Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Do Girls Have A Harder Time?

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 11, 2013

“Womens’ lives involve deep and primary relationships, with their children, and importantly, with other women.” Nancy Chodorow PhD

“Sex-role development of girls in modern society is complex. On the one hand, they go to school to prepare for life in technologically and socially complex society. On the other, there is a sense in which this schooling is a pseudo-training. It is not meant to interfere with the much more important training to be feminine and a wife and mother which is embedded in the girl’s unconscious development and which her mother teaches her in a family context where she is clearly the salient parent.” Nancy Chodorow PhD

We might expect that a woman’s identification with a girl child might be stronger; that a mother, who is, after all, a person who is a woman and not simply the performer of a formally defined role, would tend to treat infants of different sexes in different ways.” Nancy Chodorow PhD

Brothers and sisters, close in age, give us an opportunity to postulate how families can mean different things to different genders, giving meaning to my frequent comment  that “although you are siblings, you did not have the same parents.” Parental expectations of boys and girls are different, even in our more progressive society, and even after the two waves of feminism. Specifically, boys are expected to have financial independence, get married, have a family, but with, generally speaking, a looser psychological tie to his mother, as time progresses. Girls, by contrast, are also expected to have financial independence, get married, have a family, but also maintain a tightness with her mother. This critical difference in both conscious and unconscious expectation often makes it more difficult for the emerging female adult to find their own path, while at the same time, taking emotional care of her mother, by maintaining a close bond.

Diedre and Ezra, boy and girl twins illustrate the point. Ezra grows up, goes to college, graduate school, gets married, buys a house and is hoping to have children in his early thirties. He married a girl, quite similar to his mom, a remark that almost everyone said at their wedding, according to Diedre. Ezra calls his mom every Sunday and they chat for about twenty minutes. There is little tension, and, again, according to Diedre, Ezra has “checked every box.” Diedre, my fictional patient, has had a more “windy” path, by her description. She went to college, then traveled, then cobbled together some “jobettes” then figured out she wanted to be a speech pathologist, so landed back in graduate school. Meanwhile, her relationships with men have been satisfying to her, but distressing to her mother. She has found men along her journey who had “alternative” lifestyles. Mark, for example, lived out of his car, not because he could not afford an apartment, but because he thought it was a great way to save money. Diedre comes to me worried about her relationship with her mother. She feels torn between “checking the boxes” and doing her “own thing.” Diedre looks at Ezra with contempt and boredom. “He is living a life that looks like a script. I am not sure he even knows what makes him happy,” Diedre says, with a tinge of jealousy. “On the other hand, I can see that he has stability,” she explains her envy. “Still, my biggest problem is that I know my mom worries about me because although now I am on a career path, I am not married, and she never likes the men I am with.” I wonder aloud, “maybe you pick men that you know your mom won’t like, in order to demonstrate to yourself that you are your own person and that you are not your mom.” I say, thinking about how hard, for certain young women, it is to separate emotionally from their moms, and so with this difficulty they go to extremes. “I am certainly afraid of turning into my mom. You are right about that part.” Diedre says, not sure if that explains how she is choosing her boyfriends.

Dr. Chodorow reminds us that girls both want and do not want to be close with their mothers, and this duality creates an unsteady feeling that boys, generally speaking, do not have to wrestle with. Boys are not their moms because they are a different gender, and because their mom does not expect the same intimacy from them. Girls, by contrast, are imbued with a deeper narcissistic investment from their mom and this burdens them into pushing back in ways that create anxiety and uncertainty. Going forward, girls then have babies, which sandwiches them between maintaining the tie to their mom, while at the same time as nurturing their infant. They are thrown into the challenge of parenting, forcing them to “remember” sometimes, by re-experiencing, their own early childhood. Boys, typically, are not on the front lines of infant care, and as such, do not re-live their early childhood so intensely. The complexity of this emotional interior, Dr. Chodorow argues, makes women have harder psychic lives. I agree.


See also…

4 Responses to “Do Girls Have A Harder Time?”

  1. Shelly said

    Sometimes I wish the Diedres of the world could look at life through the eyes of their mothers. They will be their mothers one day, even if they don’t wish to be. As much as they fight back against turning into their mothers, they should recognize that their mothers do not wish them to become clones of themselves but wish to protect their daughters from making the mistakes that the mothers see their children making, to prevent the regret that they will surely feel for making the bad choices that they are making that their mothers can see from their vantage points of their experiences in life. Sons, for the most part, do not necessarily do the opposite of what their mothers wish them to do as a point of contention like daughters do. Maybe it is for this reason that in some instances the relationships between some mothers and sons is less flammable than between mothers and daughters.

  2. Jon said

    Do girls have a harder time? Yes.
    Do boys have a harder time? Again, yes.
    Do women have a harder time? Again, yes.
    Do men have a harder time? Again, yes.

    We all have hard times – female and male. It might be argued that minorities have a harder time than, majorities. The disadvantaged may have a harder time than the advantaged. However, to be alive is to have a hard time, in some respects. While there are many similarities, each hard time is unique to that person.

    So, what do we make of this? If we are lucky, we make the beauty of a well lived life. There is a struggle in that making, but that is part of the beauty.

    • The Women’s movement was the first time a “majority” claimed to be persecuted and through this they changed our world. I understand that each individual has his struggles, but cultural and race and gender sensitivity mandates us to try to understand the particular issues of each group. Thanks.

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