A Moment of Awakening
This moment at the park was the first of many incidents that cried out for me to think beyond our culture's present ideas about girls, about girls and boys, and about women and men. If you think about it, how many times have similar things happened on playgrounds, in workplaces, in homes, among children, teenagers, adults? Initially, there is overwhelming energy from males, but soon, gradual assessment, then guidance, from females. As a married man, I am no stranger to this circumstance!
And in the five minutes of negotiation that went on between Gabrielle, Davita, and the two boys, I realized I needed to revise the timeline by which I watched for drops in girls' self-esteem. Among these four children there was no drop in self-esteem, though initial observation seemed to show there was a sad drop for my girls. Instead, there were the natural interpersonal relationships that emerge when we are patient enough to observe them.
This incident occurred many years ago. It was one of the times in my life that I've felt dissatisfied, as a parent, by what our present, conventional conversation about girls has taught me about "gender stereotypes," "girls' self-esteem drops," "girls in crisis." A number of catchphrases dominate our dialogue about girls, but our girls actually live far beyond the words. That morning, I went home and began a list of these phrases, as well as some of the theories that indoctrinate me nearly every day -- in some form in our media and pop culture -- to see girls in a way that allows very little for the subtleties in which girls really live their lives.
I told Gail about my observation. As she does so often, she smiled at me, a little bemused. Quite often she sees things more clearly and much earlier than I do, but just doesn't tell me about it. "Mike, hardly anyone anymore really looks under the surface of girls' lives," she said. "Feminism used to do it twenty, thirty years ago. It was deep. But now it's skidding on the surface." It was during the rest of that day that Gail and I talked about this, talked about my writing this book, and acknowledged something we, brought up in the feminist tradition, had avoided dealing with.
The great ocean of girls' lives actually lies beneath the surface of the simple formulas we are now taught about "girl power" and girls' self-esteem. Feminism is, we realized, no longer the best theory to care for many of our girls.
In this book, my primary objective is to help parents and caregivers raise daughters. I am a teacher and counselor who greatly enjoys working intimately with people and their families. I am not seeking to be a political figure on one "side" of a political debate.
And yet to write about girls in any way different from current convention is to immediately become a person of the fight. My experiences from around the world, my research, and my own parenting lead me to somewhat different conclusions from my peers. Thus, in offering this parenting guide, I feel compelled to speak not only as a helpful professional but as a figure in a social debate. I don't think The Wonder of Girls would be comprehensive if it did not briefly explore some of the ideologies and theories our girls are now being raised in.
This chapter, then, is about the social debate we raise our girls within. If you are uninterested in politics of this kind, you might want to move to Chapter 2. If, however, you want to revise some of the political logic by which girls have been raised for the last few decades, then this chapter will be enjoyable. It is an analysis of feminist theory, specifically of feminist theories about factors predominant in making girls the way they are. It is also a call to move beyond feminism, to a new logic of girls' lives.
The central core of the new logic is this: Feminism as we know it today is "power feminism" -- based in acquiring more and more social and workplace power for females. While this acquisition is important, it is being pursued at the expense of what I will argue that my daughters, and yours, need and want as much or more. Feminism has, in its worthwhile and useful search for power, neglected this other world of girls' needs. In the last chapter of this book, we will define a set of principles by which to provide our girls with an even wider scope of happiness and success than present-day feminism offers.
Copyright © 2002 by Michael Gurian
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