How Rejecting The Good Woman Label Helps You Thrive Better

One of my favourite works of fiction is Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta, the late Nigerian writer and playwright. It is a novel that explores issues like polygamy, motherhood, infertility and the preference of male children amongst Igbo people.

The novel is also one that encourages women to not give up their personhood when they become mothers. 

We also see through the juxtaposition of characters like Adaku and Nnu Ego, what happens when a woman abandons the desire to be known as a good woman and when she accepts the urge to be a people pleaser.

Adaku was known as a “bad woman” by her late husband’s people while Nnu Ego was seen as more legitimate because she had sons. Adaku had daughters and eventually left the marriage where she was inherited. She proceeded to trade successfully and sent her daughters to school. Ironically, in the pursuit of the life she had propped them up for, Nnu Ego’s sons abandoned her to go abroad and she died a very lonely tragic death despite the fact that she had seven children.

Now, Joys of Motherhood may have been set in pre independent Nigeria. However, the issues and lessons from it are things that remain pertinent even in the Nigeria of today.

Women are still raised to stifle our true desires in the pursuit of being known as “good” and “wife material”. Women are raised to think it is okay to be made to cook and clean when you go to visit a man’s family. Women are not raised to question how absurd it is that a house is left dirty for a guest to come clean up.

Even more, women are raised to see it as perfectly normal for a man to tell them to stop working. Or to hand over our salaries. Or to use our money to finance his family. Or to have only the man’s name on properties that may have been bought by the woman. 

Or to accept a man’s outside child if the child is male and she has daughters. Or to know that no matter how much we pour into a family and change our names, we are still seen as outsiders, never fully members of a legacy we break our backs to build.

But why any of this? Why are women raised to see being good as being accepting of whatever bullshit men throw our way? Why does a good woman mean a doormat and not a woman who is good to herself and prioritises her safety, comfort and peace in her interactions with men? Why are women so afraid of been single at thirty that we accept just any man? What or whose system gets threatened when women truly abandon the desire to be seen as good (read: people pleasers).

Speaking with Desire, a writer and feminist, she explained that the good woman label does more harm than good because it often means women losing themselves in the act or serving others.

In her words: “The standards of “good” usually means an absence of self-servingness. It usually means losing yourself in compliance and service [to others] because it is expected. If that’s not enough reason to reject it, I don’t know what will be. 😭”.

When asked how women can unlearn it, Desire went on to say: “Remember that you can be good to yourself too. You’re as deserving of that compliance. Remind yourself that you deserve that service, deserve that obedience to your whims. Remind yourself that a little bit of selfishness and vanity can never do any harm.”

The reality and truth is that in a sexist world, a good woman is one who quickens the pace of her destruction and annihilation.

We must be intentional about teaching young girls that a “good woman” should be one who is good to herself, respects the warning signs her intuition lays out to her and leaves situations where she is not valued.

Only then can we say that there is balance in how women and girls are treated in society.

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