Carol Gilligan Study Turned Philosophy

A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London
Image via Wikipedia

There’s a woman named Carol Gilligan who wrote about the differences between girls and boys in terms of how they were praised in childhood. She wrote about other, more complicated, things as well but I always remember this study. She described how girls were praised for “getting along well” with their friends, while boys were praised for accomplishing things. “Good Boy! Billy! You built that castle really well!”

“Good Boy! Sam! You really did a good job making that airplane fly. “

Reading about this study always made me sad as I wished I had been raised more like a boy as my life would have been less stressful. I think this may be true for a number of women. It may also be true that if both boys and girls were raised with a bit of both the universe would be better off. Perhaps then boys would be more comfortable discussing emotions and girls could more easily get satisfaction from their accomplishments.

I am always doing research into the dating world as that’s what interests me being single myself. I stumbled upon a series of questions designed to find compatibility in a mate last night which made me think of this topic. The question was, “What makes you more nervous, a promising first date or an important job interview?”

My answer was an important job interview. Dating to me is now kind of a fun game. I can’t take it seriously or I wouldn’t keep doing it. I think about it in the same way an athlete get ready for a game: I dress carefully, rehearse positive behavior in my mind, and visualize a positive outcome. I actually enjoy most dates these days as they will either end out in a possible relationship or they won’t. I can’t really tell one way or the other and can only enjoy the time spent with a new person. I believe someone will come along soon who will be exactly right for me and I believe this with all of my heart.

I do, however, get nervous before an important job interview. I always have. It has become somewhat easier as an adult but I still feel anxious and forget to practice positive visualization techniques. I can hear voices in my little brain repeating that I am not as good as other candidates and why should they hire me? I know I have this lack of confidence in my own ability because there were few expectations for us as children in our family. There was already one superstar so to imagine another was pretty impossible.

I often think about Carol Gilligan because in my life I notice how good I feel when I accomplish something whether it is fixing something in my house or finishing a piece for my blog. I like work and always have. I think people who never get satisfaction from work are those to be pitied as it is a sense like no other. If you are having a bad day and find something for yourself to accomplish, I can guarantee you will feel better. It is an amazing thing.

Happy Sunday!

Want a Boy? Dress Your Daughter as One!

Emblem of Afghanistan
Image via Wikipedia

Dress Your Daughter Like A Son!

Be a Boy for Your Childhood!

Experience Freedom While in Costume!

Make Your Parents Empowered!

All this and more for exchanging the life of a girl in Afghanistan for that of a boy.

This week the NY Times has a cover story on families who shave the heads of their daughters and raise them as sons often until they are married. Azita Rafaat, who is a Member of Parliament, has done this with her daughter, Mehran, and states that her life is better as a boy. I am confused by this article as it seems many know that these girls are really girls and am not fooled by the disguise. If, for example, teachers and coaches know the true gender of a child, what is the point of the disguise? Obviously giving an interview to the NY Times will blow Mehran’s cover and her mother will be exposed but this obviously doesn’t matter to the family or the society. Is there no one else out there who finds this crazy?

“In Some Afghan Families a Fake Son is Considered Better than None” NY Times,   9/21/10

This is the most confusing logic to me. It goes like this: if you have no sons but do have three daughters, you chose one daughter to be a son. You cut her hair off and dress her in boy’s clothes. You tell her school she is now a boy. She is allowed to go out of the house freely without as many restrictions as she had as a girl. Everyone in her family, neighborhood and school knows her true sex, yet she is allowed more freedom to experience life as a boy and not as restricted in her behavior.

I don’t know what to say about this as it is so weird. Why wouldn’t every girl want to be a boy in Afghanistan? Freedom of movement, more confidence, more attention? I guess they need some girls to stay girls so there will be something to compare male behavior and allowances to. What happens to these girls when they have to go back to being a girl at puberty or upon marriage? The article refers to some who looks back on their “boy” period as a wonderful one as they had so much freedom.

I like logical behavior and find this tradition most illogical as it is sexist but not sexist. A girl can become a boy overnight by cutting her hair and having her parents change her sex in schools. She can only live this life, however, until marriage or puberty. She can live out her childhood in relative freedom and compete in sports, speak her mind, and travel without much restriction in her neighborhood.

