Why Do We Teach Girls It’s Cute To Be Scared?

by Sumdima Rai
Caroline Paul is one gutsy woman. While most of us would run away from a house on fire, she is in the habit of running toward the fire as one of the first women to join the San Francisco Fire Department. That too takes a lot of guts.

In her recent article in the New York Times, Paul recalls her own experiences in the fire department and as a child growing up with a mother who allowed her to take risks. She was taught to face her fears from an early age, and grew to overcome them not just like any other man, but like a woman. Paul recalls during her time in the fire department being asked if she was 'afraid', "I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job (even though I was a 5-foot-10, 150-pound ex-college athlete). What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: 'Aren’t you scared?'" This question was not asked of her male colleagues.

So why do we teach our daughters that it's cute to be scared? Why do we unconciously steer girls away from risky activities and warn them against taking risks (physical or otherwise? Paul's hypothesis: We think our daughters are more fragile, both physically and emotionally, than our sons. 

But aren't we doing our daughters a disservice by not letting them face and overcome fears like we might expect a boy to? 

In her article Paul cites a recent study in The Journal of Pediatric Psychology, published last year (2015), which found that parents are “four times more likely to tell girls than boys to be more careful” after mishaps that are not life-threatening but do entail a trip to the emergency room. The researchers, continued remarking on a drawback to this seemingly benign behavior: “Girls may be less likely than boys to try challenging physical activities, which are important for developing new skills.”

Paul argues that while allowing our children to be adventurous to the point of injury may not be such a good thing, allowing risk-taking is. Why? Because it teaches kids responsibility, problem-solving, and confidence to tackle fear.

To see where you fall on the spectrum, what's your reaction to a little girl screeching when she sees a spider? What about a boy? I rest my case. 

Read this rest of this insightful article by Paul at the New York Times
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