptation to be bad, and we should all practice generosity, understanding, and forgiveness, but common sense and science both tell us that encouraging people to be bad just makes them more likely to be bad and does not make them happy.
The article concludes:
In Not That Kind of Girl, by the time Bauer has become one of the “virginal and staunchly sober girls” at a Catholic college, she also finds the rebellion of the early ‘90s unavoidable. It was a time when girls were trading their perms for Manic Panic hair dye, singing along to Liz Phair, purging their closets of any traces of floral prints, and keeping their legs “profoundly unshaven.” Her weekends as an undergrad might include hanging out at Tower Records (“Stone cold sober. Fully dressed”), attending a pro-choice march, and still making it to church on Sunday morning. Bauer was able to become the kind of girl who was both rebellious and pious, good and little bit bad. It’s the kind of life you can’t easily label, but hopefully one more girls will consider adopting.
This is fatuous in at least two ways. One, there is no lack of social and cultural acceptance of the sort of behavior posited as "bad" in this description–and the author acknowledges this by referring to "the rebellion of the early ‘90s" as "unavoidable." In fact, the ubiquity of cultural relativism and outright rebellion against decency is one of the things conservatives continually complain about. If a girl wants to listen to Liz Phair, let her legs get hairy, and go on pro-abortion marches, she’s perfectly free to do so; she’ll just have greater difficulty in getting the most sought-after guys to go o
ut with her–but if she wants to keep her clothes on she’ll have the same problem anyway.
Two, exactly what is going to keep girls–and boys, for that matter–just "a little bit bad"? What will prevent them from deciding that their own imperfections are quite inevitable and unavoidable, that they can resist anything but temptation, as Oscar Wilde aptly put it?
Only ideals, and a firm expectation that people will strive to meet them while never achieving perfection, can give people a sense of how and why they should regulate their behavior. Nothing else will do so except rules backed by force. Without ideals, all that is left is to lay down the law. That means obliterating people’s liberties.
That is why as American (and indeed Western) society increasingly lost its respect for ideals (which the nation’s founders called virtues) in the decades since World War II our elites have increasingly taken away the people’s liberties. The proliferation of government intervention, political correctness, and cultural shibboleths all testify to this. Without ideals–a respect for virtues–the force of law and its cultural and social surrogates becomes society’s only recourse.
Although she seems largely sympathetic to the good girl trend, the author of the Daily Beast essay misses the real truth about ideals: as the nation’s Founders understood, respect for ideals–virtues–is essential to liberty. Without them, people cannot be truly free, nor truly happy.
That’s another reason why niceness is so nice, and why we need more of it, not less.
–S. T. Karnick
“King Bushwick,” your anger puzzles me. I can state categorically that I have never condemned Jamie Lynn Spears nor praised Bristol Palin regarding their unwed pregnancies. Nor have I ever condemned anyone else for that particular condition. And none of the commenters here has done so either.
As to your other assertions, I have pointed out in my writings that the 1950s were not a conservative time, far from offering them as an exemplar of social mores. Finally, the activities you note regarding civil rights were in fact government actions, as the segregation of the South was done by force of law. As a classical liberal I have always opposed such outrages.
Regarding the general tenor of your comment, I think it’s important to note that pointing out the consequences of reckless behavior is the sympathetic thing to do, whereas the course you seem to recommend, ignoring the problems, only causes more people to be lured into bad choices. I like people too much to abandon them to possible self-destruction, as you wish us to do.
Oh Please!!!I’m so tired of all you cry baby neocons
banging the drums about
“Virtues and Values and Morals”while going off and doing the same damned stuff yourselves!!!
Ain’t it funny how you same characters roundly condemmned Jamie Lyn Spears for being an unwed mother while heaping praise on Bristol Palin for being one!!
And let’s not forget how back in’92 how Dan Quayle utterred his(in)famous speech about”Family Values”
condemning the fictional TV Character”Murphy Brown”for being an unwed mother yet at the same convention having celebrity unwed mother Tanya Tucker entertain!!
And I guess you conviently forget about the Reverend Ted Haggard having a”Gay Old Time”with male hooker Mike Jones!!!
Oh sure,I know that in your little minds that the 50’s were all”Ozzie and Harriet”and”Happy Days”!!!
I guess you forget about”No Blacks Allowed”
and”Colored Entrance Only”
And let’s not forget turning Fire Hoses and Police Dogs loose on Blacks in Birmingham and Montgomery because they simply wanted their Constitutionally Guaranteed Civil Rights!!!
