Friday, January 11, 2013
The perils and pitfalls of bringing up daughters
The blind leading the blind below. Biddulph is no scientist and a feminist blaming "society" just shows a lack of any real understanding of how things work. Both are right that girls face conflicting pressures that can make then insecure and unhappy but do either of the writers have the faintest inkling of the best preventive for such feelings: A father? No mention of fathers at all below. A father can very easily make a daughter into a "Daddy's girl" and a Daddy's girl will go through life serene that she is adorable. Not all fathers are good for that but nor are all mothers good for their daughters
Steve Biddulph's warmth, common sense and easy style have turned him into one of the world's most popular parenting gurus. His book Raising Boys has sold more than 4 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages. So it was perhaps only a question of time before he would turn his attention to girls. Raising Girls is his latest book.
When he says that "Never before has girlhood been under such a sustained assault", he is right. Young girls have become a soft target for big business; messages propagated through television and advertising tend to accentuate female sexualised imagery and their bodies rather than their brains. Consequently, everywhere a young girl goes "she sees messages that make her feel that she is not good enough", Biddulph says on a YouTube promotional video. Spot on, Steve.
The distress of young girls is clearly visible in the rising rates of mental health problems, binge drinking, eating disorders and the rampant growth of bullying in our schools. Girls are now expected to be all things - attractive, thin, good, successful, happy, kind, loving, self-sufficient; perfect, in other words, within an imperfect world that still does not give women the equal status they deserve.
Biddulph's advice to parents is full of common sense. Avoid toys that imply to a girl that looks and clothes are what matter. Dress young girls in outfits that are practical rather than too girly. Surround your daughter with other adults, aunts or friends to whom she can talk when she cannot talk to you, for the mother-daughter relationship can be notoriously difficult. All of which is good counsel that could equally well be applied to boys.
What worries me is that the wider context appears to be missing, in which girls are still socialised to be good and enabling of others, rather than competitive and capable of achieving their own dreams.
Most girls lack a grasp of basic feminism to help them understand that many of their experiences are the result of growing up in a profoundly unequal world, and therefore not their own fault. Parents can only do so much.
I am the mother of two daughters, aged 23 and 19. I am probably better equipped than most to cope, with two decades of research into family life and adolescence behind me, several published books on the subject and an upbringing steeped in feminism. Yet I still find it hard.
My daughters are intelligent, capable, beautiful, ambitious and kind people and I couldn't be more proud of them. But I also see how they cannot help but internalise the message that they are not attractive, thin or sexy enough, and need regular, repeated reassurances that they are, in fact, utterly stunning.
I see how hard it is for young women of their generation to be honest about who they are and what they want from life, to confront others and say what they think rather than what they feel they ought to say just to be liked. I see how girls are still socialised to be selfless, stepping back from opportunities with the presumption that "she doesn't deserve it", or "isn't up to it", whereas young men never think twice about their right to achieve.
And I see how so many young women still assume that their needs come behind those of the boys they form relationships with, absorbing the message that they are lucky to have been chosen at all, when they are the ones who should be doing the choosing.
I have no doubt that countless girls are growing up profoundly confused by the conflicting messages they are given. Take sex. On the one hand they are as entitled to sexual exploration and fulfilment as the boys. They feel sexy and are understandably interested in sex. They are encouraged by the boys to reveal body parts that can be instantly messaged from phone to phone. But the prevailing ethos is still that "good" girls "don't". "Slag" is the number one insult hurled at girls by both sexes and rumours almost always trash another girl's reputation. Boys are never tarnished in the same way.
Girls know they have to succeed, too, on their own merits. They are, on the whole, doing better than boys at school, according to exam results. But without a strong constitution, solid academic ambition, and a few healthy middle-class female role models who are also mothers thrown in for good measure, girls easily succumb to the notion that it is only the sexier and more attractive women who thrive.
Girls are human beings so they get just as angry as the boys but they are not allowed to express that anger. Research on siblings shows that girls fight just as much as boys when they are within the safety of their own homes. But when they get out into the wider world, girls fight half as much. So they "bitch bully", knowing how to wound each other exactly where it will hurt the most because they cannot express their rage and their impotence in any other way without compromising their reputations as "good" or "nice". Girls pull each other back when they strive to achieve, or in girl talk, "get too up themselves".
Raising girls - and boys - in a world that is still so profoundly unequal in the treatment of men and women requires a very particular kind of parenting. We have to work harder to help both our sons and our daughters understand how we are socialised to behave in certain ways according to our gender. Because it is only when we find the strength as individuals to chip away at those pernicious stereotypes that we can hope to change them.
It's funny how - if sales of Biddulph's previous books are matched by this one - it might only be once a man starts talking about these issues that their importance moves to centre stage. But if that's what it takes, then go Steve, go. In the end, every girl is somebody's sister, mother or wife.
British planning restrictions as a threat to grandparents
Grandparents face spending their retirement “propping up their kids and grandkids” unless they agree to support new development that would make housing more affordable, the planning minister has warned.