Why wouldn’t every girl want to be a boy? I know I would have. The truth is, I would have been really pissed to have to go back to being a girl and get married. Don’t get me wrong, I am not a transsexual, I just like freedom. I can’t imagine experiencing it and then having it taken away. Taking away freedom is done all the time in this world. Particularly to women. It’s almost as if men laugh a bit at this article as they know in their hearts how unfair this role playing is. Why should girls have to dress as boys to be allowed to do more in life? Tradition? Religion? Who knows?  I still find this practice confusing.

Places Where You Are Alone

Whiteface Mountain, Lake Placid.
Image via Wikipedia

On a rainy night in Lake Placid where you find yourself alone celebrating something incredibly special and loving  it is interesting to ponder what it would be like to have a partner with you

Would your bath be more comforting?

Would the time spent on the couch gazing out at the lake in the rain be more dreamlike?

Do I wish I were someone else?

I like this night and though I see the pleasure in companionship, I do not know the correct GPS coordinates.

Maaybe someday I will.

In the meantime I am very happy that magic is happening.

A Room of One’s Own in the Artic

I took this photo of cross country skiing at G...
Image via Wikipedia

A Room of One’s Own in the Artic

I wonder if it is just me or have others felt as if they are not getting it right at some point during their lives? Because of this “not getting it right” issue people sometimes long for a time apart from the world living alone and without conveniences. Henry David Thoreau felt like this. All the Buddhists at Spirit Rock feel this way. My father felt like this all the time and every place he went he would look for a small, isolated place where he could retreat from the world. Usually there was no phone in these places and often no indoor plumbing. Once he bought a tiny piece of land on top of Mt Mansfield in Vermont where he would go often in the depths of winter. The shack was accessible only by snowmobile or cross country skis. As he was not a cross country ski kind of guy, we would go by snowmobile.

At that point in his life he was on the board of the Bombardier Company in Canada and so he owned the most fancy of” skidoo’s” (as they were called in that time) He would approach one or two of us and enquire if we wanted to go for an “outing” with him. I don’t think an answer was required to this query as everything was all packed up and ready to go and all that was required were the passengers. I think this was one of the reasons my parents had so many children. My father was a big fan of outings and with so many kids in the house he could always find someone to go along with him. Oh Yes, that’s one part of this story that is not completely accurate. My Dad preferred to have passengers rather than riding solo.

On one particular trip to the top of Mt Mansfield, one of my sisters actually fell off the Skidoo but no one knew about it until we were all on the top of the mountain making hot chocolate. My father asked where Susan was and we all looked around in bewilderment. Apparently Susan refused to hold on to the person in front of her as she was fiercely independent and had fallen off the Skidoo somewhere between the bottom of the mountain and where we were now.

After a leisurely sip or two of the hot chocolate, we all traipsed back out to the Skidoo’s to descend the trail in order to find Susan. About half way down the mountain we ran into her and she was walking in a very determined way back home. She seemed unconcerned to have been abandoned on the mountain. I remember that it was very cold that night but we were all wearing the unlined seal skin parkas with no zippers my Dad had bought from his friend, Jules Andre, for a real bargain. We wore these parkas for years as when one child got a little bigger their parka was passed down to the younger child. Putting the parka on often took most of the breakfast hour. You had to lie on the floor and then slide yourself through the wider opening at the bottom of the parka while keeping your arms upright as if you were going to dive into a pool. Once you got your body in, you snuggled your arms into the sleeves. Imagine a roomful of kids in various stages of sealskin parka entry every morning. The scene never stopped entertaining my father which is why I think he secretly kept buying more parkas.  The parkas smelled like wet seal which got stronger as the parka got wetter and if you fell on the slope while wearing one you flew down the hill like a joyful but terrified seal let out of his arctic sea. The skiers on the mountain were often accosted by one of us in our flying seal suits.

