Thursday, January 10, 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

Kate Figes

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.


Are you being ignored in shops?

My own recent experience mirrors that below.  I went into a nearby "Officeworks" store, a huge building, and tried to buy a certain computer gadget.  I had to wait for attention but the fat female teenager who eventually served me knew basically nothing.  When she gave me information I knew to be wrong, I walked out and bought the item online -- JR

Usually when someone is drowning they'll grab hold of anything they can find to keep their heads above water. Not some retailers.

It's become almost a boring platitude within the retail industry that a superior in-store experience will rescue the physical store from oblivion. Oddly suicidal then that so many retailers with stores are spurning their life rafts by offering customer service that borders on slapping consumers in the face.

A new survey released in the US by Motorola has found that the number of shoppers who prefer to rely on their own mobile devices, rather than shop assistants, to guide their purchasing decisions has reached a level that for retailers can only be described as embarrassing.

Two facts in particular stemming from the research suggest that retailers have simply run up the white flag on customer service.

First, the reliance on mobile devices is strongly and inversely related to age, with almost half of Millennials (also known as Gen Ys) and more than one-third of Gen X shoppers saying it's easier to find information on their mobile devices than from a store associate. Since the Millennials are gradually overtaking baby boomers as the biggest consuming group, retailers are in effect just telling their juiciest target group that there really isn't much point in coming to the store after all.

The second interesting fact to come from the Motorola research is that store managers agree - and are actually even more convinced than their customers - that mobile phones provide better information. No less than 61 per cent of managers were of this opinion, up from 51 per cent two years ago.

True, this information shouldn't come as a huge surprise to people who get out a bit. In the weeks before Christmas I was personally treated to a grand demonstration of the way things are going at a consumer electronics superstore at one of Australia's premier shopping centres.

On my shopping list were a mid-end set of earphones and an office printer. Unable to find someone to help me with the former, I made the mistake of asking a sales associate in the computer section nearby. He said to me, and I quote "I don't know [expletive] about earphones." As there was no one for him to pass the buck to, I ended up having to fend for myself.

But when I asked him a few minutes later about printers he was all smiles. He could certainly help me with printers. He came with me to the area where the printers were on display and proceeded to read off the price tags of two low-end machines that happened to be the subject of hot deals. This was not exactly what I had in mind. After all, as the beneficiary of a fairly decent primary school education my ability to read price tags was at least as passable as his.

Besides which, price wasn't really a major consideration. What I really wanted was help comparing the performance specs of a small number of printers so I could hone in on the one I wanted. And for that purpose he was useless. I ended up using my smartphone and making the purchase online.

But perhaps I am missing the point. Maybe expletive-ridden insouciance is what passes for “cool” at some retailers and since this was a successful store they had simply become conditioned not to care. Obviously my couple of hundred bucks was surplus to the retailer's requirements that day.

Motorola also found in its research – somewhat self-servingly but nonetheless confirming other information – that the shopping experience improved when sales associates themselves used mobile technologies.

Digitally-enhanced service is clearly a direction being taken by many leading-edge retailers who are already shifting to mobile checkout and digital technologies that circumvent or supplement humans to impart product information.

The evolution of retailing appears to be heading towards only a limited number of viable retail service models. The first is technology-enabled self-service, with humans being largely phased out of store operations.

The second is extreme “brand ambassadorship” – meaning the Lululemon/Nordstrom/Apple model in which store associates are so highly trained, informed and motivated that they can make customers feel good enough about the experience to make incremental purchases.

For a time there will still be a little room for retailers to sit between these two extremes, perhaps in lower-income markets. But as the Motorola research and our own shopping experiences reconfirm, consumers are losing faith in the ability of retailers to deliver on the promise of human service.


Fruitcake mother kills her baby

A BABY girl died from vitamin K deficiency bleeding just 33 days after her parents gave instructions that the newborn child was not to be given any injections or medication, a coroner has found.

Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements has supported a pathologist's recommendation that future siblings of the baby receive vitamin K, which can prevent bleeding problems in infants.

An investigation into the death of the girl - born in a regional Queensland hospital last year - heard that the mother, 30, wanted an entirely natural birth for her first baby.

