Growing up, I was scared of almost everything. Now, to be clear, my parents never condoned my neuroses. They tried time and time again to coax my twin sister and me into activities that would push us out of our comfort zones and into all the weird and wonderful things that life has to offer. From signing us up to play for an all-boys soccer league to pushing us to try camping, hiking, skiing and competitive swimming, our parents never relented in their efforts, no matter how hard we resisted.
Caroline Paul, author of the upcoming book “The Gusty Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure,” published an op-ed in The New York Times Saturday titled, “Why Do We Teach Girls That it’s Cute To Be Scared?” According to her perspective, both of my parents, as well as the author, fall into the category of “outliers.” Both parties were (and continue to be) encouraging of their daughters, never once drilling the idea that girls should be anything less than confident, courageous and adventurous. Unfortunately, such mindsets are not always the norm.
In her article, Paul cites a study by The Journal of Pediatric Psychology, which found last year that “parents are ‘four times more likely to tell boys to be more careful’ after mishaps that are not life-threatening but do entail a trip to the emergency room.”
Paul believes that this should be considered a “reasonable warning.” She also points out that “this study points to an uncomfortable truth: we think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons.”
Perhaps this mentality is embedded deep within the archaic social norms that deem women to be less capable when compared to men. The ideal man is traditionally seen as the breadwinner, the powerhouse and the valiant hero whose job it is to protect the damsel in distress. On the contrary, some of the qualities that embody the ideal woman are daintiness, refinement and an overall air of femininity.
When a young girl squeals, “I’m too scared” in regard to a particular social situation or physical activity, society considers it normal — cute, even. However, when a boy echoes the same claim of uneasiness or fear, the typical reaction is to tell him to man up and go for it.
Paul advocates, “We need to embolden girls to master skills that first appear difficult, even dangerous.” It is through these measures that we as a society will begin to break down the prevalent gender roles and stereotypes that stem from the unequal treatment of boys and girls from such a young age. To put it simply: raise girls and boys the same way.
Although I am not a professional skier by any means and my soccer career was embarrassingly short-lived, I appreciate my parents’ diligence in wanting my sister and me to try new, scary things. Their confidence in me manifested into confidence in myself, and for that I am infinitely grateful.