What Makes a Good Woman?

Whether it’s The Heavy or Tom Waits or The Good Men Project, there is (and, I think, always has been) an awful lot of discussion about what a good man is, or should be, and how one ought to go about becoming one. And what I’m curious to know is why no one seems to be asking the same of us women. 

Is it because we know already, or because we think that to define it is placing constraints on us that we fought so long to remove? Is the [male idea of] being a good woman just not sleeping with anyone else? Is it being able to say to one’s chosen mate “yeah, that taller/more successful/’better’ in whatever way male over there, I’m not sleeping with him, I’m sleeping with you instead?” That seems a terribly low standard. And yet I don’t see anything else being put out in popular culture (which is heteronormative, let’s be depressingly clear) as defining what “being a good woman” is.

It was this song by The Heavy that made me think of it. Why is it still acceptable to talk about being a good man, when by and large discussion of being a bad or good woman slips quickly, and likely justifiably, into accusations of sexism? If the only thing that determines whether you’re “good” or not is who you do or don’t sleep with, of course the entire idea is ridiculous and stunted and should be abandoned. (See: considering those women who don’t respond to your catcalls to be bitches, considering those who flirt with you but don’t sleep with you to be “bad,” considering those who are seen as toying with several men but committing to none of them as evil or conniving or manipulative in some way.)

So what makes a good woman? Are there other socially-cemented norms I’m not aware of? The only times I can think of the phrase “a good woman” being trotted out is when the male character talking about his good woman is reminiscing about a.) a meal she made, b.) how pretty she was before she died, or c.) how she put up with some fault or failure in him without leaving him.

Is that it? Is that all it takes to be stamped with the label of “good?” If that’s it, no wonder we have little interest in pursing “good woman” status. But if we can look at that and know it’s not worth pursuing, why are all these men still trying to be “good men?” What does it mean for them? Not beating women? Not impregnating people and then skipping off on child support? Showing up for Thanksgiving at your mother’s house? Driving a baseball bat into the face of the man who raped your sister? What makes a good man?

And why do we care? 


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