Alan Flashman
Alan Flashman

The Children of Israel 15: Mothers and Daughters

One of the pinnacles of feminist thinking was achieved in Lynn Mikel Brown’s and Carol Gilligan’s immensely popular and hopefully influential Meeting at the Crossroads in 1992. I mentioned the introduction to this work in the last blog. Brown and Gilligan put forward a thesis that that for all its depth and complexity — and perhaps because its depth is a true depth — can actually summarized and comprehended:

Girls up until the age of 11 keep their inner “voice,” they confront each other with conflicting wishes, they know and say what they think and want. At around 11 years of age girls run a danger of sacrificing this voice in order to think and act as they perceive is expected by their peers. This sacrifice entails a loss of real RELATIONSHIPS for “relationships” based on placating and conforming. They give the example of Lauren who at age 8 was told the Aesop fable-dilemma of the porcupine who came for the winter in a cave of hedgehogs but caused the hosts to be pricked whenever they moved. Lauren had her opinion, that the porcupine should stick his quills in the ground. Told the same story at age 13, Lauren said she did not know what a porcupine looks like.

Brown and Gilligan proposed that mothers are in the best position to speak with their daughters at this “crossroads,” unlike fathers and sons who like Oedipus and Laius do battle to the death at the crossroads to Thebes.

The implications of this work are enormous. In my clinical work I found myself revising how I looked at 11-year-old girls and women who were once 11-year old-girls, and I began to discover found stories everywhere that gave truth to this proposal. The most provocative implication was that the way girls and mothers talk with each other has the power to transform society, creating a (at least the female half of) citizenship less conforming, not afraid to express and discuss diversity, not shrinking from “meetings” at the many crossroads of a complex society. It would certainly suggest mandating a great deal of attention to the fifth grade cohort of girls, with educational, developmental and mental health (wo)manpower enlisted to pay attention to the fragility of the inner voice and support and protect it.

This has not happened in Israel to date. Rather, the work and its implications were completely ignored. It was never translated despite its commercial success in the US and elsewhere. As far as I know I am the lone outlier who taught it – and found it elicited great interest in women professionals. The first response of many women in authority was that “that’s America, not here.” The academy gave the work little or no attention; I do not believe it was referred to in the press in any serious way. The Education Ministry ignored the educational implications. In short — erased.

Elsewhere, I have suggested that a work that gets ignored in Israel might see itself so complimented. Erasure suggests that the work is not susceptible to co-optation, no small compliment.

Now for some practical imagination:

  1. A guidance counselor in an elementary school somehow hears about this material and feels she can recognize it in her own life experience. (In principle it could be an educational psychologist, but in my experience that is less likely)
  2. The guidance counselor tells the principal about her personal and professional experience.
  3. The principal comes to recognize the issue of loss of voice in her own personal and educational life experience.
  4. The guidance counselor and the principal bring together the 5th and 6th grade teachers.
  5. After a meeting or two in which all these women share their personal as well as educational life experience with protecting and losing voice, they decide with the endorsement of the principal to continue this discussion with the mothers of their students (mothers of boys and girls).
  6. Each teacher, assisted by the guidance counselor if she wishes, calls two or three meetings to talk with mothers and share personal and educational life experience. The teacher and mothers discuss how they would like this matter to be approached in the classroom. Perhaps there may already be examples of loss of voice coming up in the classroom. Here I leave open what the program might look like; it will be co-created by the women meeting together.
  7. Each teacher, assisted by the guidance counselor if she wishes, tries out the program she has put together with the mothers, in the classroom. It may include presence of some mothers.
  8. The principal, guidance counselor and teachers meet to compare experiences with the mothers and in the classroom, learning from each other. They think together how what has been accomplished can be maintained throughout the year.
  9. The school engages in this activity for say three years and tries to follow the results by attending to the experiences of the teachers, mothers and girls.
  10. Now the school is ready to communicate its experience to other principals, other guidance counselors, other mothers.
  11. One guidance counselor opens a Facebook page or a Hebrew blog page where all involved can openly communicate about the “program” and share and learn from experiences.
  12. An informal but edited translation of Brown and Gilligan is composed and placed as a pdf on the blog. [A note from experience: Authors and publishers tend to ignore copyright issues on translations into Hebrew that are shared not for profit. My colleague and I placed such a translation of one article of Carol Gilligan in a reader on therapeutic communication with adolescents eleven years ago and Carol was delighted to receive a copy. For decades I have been making and editing translations of important materials that will never get published in Hebrew, once I realized that in Israel today only Hebrew material speaks to the heart.]
  13. The program can self-grow bottom-up without any input from Ministry supervisors.
  14. Mothers and girls start to give privilege to preservation of the “inner voice.”

I have taught this material to at least 500-1000 women in classrooms, in-service training and conferences, but what I still do not know is how to get to the first step. I doubt this blog will do the trick. The common Israeli way would be for some academic to take over the material, obstruct its translation in order to secure control, and discuss it into the ground or make a research project that would waste a decade in order to convince the already convinced.

Any suggestions out there?

About the Author
Alan Flashman was born in Foxborough, MA, and gained his BA from Columbia, MD from NYU, Pediatrics, Adult and Child Psychiatry specialties at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, The Bronx, NY. He has practiced in Beer Sheba since 1983, and taught mental health at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University and Ben Gurion University. Alan has edited readers on Therapeutic Communication with Children (2002) and Adolescents (2005) in Hebrew, translated Buber's I and Thou anew into Hebrew, and authored Losing It, an autobiography, and From Protection to Passover.