It is “immoral” that young people are being priced out of the housing market because of a lack of cheap homes, Nick Boles told The Daily Telegraph. The housing shortage is a bigger threat to “social justice” than poor education and unemployment, he said.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Boles will say that greenfield land must be built on. He will announce a scheme that will enable communities to receive funding for new facilities if they agree to support new housing developments.
By setting out the moral arguments for new development, his language marks a significant hardening in the tone of the Government’s attacks on “Nimbys”. It also shows the frustration among ministers that reform of the planning system has not sparked a building boom.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph before Thursday’s speech, Mr Boles said people had to recognise that “either they will spend their retirement propping up their kids and their grandkids, or they can accept more development so their grandkids don’t have the problem”.
“I genuinely think that the single biggest way in which we are failing to deliver social justice in this country at the moment is unaffordable housing – more than schools, more than jobs, more than benefits,” he said.
The minister, who is regarded as close to David Cameron and George Osborne, added that it was simply “immoral” that young people had to wait for so long to save a large enough deposit to buy a home.
In his speech, Mr Boles will say: “I am afraid that we have a simple choice. We can decide to ignore the misery of young families forced to grow up in tiny flats with no outside space. We can pass by on the other side while working men and men in their twenties and thirties have to live with their parents or share bedrooms with friends.
“We can turn a blind eye while Margaret Thatcher’s dream of a property-owning democracy shrivels. And shrug our shoulders as home ownership reverts to what it was in the 19th century: a privilege, the exclusive preserve of people with large incomes or wealthy parents.”
Mr Boles will claim that the inflation in house prices in recent decades has been unacceptable and was caused by artificial restrictions on building. He will highlight figures showing that if the price of food had risen in line with housing over the past 30 years, a chicken would cost £47 and a jar of coffee £20.
“In the 1990s, the average person setting aside five per cent of their income each week could save up a deposit on a house after eight years,” he will say. “Today it would take the same person 47 years.”
The planning minister will add that the public must accept that more building is required on greenfield sites, saying: “We’ve got plenty of undeveloped land to spare.” He told this newspaper: “We need to build more, not all of it can be satisfied by empty homes and 'brownfield’ sites, so we will need to build quite a lot on currently undeveloped land. England is not massively overdeveloped.” He added: “I am not a critic of Nimbys. My job is to create a system that persuades them not to object but to get involved.
“We have comprehensively failed to persuade people to embrace the level of house building that is required. We are in this terrible vicious circle where we have built ugly stuff, which does not involve local people and does not bring them any benefit in terms of improved local infrastructure or anything else. They hate it and so they fight any further proposals tooth and nail, perfectly understandably. And the process of fighting it means much less land gets planning permission and the value of land goes through the roof. So the cost of building becomes completely unaffordable, so people build c--p.”
Under plans to be announced on Thursday, local people would keep up to 25 per cent of revenues from a Community Infrastructure Levy which builders pay to win planning permission to spend on community projects, such as a village hall.
“Work out what you want, where you want it, what you want it to look like, the money that enables you to reopen the municipal pool,” he Mr Boles said. He insisted that he understood opposition to development and had personal experience of fighting it: his father was the head of the National Trust. “I was a Nimby once, and my entire family were,” he added.
Massive rise in bill for foreign aid consultants: Department for International Development pays £46m despite crackdown
British bureaucracy at its finest
The amount of British overseas aid money lavished on consultants jumped by 45 per cent in just one month – despite a high-profile ‘crackdown’ on the practice being launched at the same time.
International Development Secretary Justine Greening ordered an ‘emergency audit’ of her department’s use of consultants last September following a public outcry.
But figures reveal that spending on so-called ‘technical and advisory services’ jumped from £31.7million in September to £45.9million the next month.
A Whitehall task force has been set up to monitor spending at the Department for International Development, which is in line for a 30 per cent budget increase this year.
The Treasury is concerned about the department’s capacity to handle the vast increase without presiding over millions of pounds of waste.
Miss Greening is considering whether more of the consultants’ work could be done by civil servants.
She has also demanded to see any contract worth more than £1million. Previously officials could wave through contracts worth up to £40million without seeking ministerial consent.
The latest figures will also underline concerns about the decision to pour billions more into foreign aid, with the budget to rise from £8.65billion to £11.3billion this year.
Dfid sources last night insisted the department had already mapped out exactly how the influx of cash would be spent.
A source also stressed that the spending on consultants in October had already been in the pipeline before the crackdown was launched. Much of it is said to be a legacy of Labour’s profligate years in office, when spending on consultants soared to £1billion a year.
Official figures show how some firms are making millions from Britain’s aid budget.
The so-called ‘poverty barons’ include PriceWaterhouseCoopers, which was paid more than £4million in October alone, while Adam Smith International pocketed £5.8million.
Large payments also went to a number of major foreign consultancies, such as the US-based ABT Associates, which was paid £2.1million.
Tory MP Peter Bone said he was ‘appalled’ by the amount of money spent on consultants.
He said: ‘The public are told overseas aid goes on building water wells in Africa and other worthy projects. I think people will be shocked to learn so much of it is going into the pockets of large consultancy firms.
‘It does also raise further questions about the huge increase planned in overseas aid.’
