Gifted Women

I’m beginning to really like Linda Kreger Silverman,Ph.D. a prominent name with regards to gifted issues, who wrote a really great article about gifted women called I’m Not Gifted, I’m Just Busy: Unrecognized Giftedness in Women. Let me say that while I’m not an staunch feminist, I do struggle with the issues of finding self-worth through my achievement (and more importantly lack of self-worth from not achieving since becoming a stay-at-home mother).

In this article think I found a new hero for gifted women’s issues in Leta Hollingworth as Wikipedia states, who “was a psychologist who conducted pioneering work on the psychology of women as well as on the education of exceptional children”. Leta was also known to fight for women’s suffrage. In 1915 her husband Harry marched along with her suffrage parades. They wanted to change the prevailing attitudes towards women. Harry fully supported Leta’s fight.

I suppose I might have learned about her had I taken women studies, but I wasn’t really interested in feminism in school (and instead studied science), though I enjoyed many of the benefits of the hard work of feminists (and got a job as a scientist long before I ever considered children). It’s interesting to me to actually stumble across this article as I’m researching gifted issues as a stay-at-home mother.

We all are aware of the prevailing view of women for the majority of history. Taking this quote from Ms Silverman’s article:

During most of the last 5,000 years, giftedness was reserved for men only and a gifted woman was considered a contradiction in terms. It has been commonly held that women are naturally inferior in intelligence to men. The doctrine of the natural inferiority of women has been thoroughly ingrained in human consciousness and has influenced religion, law, philosophy, education and literature worldwide. Many peoples of the world still believe it to be the natural order of the universe. Starr (1991) collected over 600 quotations from the most celebrated men in history to illustrate the pervasiveness of this misogynous theory

Leta Hollingworth’s research was critical to changing those long held views:

She was the first woman to scientifically research and challenge the dogma which alleged the inferiority of women (“University”). Hollingworth’s Master’s thesis addressed sexist hiring practices (Klein). According to Klein, Hollingworth challenged the assumption that women would be “incapacitated” once a month due to menstruation. She also disproved the “variability hypothesis” which claims that there is a greater variability among men as a species than women in their talents and intelligence. She stated that if it was true that more men achieved eminence, then it would also be true that more men would fall at the opposite end of the continuum. In addition, Hollingworth proved that environmental conditions greatly affected the degree to which women were allowed to become intellectually distinguished.

Leta Hollingworth conducted an experiment in which 1,000 consecutively born males and 1,000 consecutively born females were measured anatomically ten different ways (Hollingworth). The study showed that there were no sex-related differences in variability on any measure (Klein, 1). Thus, the study determined that there were no differences in the variability between the sexes.

Hollingworth’s research at the beginning of the 1900s smashed that theory right out of the water, and was very passionate about her views:

It is undesirable to seek for the cause of sex differences in eminence in ultimate and obscure affective and intellectual differences until we have exhausted as a cause the known, obvious and inescapable fact that women bear and rear the children, and that this has had as an inevitable sequel the occupation of housekeeping, a field where eminence is not possible. (Hollingworth, 1914, p. 529)

Moving on to how does this article really affect me now, as a stay-at-home mother after having achieved quite a lot in my career? Consider me to be somewhere in between extremes – I’m not completely traditional (but I do believe being home for my family is important) nor am I that strict feminist (though I miss having a career). I walk somewhere in the middle and have conflicts within myself all the time about the needs of the family and my own personal growth and development.

I really like how the focus of giftedness in Ms. Silverman’s practice is less on outward signs of achievement but more on the inner experience (and, as was pointed out by an observant reader, is a concept applicable to any gifted individual, regardless of gender). This is something I’ve ALWAYS struggled with, from the very start of this blog.

At the Gifted Development Center, we are redefining the term “gifted” from a feminine perspective, one that removes it from the external realm of potential for eminence and focuses on the inner experience of the gifted person.

Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally. (The Columbus Group, 1991).

The focus of the definition is on developmental differences rather than performance and achievement.

Furthermore, I feel the strong need to keep these things in mind, especially the bolded part below, in order to reduce the conflicting feelings I have from time to time.

It’s time we took giftedness out of the closet and separated it entirely from the concept of achievement. It’s time we recognized it, valued it and nurtured it in our schools and our families. As a parent wrote in an issue of Understanding Our Gifted, “

Every gift contains a danger. Whatever gift we have we are compelled to express. And if the expression of that gift is blocked, distorted, or merely allowed to languish, then the gift turns against us, and we suffer(Johnson, 1993, p. 15).