I could go on and on but I’m out of room so in closing,NeoCons please start practising what you preach and scrap your double standard!!
“An Expert Is a Smart Person and Smart People Write Books.”-Earl Hickey.
Great comments, Jim, and your reminiscence of college feminist gullibility is hilarious.
I think the point you make about shaming the good is spot-on and in fact applies to the entire progressive agenda as it addresses personal morality: “‘nice girls’ must (laughably) be shamed into turning ‘bad’ so feminists can feel better about their own disappointing life choices.”
Excellent essay, Sam. Why the Daily Beast author is upset can be summed up quite easily:
“Nice Girls” are insufficiently grateful for the “progress” brought about by the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. They fought long and hard to bring about sex without consequences — thanks to the pill and abortion on demand and with no stigma. This is why “purity rings” and the like irritate them so. “We fought so you could rut like any guy does! How dare you give that progress the back of your hand!”
This is the same reason the lefty feminist movement hates Sarah Palin with such passion. While they give lip service to the idea a modern woman can have it all — a successful career and a family — they don’t really honor the latter choice. Indeed, by choosing the “nice girl” path, Palin proved the spiritual emptiness of 60s and 70s feminism. Unlike the perpetually unhappy and bitter feminists, Palin is a happy, well-adjusted woman — with a large and loving family. Feminists perhaps feel a tinge of regret, realizing they didn’t have to give up a family to be a success. It is expressed in the vicious attacks they lodge against Palin, accusing her of exploiting the “gains” of the feminist movement without giving back by toeing the line on abortion and “equal pay for equal work” and other lefty causes.
The current lashing out at “nice girls” is an extension of this confusion and bitterness. So “nice girls” must (laughably) be shamed into turning “bad” so feminists can feel better about their own disappointing life choices.
As an aside: I was in college in the late 1980s to early 1990s. I can attest to the fun of courting the “Liz Phair” type (I’m a huge fan of the artist, by the way). I was successful at dating such girls, despite adhering to my political and social values. My nickname (to some) was the “Grunge Republican.” The attitude of many of my lady friends was: How can someone who’s so “wrong” be so cool … so “right.” (Heh).
Dave, you are absolutely right, in every particular. Fathers, take heed indeed.
To the Fathers out there.
If you want to have a “nice” girl, love your daughters! Praise them, hug them, kiss them and they will be getting the affection and love that they want from their daddy’s. If a daughter can’t get a kiss or hug from daddy, then they will with whatever guy that they are out with on a date. The more that they crave comfort from their daddy, and they don’t get it, the easier it will be for some guy to get her clothes off!
Forty years ago, I learned this lesson well. Daddy’s that hug their daughters and kissed them on the cheek as we were leaving, meant that I wasn’t going to get “Lucky” that night. One girl tried to kiss her daddy goodnight and he leaned away so that she couldn’t kiss him goodnight. And I did get “Lucky” that night, another Home Run!
If fathers don’t give their daughters the Love that the girls want, then they will look for it from the guys that they date. And every guy wants to get her clothes off! So ignore your daughters if you want them naked with some guy! But if you want a nice girl, LOVE them, Praise them, hug them!
The further we go in society where we have a better ability to see the result of people’s beliefs and ideals, the greater ability we have to see whether they are worth it. Rebels and perverts used to be victorious and glamorous because they were fighting goodness, or the “evil religious right,” but now we can see day by day that to reject the perversions and hedonism of the left is akin to choosing the winning side not just as a team, but in life. You don’t have to be rich and beautiful to be a winner, just be right and moral. Besides, they are more interesting people as well.
Thank you. I read that article and was rather pissed about the author’s preconceived notions regarding good girls, which, as you point out in this post, do not reflect real good girls.
“If a girl wants to listen to Liz Phair, let her legs get hairy, and go on pro-abortion marches, she’s perfectly free to do so; she’ll just have greater difficulty in getting the most sought-after guys to go out with her–but if she wants to keep her clothes on she’ll have the same problem anyway.”
I have never understood is why a young girl or a young boy have to rebel? That whole idea of rebellion is so 60’s. I have three very different daughters.They are expected to go to church while they live at home. They are ok with that. They look at the girls around them and do not unerstand why they do not like their parents, drink and engage in sex. They have no desire for that. There are too many other things to do. These authors need to get a life, and stop whining.
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