Wedesay Mrch13 2137B
Becoming a "Good Girl"
by Carlina Duan
0 the science of it all: a clean slate by jenniferxu
In all likelihood, you're
acquainted with someone who's
a germaphobe. They shudder vis-
ibly when you offer them a swig
of your soda, pump and dump
out the contents of the Purell
dispenser in the corner and give
death stares at the barista wip-
ing the countertop with a part-
Though some are quick to point
out these symptoms as borderline
arily, we do
fied cause for x
to a survey
by the glob-
SCA, only 71
on a regular
basis, and 58
they had seen
leave a pub-
without washing their hands.
Yet on some level, our over-
stated concern for personal
hygiene is in our minds. There's
a new theory floating around the
social psychology cosmos called
embodiment, which basically
means that our cognitive pro-
cesses are grounded in sensory
experiences and bodily states.
Simplified, we tend to think with
Embodiment can be detected
looking at the metaphors we
engage with -on a day-to-day
basis - many of them have some-
thing to do with the body. We
measure our relationships with
other people by body lengths: A
bad relationship is described as a
"distant" one; a good relationship
is deemed "close." We see our
other people allows us to meta-
phorically wipe the slate clean.
Studies have discovered that
cleaning one's hands with soap
or an antiseptic wipe can dimin-
ish feelings of guilt from moral
transgressions, whereas engag-
ing in unethical behaviors could
increase the appeal of purchas-
ing cleaning products. In one
experiment, participants were
instructed to tella lie to an imagi-
and were then
asked in a sur-
vey how much
they were will-
ing to pay for
and hand sani-
in the lie were
willing to pay
more for the
ucts than those
who did not.
esis for the
justify a lot of
weird logic in
our daily lives.
Why we jump
into the shower
to wash off past
a crappy day; why we call virgins
"clean" and sluts "dirty"; why
baptism involves "cleansing"
away our sins. Cleanliness is next
to godliness, after all.
So the next time you reach for
that disinfectant, ask yourself:
Are you really worried about your
personal hygiene, or are you just
cleansing your moral agenda?
"Fingas!" Mrs. Liu demands again.
Sheepishly, I slide my hands on top of the
Mrs. Liu raps me on the knuckles once. Not
a hard rap, but a strict flick of her palm that
means only one thing: Bad Girl. Her hands
are slender, the hands of a knowing woman
who clips her nails each Sunday and sweeps
the shavings into a tin trashcan. My hands are
eight years old. They are chubby and unwise.
In my 10 years of playing the piano, Mrs.
Liu never called me a "Good Girl."
Instead, my Good Girl status was reduced
each Sunday afternoon, when I sat in front of
a piano and plunked fingers that weren't built
for grace notes or arpeggios. In the car, after
nursing my weary knuckles, I'd whine to my
mom: "Can't you just get me a white teacher?
I don't like Mrs. Liu. I'd actually practice if I
understood what she was saying."
But the truth was I had no trouble deci-
phering Mrs. Liu's criticism. In fact, I under-
stood her disapproval quite clearly. Each
knuckle-whack carried a slap of condemna-
tion: Bad Girl. I disliked piano lessons, but it
wasn't because Mrs. Liu wasn't white. It was
because she was, like my mother, Chinese,
and her furrowed eyebrows meant I was fail-
ing to be a Good Chinese Daughter.
When I ask my Facebook friends what they
think of the term "Good Girl," my childhood
friend David answers within 40 seconds.
"do you consider yourself a good girl oO,"
he writes, tacking on a wild-eyed emoticon to
his sentence for sarcasm.
I can tell he doesn't expect a real answer.
In fact, his emoticon implies that he already
knows the real answer. I do consider myself
a Good Girl. Or at least, I consider myself a
Good Daughter. Are the two interchangeable?
I'm notsure. Good Girls make to-do lists, then
check off each completed task. We don't earn
knuckle-raps from our teachers. We practice
the piano, and excel. Our parents beam. Good
Girls are successful.
I call my mom on the phone over the week-
end. When she picks up, she's grumpy, frying
shrimp with one hand, dangling the phone
with the other.
"Mom," I start cautiously, "I need your
thoughts on something."
"Huh?" she squawks.
"What does it mean to be good?"
"I mean, how does a girl become 'good?'"
I prod. "Did your mom teach you how to be
good? Or did you just know how?"
My mom remains quiet. I'm curious. I
never hear anybody use the term "Good
Woman," yet I know clearly my mother is
"Good" in the sense of fulfilling duties, in the
sense of giving us love. Does she know this
herself? Atwhat poiiiFdowomen le'ave thei-
good girlhood behind ... or can they ever? Is
my mom, at age 52, still a Good Girl?
The flip of shrimp skin hisses dirtily on the
"You want to be good?" My mom scoffs,
At home, my mom plants an oven mitt into
my hands slowly, as if the fabric will crumble
at my touch. She grimaces.
"It's about time you do this," she growls.
