Reading the reviews for Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls, I thought his only contribution to the issue was the suggestion of raising an “Aunty Army’. I’ve just read the book myself, and found those reviews to be unfair. I thought he was quite late to the cause, and wondered what contribution he could add. (Sue Palmer published her book Toxic Childhood in 2006. In 2011 the UK government published a report after an independent review into the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, including recommendations.) As it is, he adds something worthwhile.
Biddulph take the reader through the needs of each of five stages of development.
He recommends avoiding:
* educational products and services for babies
* products and services made and marketed to girls (ie, gendered toys and clothes)
* performance or competition for the under - fours
* tvs in bedrooms, or tvs being on all the time
* girls’ magazines (I’d say the exceptions are New Moon Girls and Indigo4girls)
* diets and fat-shaming
* reliance on pills (medicating every headache)
* saying ‘I need a drink’
* giving alcohol to children
* allowing your children an unsupervised online presence
* rewarding exhibitionism online
* tiredness - get children to bed on time (teenagers need 9.25 hours of sleep a night).
He emphasises the importance of role modelling, open communication, offering a wide range of activities, and simply being together. I like that he calls on the current experts in related fields to support his arguments, and that he presents his case in the context of feminist history.
These aren’t new ideas, but here’s why the book is worthwhile. It is likely to reach a new audience who haven’t thought about all these things before. It is written by man, so men are likely to read it. It is written by a psychologist who has a respected public profile so it should reach a wide audience. And the format is simple and easy to read, so it will be read by people who don‘t read denser or more academic works. Win.
For some families there are changes to be made if they accept his advice. For me, I like to take things a little further. I think it is important to talk back to the culture we raise our kids in. To lobby, to write letters, to speak out against sexism and misogyny, to sign petitions, to join groups that are active for change, to challenge people’s beliefs and values. Don’t we want a society where people of any gender are free to be whoever they want to be, rather than try to fit into the narrow gendered stereotypes our culture presents?