Nice Girls Finish First — Or Is It Last?

Just a few months after it promoted gum-snapping, curse-yelling "British It girls" as the next big thing, The Daily Beast says it's now hip to be nice.

Marisa Meltzer writes, "lately, raunch culture appears to be in remission. In its place is a new cultural paradigm: the nice girl." The evidence: Emma Watson, Demi Lovato, Twilight, and "Carlene Bauer's recent, buzzy, no-sex and the city memoir, Not That Kind of Girl" (which Sadie wrote about a few weeks ago). Oh, and TV. And Mischa Barton. The first two pages of Meltzer's piece read like an extended version of Newsweek's Conventional Wisdom, with big red up arrows by all the nice girls, down arrows by the bad ones. She writes,

Nicole Ritchie and Christina Aguilera, two poster girls for early 21st century badness, have rehabilitated their reputations and are now best known as devoted moms. Mischa Barton and Lindsay Lohan, who have as yet not joined the nice girl bandwagon, are meanwhile shown in the press as examples of how not to behave. (Barton's recent hospitalization for ‘exhaustion' raised more eyebrows than sympathy.)

Apparently drug addiction is out, and motherhood is in. Meltzer's trend-spotting is pretty dubious — do Lovato's "interviews about being bullied in school and how much they love their parents and best friends" really make her special? Doesn't everyone like their friends? And aren't vampire-abstinence-loving Twihards balanced by a substantial Twilight backlash? To her credit, though, she does display a skepticism about the true value of "niceness." She writes,

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."

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.

Simmons makes good points here, but Meltzer's piece conflates being good with being nice. Being a responsible teen mom — like Amy on The Secret Life of the American Teenager — isn't the same as being polite to everyone, and just because you're not on drugs doesn't mean you have to be "modest and selfless." The drugs issue actually brings up another conflation, between addiction (and other psychological problems) and morality. Identity has (surprise!) many dimensions, and to categorize girls — or even their celebrity personae — as naughty or nice is to miss many of these. Meltzer writes that author Carlene 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." Maybe more girls would, if the Daily Beast would quit doing trend pieces on which side of the Madonna-whore coin is up this week.

Good Girls Are Back [Daily Beast]
Stephenie Meyer Accused Of Brainwashing Generation Of Young Girls [True/Slant]

Earlier: Is The "Nice-Girl" Tell-All The New Shocker?
British "It" Girls: A New Trend, A New Set Of Obnoxious Media Expectations