Excerpt from The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Wonder of Girls

Understanding the Hidden Nature of Our Daughters

by Michael Gurian

The Wonder of Girls
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2001, 352 pages
    Feb 2003, 352 pages

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Early feminists reacted strongly and effectively to the limitations and just plain bad theory of many of the men in the early century. In the 1960s and '70s, academic feminists buried neurobiological and sociobiological research. They've continued this trend unflinchingly. In a 1995 television interview on male/female brain differences, Gloria Steinem told 20/20 reporter John Stossel that to talk about biology was to continue the patriarchy.

Hormonal and biochemical research -- so useful in helping adult women understand pregnancy, menopause, and daily life -- has been largely absent from the books and resources on raising girls. In 1998, I asked Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia, whether she thought biology played a part in the lives of girls, especially the girls who were suffering so deeply in her book. Biology, she told me, plays a much smaller part in what's going on for girls than socialization does.

Christina Sommers, author of Who Stole Feminism? told me she saw the feminist hyper-emphasis on "nurture" and nearly complete lack of emphasis on human nature to be a "feminist fear of what is natural, because feminists see what is natural as being defined through a male lens." Early feminism had to disconnect itself from many of the scaffolds of human life in order to develop as a dominant theory. Nature was owned by men. Biology was owned by male theorists who got their guidance not just from science (dominated by men for hundreds of years) but also religion (dominated by male imagery). The imperative behind Gloria Steinem's sense that to talk of biology is to be patriarchal was crucial to early feminism's time and place.

And yet, even given the immense liberation for women that feminism has accomplished, the basic questions of human nature remain. They especially remain for parents who are trying to raise children of nature without understanding the original nature from which the children have come.

The Wonder of Girls hopes no longer to skirt questions involving human nature, for the very soul of the human is lost when human nature is taken out of the human dialogue. At the Gurian Institute, where we train teachers and parents, classrooms and homes become very different places when communities learn the hidden secrets of human nature. We have found that parents, teachers, and community members who are not equipped with the wisdom of nature in understanding their children make painful mistakes both in action and in thought -- they think themselves to blame for things in which they play little part; and they neglect to provide ways of love and nurturance that they did not know they should provide. They become embattled in causes, but discover they do not understand the girl herself, or the boy beside her. And they often try to direct their daughter toward certain social and political goals that may not be right for the personality and nature of that particular girl. They become cut off from the child, especially during adolescence, when their child wants desperately to be understood. A great deal of our society's woes grow from the isolation adolescents feel from their caregivers.

When parents don't fully understand their children, much of the wonder of parenting is lost. In both the minds of parents and children, parenting becomes like a business, always on the verge of failure or bankruptcy.

There is another way, available to us once we push beyond the simplistic idea that girls are who they are "because they are socialized that way," and notice that "girls are who they are as much or more because of their hidden nature" on which socialization plays an important, but, surprisingly, not a life-defining role. New sciences (especially neurobiology and biochemistry) that will not be submerged in politics any longer have made it very possible, as Chapters 2 and 3 will reveal, to know our daughters from the inside out. Distinctions like nature vs. nurture become relatively trivial: What comes to matter is the knowledge of how a girl's brain, hormones, and physiological development, within her everyday environment, are affecting her life.

Copyright © 2002 by Michael Gurian

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