Why bad girls are not bad anymore

Is there any truth in the statement that “good girls go to heaven and bad girls go everywhere”? American actress and screenwriter Mae West coined the one liner and made it sound sexy in the 1920s, when the world was divided into black and white. West, with her seemingly ordinary looks, brushed past her glamorous and beautiful Hollywood counterparts to reach the arms of the leading man simply because she dared to be provocative, ambitious and greedy to get the most out of life in an age where being sexy, showing skin and having an attitude was hardly considered as good virtues.

Writer Jennifer Scanlon, who recently penned the biography of Helen Gurley Brown, the feisty former editor of American Cosmopolitan, named it Bad Girls Go Everywhere , as it sums up Brown’s colourful life and career spanning 32 years as editor of Cosmopolitan. In the 1960s, Brown turned around Hearst Publishing’s loss- making magazine into a success by putting bikini-clad women on the cover and writing on topics such as lesbianism and masturbation.

But she became the bad girl to the core when she wrote her first book Sex and the Single Girl that shook up the apron- attired women of 1960s’ America and gave them a glimpse of the liberated single woman’s world with sex outside marriage, and enjoyable sex at that.

The world we live in now is very different. Ambition is the demand of the hour, and confidence the key to achieve it. Bad doesn’t come dressed as cigarsmoking, skimpily- clad women, and good doesn’t mean hiding yourself in formless clothes to kill your feminine traits just so that the world views you as someone with intellect.

“Women with brains know how to use their mind and body to their advantage these days,” says Maitreyi Chawla, a media strategist. “They do not need to jump into bed with the male bosses to get ahead in life. Feminine attributes go far beyond just your bodily attributes. I think women are far sharper in figuring out the mind of the person in front for her, whether a man or a woman,” she says. “If she needs to pander to someone’s ego so that the job at hand becomes easier, she does exactly that.” Author and screenwriter Smita Jain, who has penned quite a few characters that would fall under the category of ‘bad’, has a different take.

“One fundamental thing that will hardly ever change is that at the core, all human beings, male or female, want power. I’ve worked in publishing and finance as well. Let me tell you, sex always sells. Without naming the person or the industry, there was this girl who worked with me and was at the same level as the rest of us. The next thing we knew was that she was head of the division. She was bright alright, but so were the rest of us. The only difference was her willingness to share a hotel room with the boss when on tour.

“Since the world has always been competitive and positions of power have always been scarce, it’s almost stupid not to let all your assets gain competitive advantage,” says Jain.

Women these days want power more than ever, now that they are equipped with all that they once envied in a man. Having a career; a career and family; or staying single even into their 30s and 40s was unthinkable even till the late 1970s. But today, power no longer means just keeping your man close to you and being the darling of a social gathering. It’s about making the maximum impact in your workplace in the shortest possible time when everyone around you, man or woman, is trying to do exactly the same.

Television actress Achint Kaur, who played the vamp to the T as Pallavi in Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii, says, “I call it survival instinct. It’s no longer about being bad or good. If a woman has to be aggressive, bold and pushy to get ahead among several contenders of the same spot she might as well do it, with or without a tag of a bad girl,” she says. “Manoeuvring in any given situation to get the best deal out of it makes a person smart. And now that women have become smarter, the ones who get left behind in the rat race are bound to call the others names.” Neelu Singh, COO of ezeego1. com, travel portal of Cox and Kings, says, “I’m the bad girl, but I’d definitely like to go to heaven.” But then being the woman boss does come with more than its share of conflicts.

“It, however, depends on how you handle a situation. Women have realised that some of their feminine traits can help them big time. For instance, women cannot focus till they resolve a conflict situation unlike men who just ignore confrontations. That helps – apart from the fact that they are excellent multi- taskers.” There was a time when being good came clad in a saree and vamps or “bad girls” as they were called came with the greed of all things material and provocative. Things have changed. Former model Noyonika Chatterjee, who has scorched the ramp at a time when supermodels was a term middle- class India was just getting used to, says, “About a decade and a half ago, a woman in the business of modelling was always looked upon with a raised eyebrow. They were probably branded as bad girls too, but now it’s a completely different scenario.” The way people view the term “bad girl” has also changed.

“Different times require different kinds of provocative action. In the 1970s and ’80s, the bad girls were bold and provocative in how they dressed,” says Advaita Kala, author of Almost Single . ” But today women are in a much more comfortable position.

Sex doesn’t always have to be sold with dropping your clothes. Subliminal sexuality with brains to match is what would make a woman very hard to resist in or outside office. So the line between good and bad has also blurred.” Using sexuality as a tool to move forward in life certainly doesn’t mean shedding clothes anymore. “Women earlier used to self- flagellate a lot. And so a Miss-Hard-To-Resist would draw the ire of all women and the admiration of all the men around her. But today, most women know that their sexuality is power – and she doesn’t hold it back so as to be taken seriously.” West seems to have learnt that lesson way ahead of her time.

May be that’s why she said: “When I’m good, I’m good. When I’m bad, I’m even better.”

Haimanti Mukherjee is a writer for WonderWoman.in

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With political activists as parents, Stephanie learned gender politics at an early age and embraced stiletto feminism in high school. As a marketing professional, she’s written for a variety of publications. She founded www.scandalouswomen.com to be a voice for the sex-positive alpha female.


  1. Thank GOD I was born in these times & not “those”! That’s ALL I have to say! Long live the bad girls who have GOOD times!

  2. Women today are indeed more comfortable with what is out there. Fifty years ago, the clothes in the stores would be a total sacrilege. I am definitely not complaining at all. I like a lot of the stuff out there even if I do not always wear some of it.