February 22, 2009    Education

Raising Girls

I have a 4-year old girl. As a father, the experience of raising a girl has been enlightening to say the least. It has given me an insight into what girls and women experience as they grow up. Firstly, I am now thoroughly convinced that many of the feminist arguments about the environment causing girls to want to be beautiful, be nurturing, love the color pink, etc., are wrong. Those arguments must be coming from feminists who have never had children of their own. If you do have your own, you would have to be blind to think that. Not just my own girl, but her friends too, required no effort, encouragement, nor even introduction for them to love all things pink and glittery.

It is true; if nothing around them were pink and glittery, they probably would not be asking for them. In that sense, I could imagine a culture where girls do not ask for things pink and glittery because nothing in their culture is pink and glittery. For instance, my girl asks for sweet things much less frequently if we didn’t have them around in the house. But the question we should ask is: Why don’t they go nuts over things that are brown even though they are everywhere around us too? Obviously evolutionary forces are at work. If so, we should not just blindly listen to the ideologies of some intellectuals. If we do, our girls could end feeling alienated from their own nature. That is a recipe for bitterness and unhappiness.

Another topic where evolution plays a key role is obesity. Here, it is almost unarguable. Our desire for rich and fatty food comes from the Stone Age. Since then, our human bodies haven’t been able to evolve quickly enough to adapt to the current environment where rich and fatty food is everywhere. It takes no skill or effort to get it. Our desire used to be proportionate to the difficulty in obtaining it. Now they are completely disproportionate. So, I agree with many people that we need to intervene intellectually. We cannot simply give into our evolutionary urges.

With men, being physically stronger used to be a key factor that determined their chance of survival and of passing on their genes. This also has changed over time. Today, even warfare is more about brain than muscle. Interestingly enough, in this area, evolution is not lagging so much behind the current state. You can see this in how women choose men. Big muscle men are not necessarily the most popular. So, we men are encouraged to be more intelligent both from cultural and evolutionary forces, and we are rewarded for it.

With women, the situation is different. Many modern mothers are trying to discourage their daughters from watching movies like Cinderella where the sole criteria for achieving happiness is their beauty. Now, here is a question: Does this ideological intervention have any tangible benefit from the evolutionary point of view? I am inclined to say no. Even today, men do not overwhelmingly prefer intelligent women. After all, what exactly is the benefit of intelligent women if we were to look at it strictly from the evolutionary point of view? The more intelligent (in a broad sense of the term, not just the IQ) men are, the better they can provide for women. While some degree of intelligence in women is desirable, it does not pay off proportionately. I believe men are still trying to find the most beautiful women that their own abilities to provide can buy. Call it pathetic or disgusting; it won’t change the reality any time soon.

This discrepancy between the reality and the ideology sends a very confusing message to girls. They are constantly told that it’s what’s inside that counts. They are constantly told to move away from things that they are naturally drawn to. They are constantly told to improve on things that have no real rewards. But meanwhile, they see their own parents and adult women around them constantly contradicting what they are preaching. Adult women have to live in the reality; as such, they need to make compromises.

Think of Courtney Love who used to express her hatred for beautiful women in her songs. As soon as she became rich and successful, it became possible for her to join the club of beautiful women through plastic surgeries, private trainers, and dietitians. And, being rich allowed her to spend a lot of time just focusing on being beautiful. Given the opportunity, she jumped on it. Given the choice, the better one is obviously still beauty. She cut to the chase. Why fight a losing battle? She probably thought: Let someone else fight it; I’m done. We are reminded here that hatred is just another expression of desire.

Little girls are not stupid. They see right though the hypocrisy of adult women. They are being told: Do what I say, not what I do. Subconsciously, adult women know that they are being hypocritical, so they feel guilty, which leads to projecting their own weakness onto their daughters. Instead of teaching by example, they try to cover up their insecurity by preaching constantly. This must be really confusing for little girls. It’s easy to see that this can lead to revolt. They sense the suppressed desires of their mothers to be beautiful. They feel bitter about being used as voodoo dolls to exorcise their mothers’ own inner devils. What could be a better revenge than to be a fashion model? I think that is what Courtney Love did.

So, in my mind, a better approach is to resist any temptation to teach or preach, and simply live up to your own ideology yourself. If you succeed, your girl could find an inspiration in that. If you preach and if you yourself do not deliver, your girl is likely to revolt. Suppose you are not particularly attractive but very intelligent. If you are generally healthy, fun to be with, and capable of enjoying your life fully, then your daughter would obviously see intelligence as one of the keys to success in life, and beauty as being secondary. If you are bitter, unhappy, and boring, then you couldn’t blame your daughter from concluding that she better be beautiful. (On the other hand, if you are beautiful, stupid, and miserable, we thank you for being a great example of what not to be.)

It is true: in real life, you are more likely to find a more successful man if you are beautiful. But along with success, comes higher expectations. So, it’s a rat race. In the end, the absolute level of success or beauty is irrelevant if you keep raising your expectations. But, as human beings, this is almost impossible to avoid. The only way to stop this rat race is to stop expecting success. If you happen to succeed, great, but don’t expect it. Expectation of success almost always seem to end in misery, as in all forms of attachment generally do, because they always escalate. For this reason, I personally don’t think it’s a good idea to send your kids to prestigious schools. You might think you are giving them a gift of education, but what they actually get is a burden of expectations. Some people end up carrying that burden all their lives.

If you can minimize your expectations, regardless of where you are in the absolute scale, you can have an enjoyable life and avoid suffering unnecessary pain. Girls’ love for all things pink and glittery is (I believe) something they were born with. The same goes for their desire to be beautiful. What they were not born with is the expectation of being beautiful. They learn to expect because they see their own parents expect (unconsciously or otherwise). Appreciating beauty is an entirely separate thing from expecting oneself to be beautiful. The former makes life rich and enjoyable, while the latter makes life miserable.