The Wonder of Girls

The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian is a neurological, bio-chemical, and anthropological study of all the dynamic things that make girls wonderful, and I can not recommend it enough to the parents of daughters.  First he begins by discussing the Feminist Movements–its achievements and its limitations.  He notes how the Feminist fear that neurological and biological gender studies would be used for the continued repression of women also kept such differences from being used to empower women.  He then goes on to discuss the neurological advantages that women have in the “Gender Wars”.  These include faster brain development as well as faster blood flow to the brain and through more parts of the brain leading to better memory, multi-tasking, and ability to project consequences of actions.  He then breaks down female brain development into four stages and explains what he calls the female “intimacy imperative”, a neurological imperative to define one’s self by one’s relationships with others.

I found the neurology section section amazing, and there are certain things that really struck me:

  1. The importance of self-knowledge in the maturation of young women is often over-looked.  Young women can gain self-knowledge through family attachments and on a practical level by making surveys of family history and experiences.  Unfortunately, just at the time when young women most need their parents’ input, time, and attention, many parents’ step back thinking their young teen no longer wants or needs their support or guidance.
  2. “[Between ten and fifteen] She will probably become judgmental of others in ways she regrets later.  She may become nasty in ways you don’t like (ways she will feel bad about when she’s lying in bed at night reviewing her day internally” (p. 41).   If that doesn’t explain the nastiness and cliqueish behavior that starts in Junior High I don’t know what does.  Of course, this also initially made me question whether keeping my children out of schools would really help avoid this behavior in my own children as I had hoped.  Then he goes on to say on p. 42: “The social technologies (such as media, peer groups, school institutions) of early adolescents today are overwhelming to brain growth in ways they were not a hundred years ago.”  So while homeschooling may not completely eliminate this behavior, it may diminish its effects on them.
  3. “Stress increases cortisol levels in the brain for boys and girls.  Extremely high stress levels during Stage 3 of female brain development (ages eleven to fifteen) can lead to neurological rewiring, leading to higher rates of depression for the rest of a woman’s life (p. 46).”  People often talk of family history or genetics playing a part in depression.  What if the reason children of depressed people are more likely to be depressed themselves is because the excessive stress of dealing with a severely depressed parent rewires a girl to be more likely to have depression herself.  It’s kind of like the cyle of abuse; in fact, Gurian describes a similar correspondence between excessive stress levels in boys due to sexual abuse and later pedophilia.
  4. According to Gurian, it is normal for Stage 3 girls to have occasional periods of depression or “self-esteem drops”.  It is a neurological response to all of the physical and neurological changes occurring within.  Wow, I bet my mom really would have liked to have known this when I would hide in my room and cry for days.  Of course, if she had this book available, she would have known that these were the times when I most needed her to connect with me.  “…if a child is guided to navigate Stage 3 in relative innocence, protected safety, and constant primary attachments, she ends up developing an even stronger, more competent, and less neurotic self by twenty-five or thirty than had she been “hyper-matured”… ” (p. 44).
  5. “At around twelve, after two years of accelerated neural activity, her brain will begin to focus neurotransmission on areas of the brain most often utilized and not on areas underutilized” (p. 39)  To me this was the the thing that stuck out to me the most.  What he is saying is that things that are learned or most important to a girl between the ages of ten and twelve are  more likely to “stick”.  This doesn’t mean that she is incapable of learning or finding interest in other things at later times, but these things are more likely to remain a part of her throughout her life.  This concept could really effect how we choose to homeschool our daughters between the ages of ten and twelve.

After going through all of the neurology, Gurian begins to tackle the wonderful world of female hormones in Chapter 3.  And I wasn’t nearly as impressed with this bio-chemical section as I was with the previous one.  For one, I found his descriptions of the female menstrual cycle less than stellar.  He should have used the same terminology that any book about female menstrual cycles or a gynecologist would use.  For instance, he should have explained that “Stage 1” of the menstrual cycle begins with the first day of a woman’s period, and then started discussing the biological effects of each hormone on the reproductive system and the correspondent effect it has on a woman’s mood.  Secondly, I wonder if he is even aware that a woman can track her monthly hormonal journey by charting her Basal temperature?  Talk about the ultimate self-knowledge that would seem indispensable to a young lady.  I did find the “Tree of Life” information rather interesting as well as poetic.

I am kind of writing this post as I go through the book.  I am mainly touching on things that stood out to me and that I want to remember for my own reference.  There is so much more in the book, so please don’t feel like I am “spoiling” it for you.  I can tell that I am going to have a lot of notes about the second part of the book which discusses specific strategies for supporting the natural development of your daughter.  Therefore, this is probably a good point to split into a second post.

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