“My prime concern is that, back at the childhood stage, parents and schools not encourage girls to be competitive with males if that is going to make them dissatisfied with raising children, their most creative job in adulthood, whether or not they go to work too.”
A Teenager’s Guide to Life and Love, 1970
By Dr. Benjamin Spock
About the author: Dr. Benjamin Spock was one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. His Baby and Child Care, first published in 1946, had sold more than 50 million copies by the time of Spock’s death in 1998.
Marking a shift from authoritarian parenting models, Spock’s book encouraged parents to trust their instincts and treat their children as individuals.
By the time Spock published this book for teenagers, he had attracted controversy for his protests against the war in Vietnam. In 1972, he would run for president on the People’s Party ticket, advocating for legalized abortion and marijuana and socialist economic policies. Unsurprisingly, he became a lightning rod for criticism from the right, which blamed his “permissive” parenting model for causing societal ills. (Recently, on a true crime message board I follow, one poster even blamed Spock’s influence for the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings.)
In this book for teens, Spock doesn’t advocate any permissiveness. He makes the usual admonitions against smoking, drinking, marijuana use, and teenage sex.
When it comes to gender roles, he’s downright old-fashioned. He labels any female interest in non-baby-oriented achievements as signs of “rivalry” or “aggressiveness.” By 1970, many women were openly expressing dissatisfaction with being forced into a housewife role. Spock blames their feelings on parents and schools who have treated women in too egalitarian a fashion.
Spock’s reliance on Freudian theories of sexual development explains some of his weirder statements in this book, including the total WTF-ery that is this passage:
“I’d like to take this occasion to warn boys who earn money as sitters that a girl in the three-to-six-year-old period can become very seductive if for instance she gets excited in rough-h0using, just because she is at the early-childhood sexual-romantic stage, yet hardly knows what she’s doing. A youth with strong sexual feelings of his own may find it difficult to resist such as disarming temptation to sex play unless he’s somewhat prepared.”
Within a year after this book was published, Spock spoke at the National Women’s Political Conference and got an earful from Gloria Steinem and other feminists about sexism in Baby and Child Care. To his credit, he listened and learned from that experience, revising future editions of his work to eliminate sexist language.
Quotes from A Teenager’s Guide to Life and Love
“I think that treating the two sexes alike pits them against each other to some degree and increases the rivalry due to other causes. Women in America during the past 50 years have increasingly been wearing clothes and doing their hair like men. Some of them now drink, shout, backslap, use obscenities and tell dirty stories like men. In these respects I think they have been motivated more by rivalry than by natural inclination.”
“…the thing that I’m concerned about is that quite a few women nowadays, especially some of those who have gone to college, find the life of taking care of their babies and children all day boring and frustrating…I think that the main reason so many mothers are bored is that their upbringing and their education have made them somehow expect to get their satisfaction and their pride as adults from the same occupations outside the home as men.”
“One big trouble is that schools and colleges don’t teach about the tremendous contribution that women make to any society in raising the children and inspiring them to do great things. Schools and colleges hold up for admiration the statesmen, generals, inventors, scientists, writers, composers and industrialists. So these are the careers that bright girls as well as bright boys dream of. When young women find themselves instead taking care of their children all day, some of them feel they aren’t using their education, aren’t being fulfilled…I would say it is much more creative to rear and shape the personality of a fine live child than it is to work in an office or even to carve a statue.”
“When a significant portion of the women in a society become more rivalrous and aggressive, over several generations, they can push a proportion of the males into a more submissive role.”
“Another way in which some men have lost considerable sense of pride and masterfulness is by no longer being the only breadwinner in many families.”
“I believe that if a girl is raised at home and taught in school to have pride in the creativity of motherhood, joy in being a woman, a sense of fulfillment through her ability to understand and help people, she will be happier as a wife and mother. And then if she has an outside career in addition, whatever it is, she will bring her womanliness to it…In other words, she won’t feel that the main satisfaction of any career is to compete with the men at their own game.”
“What about the insensitive boy who persists in making advances—even forcibly—despite a girl’s sincere resistance? She has to be ready to fight and scream if necessary. But this possibility raises the question whether a girl really has to get into a situation in which she is at the mercy of a boy whose crudeness she is not aware of. The answer generally is no.”
“…boys and men on the prowl take it for granted that a girl who accepts rides from semi-strangers is probably looking for excitement.”
Other Weird Word of Wisdom posts you might enjoy:
Mugging, Smooching, and Flinging the Woo Edition
Embracing Our Nature and Destiny Edition
Big Splendid Manhood Edition
Oh boy. That paragraph about girls in the 3-6 year old period is really disturbing.
Have never read any of Dr Spock’s work – had no idea he was so old fashioned!
To be fair to him, he did evolve in his opinions through the years. This book was written just before he started having his “consciousness raised” on gender issues.
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