Ms Clements said in her findings: "As part of the birthing plan and, in accordance with her parents' spiritual beliefs, the baby was not administered vitamin K after her birth, or any other medications."

The parents had made that decision despite being given information at an antenatal visit that newborn babies required vitamin K to prevent bleeding problems in the first few months after birth, the coroner said. She said the pregnancy was uneventful and the baby was born 10 days early in hospital.

The baby was not given vitamin K - nor was she vaccinated for Hepatitis B - before the mother and baby went home a day after the birth. A month later, the mother noticed her baby had been sleeping a lot and was not feeding as much as usual.

In the early hours of the next morning the mother saw the baby was limp and an ambulance was called.

The baby was taken to the nearest hospital and then airlifted to Brisbane's Mater Hospital, where a CT scan revealed the child had bleeding on the brain, the findings said.

The baby was given plasma and vitamin K, but she died the next day.

After an autopsy a pathologist concluded the cause of death was haemorrhages due to late onset vitamin K deficiency bleeding.

In her December 3 finding, Ms Clements concluded the baby died after suffering extreme bleeding in the brain over a month, due to a lack of vitamin K in her system.

"The baby's mother had a detailed labour plan and a considered position declining various medications and interventions in the birth process," she said.

"This included a specific direction not to administer vitamin K to their baby."

THE Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that all newborn babies receive vitamin K after birth.

Vitamin K helps the blood to clot and is considered essential for the prevention of bleeding problems in newborn babies.

Babies generally have a low level of vitamin K in their blood, as it is poorly transferred across the placenta. Breast-fed infants are at most risk of developing bleeding through vitamin K deficiency unless supplementary vitamin K is given to them, usually by injection.

Late vitamin K deficient bleeding occurs from eight days to six months after birth, with most affected babies between one and three months and it is almost completely confined to fully breast-fed infants.


Fitch Rating report says house prices will be stable through 2013

AUSTRALIAN house prices are tipped to remain flat and mortgage defaults will be among the lowest in the developed world this year, a rating agency report says.

The Fitch Rating report on residential mortgages gives the Australian property sector a clean bill of health, but warns the almost annual double digit price growth of the decade to 2010 is a thing of the past.

According to the report, house prices rose by 150 per cent in the period between 2000 and 2010 and, after falling in 2011, capital city prices rose 0.9 per cent last year.

Prices are tipped to remain "stable" overall in 2013, even if there are still declines in some areas, such as the Gold Coast.

The report was released just ahead of the latest Housing Industry Association new-home sales report that showed sales rose for a second consecutive month.

The biggest growth was in New South Wales and Victoria, which were both up almost 16 per cent.

South Australia registered 6.7 per cent growth, while Queensland was flat and Western Australia fell by 6.8 per cent.

Fitch Ratings analyst Ben Newey said the stability of the Australian property market compared to most of its global peers reflects the prospect of good GDP growth of 3.1 per cent and unemployment staying at around 5.5 per cent this year.

"Housing is still relatively expensive in terms of affordability, but price growth will be stable in 2013 as the recent run of interest rate cuts works its way through the economy," he said.

"Arrears rates will also remain flat through 2013, in line with projections for stable interest rates and low unemployment."

The official cash rate fell to a record low of 3 per cent last month, but most economists expect the Reserve Bank will adopt a wait-and-see approach in the first-quarter of this year, after cutting rates by 1.75 per cent in the past 14 months.

The prospect of a rate cut next month has waned from a 63 per cent possibility on December 31 to a less than 37 per cent chance, as the global outlook improves.

The HIA data shows strong sales in the detached home sector helped lift overall new home sales by 4.7 per cent in November.

The only downside was a 6.9 per cent drop in multi-unit sales in the month, the HIA report said.

HIA economist Geordan Murray said the result was a welcome respite but there was still a long way to go before sale volumes were back at satisfactory levels.

"The importance of a broad based rejuvenation of new home building to maintaining the health of the overall Australian economy has been widely acknowledged but, at this stage, new home sales sits among a host of indicators that are yet to provide conclusive evidence that we are on track to achieve this," Mr Murray said.


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