I think I can be a little more at peace if I allow myself to grow while I do the more mundane tasks related to raising kids and caring for the home.

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8 Responses to Gifted Women

  1. Papa T says:

    You were wondering what I would think about this post? Hmm…okay.

    Well, I certainly see the need for the examination of issues that adversely affect women. There are many aspects of our ever-evolving societal arrangement that are detrimental to women. Actually, there are many aspects of our ever-evolving societal arrangement that are detrimental to everyone. The part of this that grieves me most–as a human being (notwithstanding my being male)–is that, as rights and recognition are fought for and won for one group, all groups tend to suffer.

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I would suggest that this process is quite natural but not healthy in the grand scheme. Only in specifics are these types of struggles anything new. All previous civilization have undergone these changes as they “expanded”–geography, transportation, commerce, technology, and more recently industry. With each “recycle” of civilization, increasing opportunities for conflict arise. The resultant differentiation between various groups is inevitable–and, ultimately destructive.

    “What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach…” (Captain in “Cool Hand Luke”).

    What results are great explications on the many “pieces of the puzzle,” but no “big picture.” The more we dissect the image and examine the parts ad minutiae, the more distantly separated they become. There is nothing inherently “evil” in such a microscopic perspective, but it fails to address the macroscopic needs of society on any pragmatic level.

    So, we end up with a “men are from mars, women are from Venus” mentality. That suits a lot of people–to put men on one planet and women on another–until we start putting other groups on other planets. Look around at some current trends…children “need” more rights (to protect them from oppressive parents)…animals should be treated “humanely” (as in “human”)…diversity must be “celebrated” (not accepted and recognized but magnified and glorified)…and so on, ad nauseam.

    We are witnessing the “natural” results of growing disconnection from the Natural Order. We humans are the only “forms” that are able to take what is natural–what works–and turn it into something virtually unrecognizable and totally useless.

    That being said, I would concur with the statement that you quote in your conclusion:

    Every gift contains a danger. Whatever gift we have we are compelled to express. And if the expression of that gift is blocked, distorted, or merely allowed to languish, then the gift turns against us, and we suffer(Johnson, 1993, p. 15).

    That’s a glimpse into what I think about the ideas expressed in your post. I recognize and appreciate you. I identify with your struggles. I just want to find a way that works.

    Peace to you…

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    I want to find a way that works too. Having all girls, I think it’s really important though to have some sort of idea of how to continue to develop oneself while taking care of the needs of a family without sacrificing one for the other.

    Thanks for your thoughts, I do appreciate them.

  3. Douglas Eby says:

    The work of the Gifted Development Center to redefine the term “gifted” “from a feminine perspective, one that removes it from the external realm of potential for eminence and focuses on the inner experience of the gifted person” is a service to men as well. Many of us don’t ‘subscribe’ to patriarchal concepts and benchmarks of eminence, and may have suffered from corrosive ideas of giftedness being some kind of pathology.

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Mr. Eby, I completely agree with you. It is appropriate to all gifted individuals, regardless of gender.

    I know first-hand the pathologizing you speak of, having been told I was crazy/in need of psychological help/bipolar, from my mother and sister. No one but them actually made me feel that horrible about myself.

    I found the article to be fascinating, and really comforting as I struggle with not achieving much during this time of raising young children. It’s hard not to feel like my talents are underutilized and I frequently worry about the future, because I’ve never not had a professional goal to work towards and I’m not completely sure what to do next.

  5. joanna says:

    I believe we were put here on earth to fulfill our potential, to be our authentic self. We are shorting ourselves if we do not pursue our dreams. Being a mother will require making sacrifices (like writing at midnight or even putting everything on hold until they are all in school) but our gifts are not to be ignored. Finding your own self-worth while mothering is HARD but it is an internal thing – we have to recognize our own gifts (giftedness) and make ourselves happy and fulfilled by using them in any way we can (because no one else will).

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Joanna – thanks for the thoughtful reply. I am in agreement with you. I don’t plan on shorting myself. I think there is room for my growth as well as theirs, and I think it’s important that they see that I take some time to do what I value. I know you understand what it’s like to make room for your needs and theirs.

    Best wishes to both of us on utilizing our gifts while mothering.

    In the fall, I will get about 2 hours 3 days a week to devote to whatever I want to do when the littlest one starts preschool. Should prove interesting.

  7. marem says:

    ! Nice site
    Keep posting, and mate thanks.
    there is nothing in the world I enjoy more than learning. In fact, i’d rather be learning now!

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Reblogged this on Raising Smart Girls.

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