Anyway…I think the mountain cabin was used sometimes by my father all by himself but he never returned from these outings any happier than when he had left. That’s what I wonder about now. If you can conquer your demons and be able to meditate in solitude will the answer to your question about life become clear? The process is tempting. I think most people give up after a night or two or even an hour as the solitude becomes oppressive. I am wondering if the discipline found in solitude and the work one does there may be more rewarding than anything else in life. I think if one can develop an ability to live independently and happily one’s life is infinitely better. This life is sometimes seen as selfish but I don’t really think it is. I think in many ways it is more selfish to always need to have someone there for you or to be surrounded by others or to have many work commitments. If you spend time in solitude I think you may find compassion more easily as there is no one to judge but yourself. After a while that becomes boring and I am hoping forgiveness arises. I like this plan.

“The Razor’s Edge”

Cover of "The Razor's Edge"
Cover of The Razor's Edge

Why The Razor’s Edge is still so appealing….

Recently a good friend of mine recommended that I read The Razor’s Edge and so I picked it up on my way to Lenox, Massachusetts.  Once I began to read the book, I was hooked as I found it to be a great story about the meaning of life. Unlike the popular hit of paper and film. “Eat, Pray, Love”, I was engrossed in the movement of the main character and his approach to and passion for understanding life and finding purpose. Why did this book so deeply touch me? I recommend that you read it if you haven’t already.

I have always believed that if I tried hard enough and kept searching long enough I would reach a place of understanding of my life and my purpose on this earth. I assumed that others felt the same way as I do. As life has gone on I have begun to understand  that some share this quest of mine while others are content to merely live out their lives and do what is expected of them, rarely questioning the path they find themselves on. If you are lucky enough to have been born into a family with resources it is obviously easier to be on this quest for meaning as you have more time on your hands. Let’s face it, if you have to struggle to pay your bills or have serious health issues, or have been  fired from a solid job after 20 years as many have today, you don’t have the luxury of sitting back and reflecting on what the meaning of life should be. Your focus is on basic survival and what it means rather than what your path should be.

Having children also prevents a lot of reflection as once you have a child you will never again be responsible for just yourself: you will always have someone more important than you to look out for. While I understand that it isn’t a good idea to put the life of your child above your own, I think it is practically impossible to avoid not doing this once you have one. My father used to say, “You are only as happy as your most unhappy child.” And I think there is some truth to that statement.

The Razor’s Edge resonated with me as I have never been able to lead a life of leisure, even now at my advanced age. I find parties exhausting and cocktail parties, the most exhausting. I hate having to dress in “appropriate” clothing though I love beautiful clothes.  When I find myself in lovely restaurants I often feel frozen as if I am an actress in a play. It is extremely rare for me to be able to sit at a table with someone for more than an hour or so and when I find I have done that I know I have found a treasure of a human being.

This novel speaks of society and our role in whatever society we are a part of, and examines the value of a life within certain groups versus a life lived without expectations of behavior and only a quest for meaning.  Taking the path of enlightenment may mean giving up structure as well as acceptable behavior in order to find one’s soul.

Recently I have been feeling as if I am not sure where I should live or what my path should be. I have lived on both coasts: one is better for me socially and the other, professionally. I find myself dissatisfied with only a good social life and long for satisfying work, and when I am happily working I feel lonely returning home at night to an empty house. I know there is a reason I am facing this challenge as I know I have to make a decision about where to live very soon. I think as you get older you find yourself thinking about how many years you have left on this planet and what kind of life you want to have. To me, the best life is one filled with love and where you believe you are making a contribution to the world around you. Finding that life is what I am up to now.

I loved the book because I am also searching for a meaningful life and I feel as if I have to make a type of vision quest to do it. Most of my life I have been too easily influenced by the opinion of others, though no one that knows me would agree with that statement. I think we all are. Finding our bliss, as Joseph Campbell stated, can only be done by focusing on what it is that brings us joy. For me, it is often helping others, making them laugh, donating to charities, or just having someone in my life that I cherish and love to come home to at the end of the day. In my heart I am a pretty simple person. I started out that way and find that the older I get. The simpler I become.

The happiest life I can imagine is to live with someone you love very much and have work that brings you great joy, whether it is a certain regular job or more creative endeavors. I wonder how many of you agree with me and are lucky enough to have both.