Book review: Raising Girls, by Steve Biddulph
by Steve Biddulph
Fifteen years ago, according to Australian child psychologist Steve Biddulph, girls were "on the move, going places, focused and confident", while boys were "somehow all wrong". Raising Boys, the breezy, warm-hearted book he wrote to combat this "disaster area", sold millions and made him into an international parenting guru.
Raising Girls is a response to what Biddulph identifies as a "sudden and marked plunge in girls' mental health" over the past five years during which the growth of social media has encouraged anxiety and narcissism, childhood exposure to pornography has increased, and corporations have made millions from the pinkification of girlhood.
Though Biddulph's books are busy with pop facts - girl babies "prefer" looking at faces, boys are "hardwired" to deal with objects and systems - his project has always been gently antisexist.
It's incredibly refreshing to see what is essentially a feminist and anti-corporate call to arms in a populist parenting manual. Biddulph is infuriated by Lego Friends, the girls' version of the toy launched last year ("Five curvy little friends who bake, home-make, decorate, hairstyle and shop! Anything gender limiting in that little selection?"). As girls get older, he calls on parents to resist advertising and the fashion, food and weight-loss industries, and campaign to raise the drinking age to 21. Throughout, he champions community over the atomisation of modern family life and the isolating qualities of the online world.
Biddulph explores girlhood through five stages: security, exploration, learning to get along with others, finding one's passion or "spark", and preparing for the freedom and responsibilities of adulthood. Along the way he identifies danger zones specific to girls, from insecure attachment leading to a martyr role in relationships, to parents letting their teenagers be "too sexy too soon".
Biddulph's relentless utopianism can seem unrealistic but his joyfulness is also part of his charm.
Guardian News & Media