Sometimes, the significance of a book lingers long after you have forgotten about the characters or even the plot. I read Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine when I was eight years old, and ten years later, I still think about it.
Ella is given the “gift” of obedience by a fairy at birth. Consequently, she is forced to obey any orders she is given. The book follows Ella as she tries to track down the fairy who cursed her. In 2004, Miramax adapted the book into a film starring Anne Hathaway. Ella Enchanted may be a fairy tale, but the idea of girls being cursed with the inability to ignore requests is pure nonfiction.
Ella’s curse is one that Good Girls suffer from. Many girls, including myself, have trouble refusing to do what is asked of them, even when the task is unreasonable. Perhaps we do this because saying ‘no’ may make us unlikable, and Good Girls are supposed to be loved by everyone.
I recently asked a friend if she would mind driving me to my internship after school because…well, because I’m lazy. I let Katie know that she did not have to drive me and that I could awkwardly walk/run and only be a few minutes late. She said it would be no problem, but as she was driving me she seemed distraught and hurried.
When I asked Katie if she was okay, she confessed that she was supposed to be finishing a quiz at that very moment. Don’t get me wrong, I usually enjoy being considered more important than Middle Eastern history, but I felt horrible.
Because friendships between teenage girls are often so fragile, some girls go above and beyond the call of duty as a friend in hopes of being able to “cash-in” the favors they have done for friends when the going gets tough.
I hate to think that Katie believes our friendship is so tenuous that she needed to help me in order to “trap” me (after all, only a real jerk friend-dumps someone who drives them to work). It is even more painful to imagine that she thought I would be mad at her if she didn’t do this favor for me. Like Ella, she was unable to refuse my plea.
My most embarrassing Ella moment began this summer when a teacher asked if I could edit a curriculum a group of students wrote for the club I used to run. I stepped down as head of the program in order to pursue other projects (among them, blogging and international superstardom) and I was busy. Yet I said I would edit the curriculum.
Turns out, more editing was needed than I expected, and the curriculum was long enough to make War and Peace look like a pamphlet. I did hours of work before I realized I had no business editing a curriculum for a program I was no longer involved in with time I did not have to spare.
It was very hard for me to call the teacher and explain to her that I could not edit the curriculum. I told her that I appreciated being trusted with such an important job, but that I had previous commitments and was unable to spend as much time editing as I would like to. She was very understanding and I was glad to be unburdened.
I guess, on some level, I wanted her to like me, and maybe that’s why I initially responded to her request as Ella would. But another reason I, and girls in general, take on extra tasks is because we believe fixing other peoples’ problems is what Good Girls do. For more information about the pressure girls feel to do it all, read my recent blog about asking for extensions on assignments.
I think my female peers’ instinct to do for others what they can is an amazing trait. I am consistently surprised by how willing my friends are to do little, unnecessary favors for others “just because.” But Ella’s condition is also a curse. When we do things for the wrong reasons (to secure a relationship or because we think we should be busy) we miss out on the joy of helping someone or the satisfaction of finishing a project. So to all the “Ellas” out there, here’s a new request for you. Do favors for your friends, teachers and family because you want to, not because you feel like you should.