I don't blame her urgency. I'll be moving
into an apartment with my best friend next
year, and our plan so far is to thrive on pre-
made salads and peanut butter. I'm no good
in the kitchen. The first time I cracked open
an egg, the yolk slid from its shell onto the
floor like a yellow sun hatched across the
dirt. When it comes to food, nobody in my
family is a waster. The trashcan is a holy
place, reserved only for the scraped clean
and utterly broken: melon rinds gnawed,
white jars of pickled tofu licked until the
glass scratches tongues. I've been taught
that a part of being good is being resource-
ful: finding a recipe for every piece of the
fruit, including the seeds.
"Help me make the red bean bread," my
I crack the white walls of an egg. Its yel-
low center flops to the floor. Shit. Bad Girl, I
I fear my mom will lash out at my yolky
mishap. To be a Good Girl and a Good Chi-
nese Daughter requires constant discipline, a
reminder to the self that any waste you create
- even by accident - will be deemed a failure.
"When I was your age, I was cooking din-
ner every night for the family," my mom huffs,
strutting around the floors in palaid apron.
"Of course, it was differentback then. Your
grandma ani igraiitdW vere i'orking all the
time. They had no time to cook for the rest of
us. It was a matter of helping the rest of the
family survive," she says simply, stirring a
bowl of sweet redbean paste.
"You?" She jabs her chopstick in my direc-
tion. "What do you know how to make?
Nothing. What do you know how to clean?
Nothing. But what do you play with when you
are small? Dolls. Ai-yah! Dolls! Yellow-haired
She spits, "How will that help you survive?
You know what I play with when I am small?
Candy wrappers, if I am lucky. We only get
candy once ayear, on Chinese New Year's."
a Good American Girl to my peers? The two
definitions carry completely different con-
notations. At school, I feel Good when others
pound me on the back after telling a hearty
joke. Praise is easy to come by. At home, while
I cook with my mother, she reminds me that
I still haven't fulfilled my promise to learn
how to make dumplings. I'm left, again, with
As a dauighter of Chinese immigrants, I feel
obligated to do right by my mother, who, at
times, seems too small. When we're in public,
my mother gives off the aura of a very good
and very helpless girl, swallowed inside a vast
space of stars, stripes and strange country.
In movie theaters, she'd grab my hand and
hold it throughout the entire film. Clueless
to the English dialogue, I'd whisper Chinese
translations into her ear, clarifying what-
ever action was going on. Girlish, my mother
threw back her head and cawed in gorgeous
laughter when I brought home wildflowers
from school one day. If anything, sometimes
I feel as if the roles are reversed - that I
become a sort of mom and she the vulnerable
daughter whom I want to protect, to teach.
On Facebook, my Women's Studies major
friend Claire writes, "A 'good girl' doesn't
actually exist. It's a contrived, patriarchal
image that makes it easier for women to be
subjected to external & social criticism."
Six people 'liked' her comment. I was
tempted. There are times when I wish, like
my friends, that labels like Good Girl and Bad
Girl didn't exist. But the labels that we slip
into are more present in 2013 than they have
ever been. In the age of profile construction
on mediums such as Twitter and Facebook,
it seems that we're asking questions like,
"WHO AM I?" in more explicit terms than
we ever have before. The world today is just
as overwhelming as the world was in my
mother's decade. Human connection is still
immense and scary. Only now, technology
demands that we define ourselves. By being
a Good Girl, I'm being placed within a com-
munity of other Good Girls, with similar
interests, similar tastes. Is identity valida-
tion really such a bad thing?
The truth is, I'm comfortable being a Good
Girl. While the rules are complicated and, at
times, restrictive, I know them - and what's
more, I belong to them. I'd be uncomfortable
reconstructing myself as anything else.
My mom and I knead dough for the red
bean bread. She pounds flour into pockets of-
dough. In the kitchen, we stand side-by-side.
Our Good Girl fingers flutter with dust.
Neither of us were born Good Girls. We
were taught how to bake bread by the moth-
ers before us, standing in a kitchen with
morning light hissing through the window
- neither blessing, nor curse.
Cdrlina an is aLSA sophomore:
minds as needing a kind of food:
we have an "appetite" for learn-
ing, an "insatiable" curiosity, a
"thirst" for knowledge. "Bland"
ideas are deemed uninteresting.
Similarly, social psycholo-
gists have found that there's this
odd moral cognitive component
to our obsessions with hygiene:
Physically cleaning ourselves or
I glance furtively at my pumpkin-shaped
Halloween basket, still brimming with uneat-
en Almond Joys and tinfoil-wrapped choco-
lates from last year.
My mom dips the chopstick in a dollop of
sweet red bean paste.
"Here, tast this," she says, and I widen
my mouth obediently. The deep, lush scent of
sugar runs guilty in my mouth.
Mymompauses mid-stir, "You are aspoiled
American girl. You know that? Spoiled."
As a Chinese-American, does partaking in
one culture - Halloween - and ignoring the
other - making dumplings - mark me as a
It's true that my sister and I grew up more
American than we did Chinese. When we
visit our relatives in China, passersby gawk.
We have our ears pierced (un-Chinese). We
wear our hair down, flowing over our shoul-
ders (Un-Chinese). We dip our carrots in
hummus. (Very un-Chinese).
Yet, there are subtle reminders of our
Chinese heritage that sneak up on us and
cloud me with guilt. Living in-between two
cultures is always a matter of prioritization.
But, I'm never sure what to prioritize - being
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