“Be careful!” “Don’t get dirty!” “That’s too high!”
We raise girls cautiously, author and former firefighter Caroline Paul explains in her New York Times op-ed. Her article left us inspired and especially excited for her upcoming book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure.
When we tell girls to slow down so they don’t get hurt, we’re also teaching them to be risk-averse. Though the world can, of course, be dangerous, we know that risk-taking is a critical part of growing up. When we condition girls to avoid behaviors that feel frightening, “we are not protecting them…we are failing to prepare them for life,” Paul writes.
From the same early age that girls are first exposed to fear, boys are inundated with images of boldness and heroism. New things can feel scary at first, but boys (who are told they’re gutsy and valiant) are more likely to attempt them anyway. If we called girls brave and strong as readily as we do boys, Paul posits, we could be teaching them to master their fears and more adequately arming them for their futures.
Paul’s piece is as gripping as it is important, and it reminds us of the affect our language and attitudes have on young girls as they grow up. “When I worked as a firefighter,” Paul writes, “I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men…I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage.”
Instead of telling girls to avoid the things that scare them, it’s time we teach them they’re resilient, adaptable, and daring enough to become intrepid young women with the guts and grit it takes to put the fear in its place and conquer the world.