As the world is changing and more space is given to women’s voices in the public arena, talking about gifted girls and women, may have never been more appropriate. In times of chaos, when the norms fall apart and a new reality is birthing, exposing the inner reality of the gifted feminine can benefit their inclusion and support them in their self-esteem, and value.
Giftedness is still often associated with males attributes, and girls miss role-models who could inspire and validate them to incarnate giftedness in a uniquely feminine way.
Why is that so?
A lot of the traits of the gifted are commonly considered to be male. Yes, there is a bias in the collective as to what a man should be, and what a woman should look like. We have more examples of gifted men than of gifted women, as their qualities are exalted, while in the case of women society still struggles with accepting that the very same set of qualities can be as healthily possessed by a woman, as they are by a man.
Examples in history abound, illustrating the need to find something wrong with gifted and successful professional women. Let us think of artists, like Camille Claudel, who clearly exhibited gifts beyond the norm. If you read through her life, you can see how the patriarchy constantly undermined her ambitions and achievements. A few tried to help her and encouraged her, but for the vast majority, she was regarded as a fanatic, strange and improper woman. And sadly, this opinion was also held by other women.
The case of Marie Curie- who also experienced depression- is revealing. While she was the first to start working on the unique power of uranium and later joined by her scientist husband, she was ignored by the 1906 Nobel committee until her spouse requested that her work be included to an equal measure as his and Mr.Becquerel’s. On a more private aspect, she also had to suffer heavy smearing campaigns for having a brief affair with fellow scientist, Paul Langevin, years after the accidental death of Pierre Curie, and the Swedish Academy of Science almost withdrew its decision to grant her a second Nobel prize (this time in chemistry).
While those two specific female characters are now acknowledged for their contribution to the progress of humanity, how many gifted women still suffer from stigma and prejudice and prefer to either give up or hide their gifts to fit in with a more acceptable conception of womanhood?
Gifted little girls show similar traits as gifted little boys. They are intense, inquisitive, profoundly creative, independent, highly sensitive. As they grow up, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to openly display these characteristics, as they are not usually associated with femininity, and it takes real courage to be oneself when one is different.
A teenage girl who has more passion for reading and writing, and is less interested in socializing or discussing fashion may end up being marginalized by her classmates. From them, she receives the message that something is wrong with her, and a choice has to be made: shall I give up on my interests, or shall I be excluded and mocked? If the girl is supported at home and positively encouraged to be her own authentic self, things may be smoother. But how many girls end up having to conform because they can intuitively feel that it is not OK to differ from the norm?
Girls have an innate ability to feel what is expected of them, and as a child growing up they can sense when their behaviours, ideas, and ways of being surprise adults. Feeling accepted, feeling that we are seen and that we belong is an essential need of human beings. So, a gifted girl, who does not feel that her quirkiness is welcomed by her parents (either because they do not know how to address her, or because they would prefer a more « normal » child), will react by shutting down a part of herself.
Children, too young to understand this process, shut down unconsciously. They inhibit an aspect of themselves in order to receive love, and to survive. It doesn’t go without tremendous sadness and rage inside.
Let’s say you were living on an island where everyone had green hair and you had red hair, you would naturally attract attention and would not go unnoticed. The reaction of people around you would shape your sense of self. And, while there is nothing inherently wrong with having red hair, the fact that you are different would be enough to make you question the value of yourself.
The process is similar with a gifted girl. Even though those around her may not want to purposefully hurt her, feeling that she provokes reactions, not always the best ones, can increase her stress, and push her to mask her differences in order to survive.
But, at what cost ? What price does the gifted girl pay to change herself to fit in?
Sadness, rage, depression, hopelessness, intense solitude, fear, bitterness, resentment, sense of loss ; all those emotions are underneath the surface, and screaming to be heard. They carry the message the gifted woman wants to hear: that she is fine just as she is, and it is not her fault if others in the past did not understand her. That she has the right to be herself, fully herself.
How many gifted girls, now women, suffer with poor self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, feelings of strangeness, separation, and feelings of being essentially flawed ? How many do not find meaning in the life they are living? How many find that they have silenced their original views, their bright intellect, and their passion for life? How many even doubt they can be gifted?
I believe it is as important to identify our gifted girls, as it is to identify gifted boys, and to give them plenty of occasions to practice being themselves, without editing. I believe it is paramount to tell them it’s okay to be fierce and sensitive, to be a leader and a dreamer, to love alone time and thinking. Not to have them base their self-esteem on their giftedness but rather so that it can be positively integrated.
To build their identity, they need a framework, limits, and structure, as do all children, and, they also need adults who can help them, who know who they are, who can reflect a positive image of themselves, who can support them even if they are different.
We have never had as many tools and opportunities for connection as we do today; can we take conscious action together, and decide to help change mentalities around femininity, in the interest of both men and women?
Can we create space for gifted girls and women, as much as we strive to do for sensitive men?
I’ll read your thoughts on this with great interest.
(Painting by Vladimir Volegov)
Marion Franc is a Mentor and Coach for gifted children, teenagers, and their parents. To enquire about mentoring possibilities for yourself and your child, you can send an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Caring for the Gifted Child