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Raising Girls: New Feminism, an Army of Aunts and Trusting Ourselves

Posted: 22/01/2013 23:00

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Our girls are in crisis. I know this because psychotherapist Steve Biddulph is all over the media sharing this piece of information with mothers; well, I'm sure there are fathers interested but these parenting books are always aimed at the incompetence of mothers. By complete coincidence, Biddulph came to the same conclusion several years ago about boys who, apparently, were suffering from an epidemic of ADHD and just screwing up in everything; now Biddulph seems to have remembered that there are girls on the planet too.

Obviously, this requires the publication of an entirely new book to fix the crisis in girls' mental health and their propensity towards depression, eating disorders, hyper-sexualisation, binge drinking and self-harm. I'd be more grateful if I didn't think Biddulph was over-stating the obvious and if I wasn't worried by the sheer number of people who seem to be buying into his theories of gender essentialism. I would also be more forgiving if I thought Biddulph had spent the last 25 years living in a cave; after all, it's not like there's ever been a single book published about the toxicity of childhood on young girls, raising girls, campaigns on the sexualisation and sexploitation of young girls, and nor have feminists been saying this for years.

I do believe our girls are in crisis, but then I think our boys are still in crisis too; after all, the capitalist-patriarchy is harmful for everyone. It is based on a sex binary that involves a reductive, racist, disablist, and sexist heteronormative construction of humanity, which privileges heterosexual men, but only those who conform to the stereotypes of "man". Perhaps if Biddulph was really worried about girls' mental health he might begin by commenting on the fact that all of the images used in press reports on his book are of "pretty" white teenage girls.

Our culture is universally harmful but Biddulph isn't challenging the capitalist-patriarchy. Instead, he is using the very things which harm our children to sell books. His normalisation of gendered stereotypes in support of the nonsense that boys and girls are somehow inherently different has no real basis in scientific evidence. There are lots of people, such as Simon Baron-Cohen claiming they "observed" gendered behaviour, and therefore there must be inherent sex differences in children, but as Glosswitch points out, Biddulph really needs to read his Cordelia Fine because he's completed skipped over the research into neuronal plasticity. Neurosexism has a lot to answer for because it ignores the very real evidence of the cultural and historical construction and contextualisation of gender. Biddulph also conflates biological sex with gender, as if there were somehow a hormone that decides what type of child likes playing with dinosaurs and which child wants a tiara. Neurosexism and gender essentialism, as espoused by Biddulph leads to such foolishness as Hannah Evans claiming, in the Guardian no less, that sticks are essential to the raising of boys; as if girls never engage in imaginative play outside. It's possible Evans has never actually met a girl child, because I've got two and they most definitely play with sticks. In fact, I don't think I've met a girl who didn't understand the importance of sticks. It's called imaginative play and it's what happens when children are left to play by themselves in green spaces; the loss of which is having a detrimental effect on our children. This is what gender essentialism causes: the observation that one's own male children like X so, therefore, all male children must need X. It leaves no room for individuality or creativity.

Normally, I would ignore parenting gurus whose theories are based on scientific facts that I cannot find a source for, like Biddulph's theory that boys have a surge in testosterone around the age of 4 or his theory that baby girls are "hardwired" for social awareness (never mind the fact that if girls genuinely are then why do they need special help maintaining friendships as he proposes in his book? Surely girls should just know how to be friends?). All of this is really quite tedious but what actually aggravates me is that Biddulph's answer to The Crisis in Girls is a call for New Feminism involving an Army of Aunties. An Army of Aunts is going to save girls from the oppressive structures of the capitalist-patriarchy. The arrogance of a man calling for a New Feminism when the research he's using to demonstrate the harm to girls in our culture has come from feminists is astounding, but his idea isn't new. Feminism is predicated on women supporting women. It is predicated on the belief that our culture is inherently harmful and we need to eradicate the capitalist-patriarchal structures to liberate women. The liberation of women will free children and men from the oppressive and reductive gender roles which irreparably harm everyone.

We know that our culture is deeply destructive for girls and that girls' mental health is suffering because of it. We know the same is true for boys. What we don't need is another "expert" jumping up to tell us that. We don't need men telling us how to be feminists when there are millions of brilliant women being feminists everyday. We don't need to be told to find an Army of Aunts. The problem isn't the lack of women to support us as parents. The problem is the "experts" making parents feel incompetent in order to sell them books.

So, don't bother with Biddulph. If you feel you need support, ask the parents around you. After all, that line about it taking a village to raise a child is true. We just need to stop paying experts to spout unsubstantiated theories as fact and instead start trusting ourselves.

 

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