Where have all the Bad Girls gone?

3 July 2022

5:00 PM

3 July 2022

5:00 PM

Where have all the Bad Girls gone? They used to rock up regularly at the Love Island villa – now in its eighth and rather underwhelming season – only to find themselves on the EasyJet back to Blighty after having full sex on prime time TV. (One of them, Zara Holland, being stripped of her Miss Great Britain title.) They brawled, boozed and bonked with gusto; now it’s two drinks a night and a cheeky snog on the terrace before an early – and chaste – bedtime.

They used to be all over the soaps but now the women of EastEnders and Corrie suffer wall-to-wall ‘challenges’ like bulimia and infertility instead. There were songs about them (‘Bad Girl’ by Madonna, ‘Bad Girls’ by Donna Summer) films about them (from The Women to The Bitch) and books about them (Rebecca to Ambition).

There are still a few in the US; Christine from Selling Sunset cuts a stylish swathe through her well behaved colleagues. But generally they tend to be older; the Real Housewivesgangs from all over the globe never tire of kicking off. It’s hard to imagine a show like Bad Girls Club – ‘A Bad Girl knows what she wants and how to get it. She makes her own way, makes her own rules and she makes no apologies’ – being commissioned nowadays.

It’s somewhat creepy the way Bad Girls are now either pathologised (she’s ‘hurting’ and thus ‘acting out’) or lectured by the #BeKind mob. A friend of mine shopping for clothes for her children noted that this kindness slogan was always on the girls’ T-shirts but never on the boys – and it’s not like boys don’t need reminding more than girls. Little girls instructed to ‘Be Kind’ will grow up to be women who are told that if they report rapists they’re guilty of propping up a rotten system by practising ‘Carceral Feminism’. Better by far to forget about it and go to a day spa, where the rise of ‘wellness’ and ‘pampering’ will reduce you to a cross between an invalid and a child, in need of ceaseless babying in order to recover from the wearying world of being an adult. If she’s determined not to work, the modern girl can trade on her beauty to become some rich man’s ‘Sugar Baby’ – set up in a cushy billet and gritting her teeth as she submits to a mauling from the liver-spotted hands of a man old enough to be her grandad – the Good Life! But she’ll only ever get to be bad for some perv’s pleasure – she’ll never have as much fun as a wayward, self-willed Bad Girl, no matter how many handbags she can buy.

There’s understandably a nostalgia for the free-and-easy 1990s now – after the Aids vaccine and before cancel culture. It was a time when a young woman could combine being a Bad Girl with being a drinking buddy; the age of the Ladette. Of course, as whenever a female does anything which looks like fun, there’s a chorus of sneering about ‘women acting like men’ – Mrs Thatcher got it as much as Zoe Ball. But why wouldn’t women copy men when men have made being promiscuous and ambitious – staggering between bedroom boasting and boardroom braggadocio – look like so much fun?

The recent uncivil war between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard revealed much about the misogyny of modern times. It was obvious what Johnny Depp saw in Amber Heard after decades with the sweet and faithful Vanessa Paradis – like his ex, Kate ‘The Tank’ Moss, she was a bona fide Bad Girl. But whereas back in the 20th century this was a large part of Moss’s appeal, she is now hailed on social media as the perfect woman – a Born Again Good Girl who speaks up in defence of a man, then shuts up again. Next to her, Heard seemed even badder than Depp’s side had painted her, reviled as a witch and worse, while the superannuated sleaze-ball Depp retained his grotesque ‘Bad Boy’ status.

I’m not saying we should all be bad. There’s a lot of trouble in the world as it is and if we were all trouble-makers, it would be havoc. Good Girls, with their sacrifice and compromise, may keep the world turning – or at least ‘ticking over’. But Bad Girls are the alcohol-soaked glacé cherry on top of the Knickerbocker Glory of life – and their absence greatly decreases the gaiety of the nation.

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