Getting children to think instead of zoning out in front of video games, television, and various devices is a preoccupation for many parents. Encouraging children to consider concepts critically, not passively, has reached new concern as reality TV assumes its ten year reign in our culture and celebrity coverage continues to eclipse reporting on world events. But when it comes down to gender, little boys and girls face different “distractions” according to CBS News legal analyst and journalist Lisa Bloom.
In her new book Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, Bloom recounts the ways in which young girls are prioritizing their looks over their brains. She reveals that two-thirds of American women don’t know what Roe v. Wade is and that 25% of girls would rather win America’s Next Top Model than win the Nobel Peace Prize. Along with sharing her own experiences as a single working mother, Bloom explains why girls are more prone to analyze Angelina Jolie‘s baby bump than government decisions while also examining how the tabloid media has seduced our daughters.
In Think, you cite all the scholastic accomplishments women have made in the last generation but also include many startling statistics, like that 22% of women would rather loose their ability to read than their figures. How do you reconcile these findings?
For girls and women, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. We are killing in education — outperforming the boys in elementary school, middle school, high school, graduating college and graduate schools in significantly greater numbers and with better GPAs and test scores. Fabulous. Go team! Yet at the same time, we’ve made some strange mental detours. College women tell me they’d rather be hot than smart. Nearly all of them can name more Kardashians than wars we’re in. Twenty times as many American women read gossip magazines than real newspapers. Once we’re out of school, many of us give ourselves over to celeb media, obsess about our appearance, and disconnect from our communities. When I talk to women about this, most cop to it and ask me how to reclaim their brains and have a more meaningful life. That’s why I wrote the book, to answer that question.
You write in chapter one that our educational system is flawed compared to that of other nations, particularly with regards to hours spent in school. Do you believe that education needs to be overhauled in terms of shortening summer vacations and short school days?
Yes. Our kids have shorter school days, shorter school years, and less homework than the Europeans and Asians they’ll be competing against in the global economy. When budgets are tight, the first thing to go is our kids’ education. Here in Los Angeles where I live, two weeks have been cut from the school year recently, with few complaints about how this will effect our kids’ minds, and without even assigning them books to read during these lost weeks. Over 12 years of school, American kids already go to school one full year less than many of their counterparts abroad. As a result, we get slaughtered in international competitions. College deans tell me the majority of incoming freshmen can barely read and write. It’s a huge problem. We all need to value education more, and insist upon it.
Obsession with celebrity culture is a large part of your book. You write that fixation on celebrity lifestyles and reality TV have ultimately cost girls their intelligence. Why girls and young women exclusively, and how have gossip magazines managed to usurp the feminine consciousness?
Men have a major ignorance problem too, and I’m writing a new piece about that now. Their distractions are, in brief, sports, video games, and porn. Both genders are distracted and appallingly uninformed, but the distractions are different. I wrote about my team first, girls and women. Ninety-five percent of gossip magazine, web site and celebrity TV show consumers are female. This garbage lowers our IQs and self-esteem and make us think fake squabbles between “housewives” or Paris Hilton‘s choice of purse cosmically matters. They distract us from more pressing problems that we’ll never learn about in gossip rags: the closing of our local battered women’s shelter, third world girls who we could help to go to school, genocide.
It’s a question of balance. If we know more about reality shows than reality, our lives are out of balance. If we are aware of the issues before our city council and Congress, if we can name our governor and understand the issues in the next election, then it’s fine to occasionally look at celebrity media. But in general I have bigger plans for us, which I outline in the book.
You write in the introduction that women not thinking critically is not necessarily limited to an age bracket, but rather an entire timeline. You write,”Young women have little motivation to think because the rewards for being hot are so powerful. Then, in our middle years a new wave of nonthinking sets in. Married women and working moms spin ourselves ragged in the working-kids-housework-repeat-repeat-repeat cycle. At the age of 55 we just want to rest, so we zone out in front of the TV significantly more than any other age group…” Why do women seem to make so many excuses for not staying informed?
Because we are tired. So exhausted from running ourselves ragged with school, work, kids, housework, repeat repeat repeat. Every woman I spoke to expressed this to me, often tearfully. “I can’t read books, or the news! I don’t get enough sleep as it is! How can I volunteer or vote or — baby’s crying! I have to go!” Phone line goes dead. Sound familiar?
As a single mom who worked two or three jobs at a time while raising my kids without a nanny, believe me, I get it. The time pressure on us is huge.
That’s why the second half of my book is a step by step guide to reclaim time to think, and how to use that time wisely. Time is the most important factor. Because every woman wants to have a more meaningful life. And I believe she’s entitled to that now, not when the kids or grown or she’s retired. Now. I show you how to reclaim an hour a day, immediately.
What advice do you have for parents hoping to raise informed, smart daughters? How can they intercept, or perhaps reframe, celebrity culture for their kids?
We are role models for our kids, every minute of every day. Even when they rebel and rant and say they hate us. They still look to us and model themselves on our behavior.
In the book I explain how to be a good role model. For example: read. Your own book. To yourself. Not holed up in your bedroom, but on the living room couch. Let them see how much you enjoy your book. Ask them to grab a book and join you. Occasionally read each other great passages. My kids and I would tangle our legs together and read. My daughter would slump off the edge of the couch and read Harry Potter upside down. Great family memories, and my kids are now both voracious readers who excel in school.
Tell teens your favorite books but suggest they are “too adult” for them, or there are passages that are “maybe not appropriate for their age.” Act surprised when they sneak and read those books under the covers.
If your girl insists on watching reality shows, watch with her, and discuss the show critically. Who are these women who don’t work, but sit around all day complaining and primping and having catfights? Is this the reality of anyone you know? Why aren’t they contributing in any way to their world? How much of the show is fake and staged? (Answer: all of it.) Did the women’s movement never happen in this phony world? How much money is the network and advertisers raking in from these demeaning portrayals of women? (Answer: a boatload.)
Your mother, Gloria Rachel Allred, is a renowned feminist, as are you. You’re also a mother to a young daughter. How important do you think feminism and the history of women’s rights is in raising smart, self-aware girls? Do you discuss feminism or feminist principals with your daughter? Do you think parents should?
We all need to know our history. My daughter and I have read not only about women’s history, but what’s going on with women’s oppression now (Half the Sky), the repression of people in North Korea (Nothing to Envy), the repressed world of women in nineteenth century rural China (Snow Flower and the Secret Fan), and many others. I have a recommended reading list in my book, Think, of books like these that moved us and kept us up at night, opening our eyes to our history and current events.
Women sacrificed, organized, and even died for our right to vote, and our right to full equality. The least we can do to honor them is to learn our history. Even better, we can take advantage of the opportunities they created for us by reading, learning, connecting, and engaging with the world. My book is both a wake up call about how far we’ve gone off track, and a clearly paved guide for how to get back to a more fulfilled, meaningful life. Women from all over the world have written to me about how it was the kick in the pants they needed; that it’s changed their lives; that they are getting ten copies for every girl and woman they know. I am grateful and humbled by this response.
People told me that women wouldn’t read a book that takes on the beauty industry, celebrity media, tabloids. I know they were wrong. I know we all want meaning and substance. I believe in women. I care more about what’s in your head than what’s in your closet. And I think you do too. That’s why I wrote this book.