Conformity, Education, life

The Professional Good Girl: Early Life and Training

For several years, I have followed Blogenspiel, written by Another Damned Medievalist, whom I will call ADM.  Many of you know that I am also a medievalist. A couple months ago, ADM wrote this heartfelt postabout why so many academics, especially women, put up with second-class citizenship, musing that we female academics were PGGs, Professional Good Girls.In one those wonderful serendipitous events, Lena Corazon wrote a wonderfully sensitive post  earlier this week, on her loneliness growing up and why finding the online writing community was such a tall drink of water to a parched throat.  I have only known Lena since July when we both joined Round Three of the Round of Words in 80 Days, but she and I connected quickly.  We are both academics who have written creative works for years, but have only recently gone public as creative writers.

The two posts struck chords: Lena’s stirring memories of my early schooling through graduate school, and ADM’s describing both graduate school and work life. ADM posits that Professional Good Girls had a common trait of not finding love and acceptance at home, but rather at school. I certainly fit that model.

I was the youngest child in my family, the “oops” child.  Although only recently diagnosed, my mother has suffered from depression since before I was born.  My earliest memories are of her sleeping on the couch all day while my father was at work and my siblings at school.  My father had a very difficult childhood and did not know how to react to children, so although he was there in the evenings, he was distant and withdrawn.  I spent most of my time alone, as my siblings were several years older.  My sister who is nearest in age has described me as a faery child, who lived in her own imagined world.

I found the yearned-for approbation and love at school among my teachers, although my creative efforts got me in trouble throughout school.  I made up fantastic stories in first grade; my teacher called my parents to tell them I needed a psychiatrist. I wrote a story for a creative writing course in sophomore year of high school; my English teacher called me parents to tell them that I needed a psychiatrist.  My parents didn’t believe in psychiatry; I have often wondered if I would have been better off if they had.

As long as I followed the rules, my teachers liked me, so I learned quickly to conform, to be a Good Girl. I was not so lucky with my fellow students.  I was a very small, sickly child, so I could not run, skip rope, or play the games that were popular in the early grades. n fourth grade, I had a strep infection that attacked my kidneys, so I was out of school for the entire spring, which made me more of a cypher to my classmates.  Although my teachers liked me, their attention made me more a target at times. My first-grade teacher found I could already read, so she had me read to the class while she went to the teachers’ lounge.  Her actions led to my being threatened with beatings on the playground.  My sixth-grade teacher announced my IQ to the class, making me more unwelcome among my peers than I had already managed to make myself.  After that time, I took a blanket and a book to school, reading on the grass alone in a far corner of the playground during lunchtime.

High school, with all its concomitant social machinations, was sheer hell.  Although I was an attractive girl, no one dated the brain.  At best, the boys saw me as someone to help with homework, or worse, to offer advice on how to get the girls they liked to go out with them. I was beneath the notice of the popular girls; my one friend and I spent all our time together, in the unbreakable bubble that surrounded us. When my friend found a boyfriend t the end of sophomore year and abandoned me for him, as often happened in those situations, I was bereft. I did continue to receive love and approbation from most of my teachers, and put my lonely nights and weekends to learning even more.  Actually, my loneliness helped me to leave high school early, as I took enough courses to have all my requirements for college by the end of my junior year.

I went to a very small college, where I really bloomed as a scholar.  My personal life was not going as well.  After my sophomore year, I had dated perhaps 6 or 7 young men; only one had ever asked me out more than once. Feeling that no one else would ever be interested in me, I married him.  My marriage worked on exactly the same lines as being a Professional Good Girl:  do whatever I was told, never question authority, never rock the boat, never stand out in anyway.  My ex-husband was also very young; he did not know any better, so he constructed and maintained the box in which my soul and personality was locked away.  I became a chameleon, without opinions of my own.  I mastered quickly the ability to find out others’ thoughts and reflected them.

When we divorced four years later, I realized that I did not know what music I liked, what books I enjoyed reading, or what foods I liked to eat.  I knew how to be a scholar, but I had to learn how to be a person.

All of this training made me the perfect candidate to became a Professional Good Girl; I will give you my thoughts on graduate school and my work life in another post.

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