Girl-Rearing in The Sociopath Next Door

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’ve been reading Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door. One of my goals on this blog is to demonstrate through many varied examples the ways that the conflicting messages we give girls about themselves and their social interactions can do far-reaching damage. So, here’s an example:

“What happens to us while we are growing up? Why do adults stop saying ‘Quit it’ to the bullies? The grown-up bullies are more powerful, but then, so are we. Will this healthy little girl behave with the same kind of dignity and self-assurance when she is thirty years old and a foot and a half taller?…

We raise our children, especially girls, to ignore their spontaneous reactions–we teach them not to rock the societal boat–and this is a good and necessary lesson when the spontaneous reaction involved would be to strike out violently with fists or words, or to steal an attractive item from a store, or to insult a stranger in a supermarket line. But another kind of spontaneous reaction, equally suppressed by our conflict-avoidant society, is the ‘Ick!’ reaction, the natural sense of moral outrage. By the time she is thirty, the valiant little girl’s ‘Ick!’–her tendency to respond, to rock the boat, when someone’s actions are ‘really mean’–may have been excised from her behavior, and perhaps from her very mind.

In their book Women’s Anger: Clinical and Developmental Perspectives, gender psychologists Deborah Cox, Sally Stabb, and Karin Bruckner document the ways girls and women perceive social responses to their outrage. Cox, Stabb, and Bruckner write that ‘the majority of interactions they [girls and women] describe involve rejection of either the anger, the girl or woman, or both. This takes the form of either direct attack through criticism or defensive response, or more passive rejection such as withdrawal or minimization of the girl’s or woman’s concerns or feelings.’ And based on her studies of adolescent girls, educator Lyn Mikel Brown maintains that idealized femininity can dangerously endorse ‘silence over outspokenness.’” (Stout 99-100)

What Stout is getting at is that the way we raise our children-especially girl children–to silence their natural, righteous upset deadens their “seventh sense”–the conscience–and furthermore the courage to do something about it. This passivity not only allows bullies to get away with it, it educates girls and women into becoming easy targets who won’t stand up for themselves. Ever been in a relationship you wanted to leave but just couldn’t seem to? Ever been picked on and just taken it? There are tremendously high costs for being a nice girl if the wrong person discovers that you won’t listen to or act on your anger or instincts. And, according to Stout, that could be 4% of the population (1 in 25). Scary.

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