Europe’s dogmatic ruling class remains wedded to its folly
Proclamations of the euro’s salvation owe more to ideology than to the facts
Power certainly does tend to corrupt, as Lord Acton famously noted, but it also distorts character, and therefore action, in other interesting and significant ways.
Members of the political class consider themselves exempt from the routine constraints that apply to their fellow citizens. They feel certain that they are making extraordinary sacrifices, and therefore deserve exceptional compensation (this emotion is the psychological trigger that sets off a great deal of low-level corruption). Once in government, they are soon part of a parallel reality, in which they live and breathe a separate world than the one experienced by voters.
Though this dichotomy is powerfully present at Westminster, it is worse by far on the European mainland, where a barrier between civil society and the state-funded political elite was erected several decades ago. It was this elite that made the collective decision to piledrive through European monetary union at the end of the last century. It literally cannot conceive that the euro might fail, a state of mind that has generated a series of arresting epistemological consequences.
The European elite now constructs reality around the euro, not the other way around – a method that involves all manner of ungainly manoeuvring and deceit. For reasons of space, I can only highlight a few recent examples. Last November, Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, told a news conference that he was “totally and absolutely convinced that the worst [of the euro crisis] has passed”. The following month, Olli Rehn, the vice-president of the European Commission, insisted that the Cassandras “have been proved wrong” over Greece, and the euro area more generally.
In his new year predictions, Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, followed Rajoy and Rehn in pronouncing that “we have seen the worst of the euro-area crisis”. So did the euro-friendly BBC, whose economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, foretold the recovery of the single currency in 2013. Then, on Monday, the European Commission’s president, José Manuel Barroso, came out with this ex cathedra pronouncement: “I think we can say that the existential threat against the euro has essentially been overcome.”
The basis for all these remarks seems to be the pledge by the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to buy unlimited amounts of sovereign debt, the so-called “Draghi Put”. It is true that, since this intervention, bond yields in Greece and Spain have fallen sharply. But the fundamental problem remains unaltered, namely that European nations enjoy the benefits of a single currency but lack the discipline of a single state. Without such a single uncontested authority (including a single Treasury, single revenue-raising system, and the legitimacy which can only come from a homogeneous electorate), the existential threat to the euro continues to exist, and it is absurd to claim it does not.
I guess that Messrs Monti, Rehn, Draghi and Rajoy are sophisticated enough to grasp this; so their obfuscation has deeper roots. The problem is that European and British leaders tend to come from rival intellectual traditions. In Britain, empiricism – most closely associated with Hume, though its roots can be traced back to William of Ockham and others – is the native inheritance. Empiricism insists that all knowledge of fact must be based on experience. Most European schools of philosophy claim the exact opposite, namely that ideas are the only things that truly exist. This school of metaphysical idealism can be traced back through Hegel (for whom history itself is the realisation of an idea) and Kant to Plato.
Anglo-Saxon empiricism and the idealism found on the Continent therefore prescribe directly opposite courses of political conduct. Empiricists are trained in scepticism and caution: if you put your hand in the fire once, you will not do so again.
Idealists, by contrast, are much less likely to renounce a course of conduct or set of beliefs because reality gets in the way.
Empiricists, alert to the lessons of history and conscious of man’s tragic imperfection, are wary. So they concentrate on specific rules – honesty, decency, accuracy, compassion to friends or care for a particular community. Idealists tend to embrace grand plans for social reconstruction or for general human salvation. They are much less worried by rule-breaking, especially if they believe that it serves the greater good.
It is this underlying philosophical disposition that explains the continued reverence felt by the European political class for the euro, when empiricists would have given up long ago. Indeed, it is impossible to avoid a certain grudging respect for the imperishable optimism of the single-currency enthusiasts, their absolute refusal to be deterred by adversity and contrary evidence. (This is something they have in common with the American neo-cons, unrepentant despite the twin calamities of Afghanistan and Iraq, and still urging fresh fields for armed intervention.)
But it should be remembered that these European leaders are doing something very cruel indeed. The euro has caused mass misery and suffering on a scale not seen in peacetime Europe since the early 1930s. In Greece, with 58 per cent youth unemployment, the hopes of an entire generation have been wiped out. Spain is facing the same predicament.
I am sure Mr Barroso is a kind, liberal man. But there is a comparison between the European Commission president and the fascists and communists who turned so much of the history of 20th-century Europe into a story of pure horror. All had been captured by a great enticing idea. For Mr Barroso, it does not ultimately matter how many tens of millions lose their jobs, how many businesses are destroyed, how many communities are ruined. For him, the critical thing is that his economic system survives its “existential” crisis. This sense of priorities means that it is fair to compare him to a doctor who tries to save the cancer, but does not care about the patient.
Most of us would view a monetary experiment which has led directly to the bankruptcy of entire countries, and the ruination of so many lives, as an unqualified failure. But the European political class is determined to retain its insane financial architecture, regardless of human considerations. From this side of the Channel, we must continue to muddle along in our boring, matter-of-fact way: to hope that it all works out for the best, while making prudent provision in case it does not.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.