Looking Beyond Feminism:
Old Myths and New Theories
Almost four decades ago, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, and others based their feminist revolution on showing us the Victorian and patriarchal myths that impeded the progress of girls and women. The myths they fought against -- and many of us along with them -- went something like this:
Because of the inspiration and direction provided by the feminist movement, we have each, over the last decades, seen amazing changes in the home, the workplace, the school classroom, and the media. There are still many battles to fight in pursuit of women's equality, but many have also been won. Because of the inspiration of feminists, we've worked to change our culture, and we've succeeded.
Yet if you are like Gail and myself, while ready to congratulate feminists for the powerful work the movement has done for our girls and women, you have begun to suspect, over the last few years, during moments of your own awakening, that feminist theory is often static and overreactive, sometimes unfair, and generally incomplete in its assessment of human nature. But you may also feel like the villagers in the story "The Emperor's New Clothes," hesitant to cry out, "But look! There's something wrong with this picture!"
Let's feel this hesitancy no longer. Let's explore some of the most predominant feminist theories in our culture, and make decisions about whether they really do apply to our homes, our classrooms, and our culture.
Let's look at the four most prevalent feminist theories, and the imperatives they impose on our thinking as parents, regarding why girls are the way they are. To fully care for girls in this millennium, these four theories will have to be broken through.
HUMAN NATURE IS NOT VERY IMPORTANT TO GIRLS' LIVES.
Girls are who they are predominantly because of the way they are socialized in our society. Nature plays a smaller part in why girls are the way they are.
What we need to know about girls, we are told, can be learned by studying "socialization." In our society, a girl's socialization is patriarchal and male dominated, and females are second-class citizens. When a girl experiences a self-esteem drop, a problem, an unrequited desire, or a fear of life itself, interpretation of "socialization" provides the reason. To spend time looking at hormones, the female brain, and the natural evolution of the female is to risk limiting girls' potential, so we must avoid it. Human nature (as girls live it) is a subject too risky for contemporary parents and teachers, for spending a lot of time on the nature of a girl will lead, ultimately, to her oppression.
This first feminist theory found its genesis just under forty years ago. It was a logical response to the misuse of biology and nature-based observations by nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century neurobiologists and psychologists. When, over a hundred years ago, we discovered that the male brain was ten percent larger than the female, some male scientists cried, "You see, men are smarter than women!" Sigmund Freud, a genius in many ways, based his own theories on just a few people -- his patients -- and found in them penis envy; he claimed this to be natural to females, and overburdened this "nature-based" theory with male chauvinism.
Copyright © 2002 by Michael Gurian
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