Growing up, girls are taught to be perfect. Perfect hair, perfect pink dresses… don’t attempt something too risky because you might not be perfect at it. They are taught to be quiet and still because it’s lady-like. They are told to be “good”… meaning, don’t cause any mischief by being loud or lively. We often say “be careful” to little girls.
Boys, on the other hand, are taught quite the opposite. Boys are told to be brave, loud, outspoken, and boisterous. They are told to take risks, regardless of the outcome. In encouraging their bravery, boys soon find out that the more risks you take, the more rewards. For example, you encourage your tough little boy to tackle those high monkey bars. He’s timid about this idea at first, but summons up his bravery and puts one hand over the other until he’s at the end. You cheer and give him praise. His momma’s happiness and excitement are his great reward!
If that risky monkey-bar attempter was a sweet, dainty girl, we might encourage her to get down because she needs to be careful.
In raising my daughter, I think about this constantly and try to find balance in letting her make decisions and take risks on her own and also protecting her. She is just 9 years old, yet she has qualities in her at this very moment – like bravery, a passion for adventure, confidence, good decision-making skills, exceptional communication skills, and so much understanding, patience, and nonjudgmental love – that I want so very badly to guide her into never letting any of those qualities fade, but strengthening them.
She is extremely logical and is quite talented at building and creating. She loves science and art and math and reading. She enjoys sitting for hours and building with Legos, or making blueprints of a new game she came up with, and getting outside to explore the world. Most of her friends enjoy playing with makeup and their iPhones or iPads, and they care more about what clothes they are wearing than creating (remaining in a state of seeking perfection rather than putting themselves out there to create something they’re interested in).
An example of her unprovoked bravery: This girl loves to sing, and while I love that she enjoys this and always encourage her to sing her heart out, she does not have the voice of the next popstar. She wanted to participate in her school’s talent show by singing. She knows she is not the best singer, and has actually received some discouragement from her peers, that I was not aware of until after the fact. She did not let that negativity dissuade her from doing what she wanted to do: sing. When she told me all of this, my heart broke for her because of the discouragement from her friends, but then I realized: My goodness, this girl is brave.
The discouragement of taking risks plays out into adulthood. Some women don’t chase their dreams and achieve their goals because in their mind, it’s too risky, and they might fail. So, why even bother? It’s not a question of ability. Women are extremely capable of achieving whatever they set their mind to. It’s a matter of risky imperfection.
Women tend to only take risks if it’s a sure thing they will not fail. But, then it’s not even considered a risk, it’s considered safe. Instead of risking failure, we don’t even attempt. Or if we do attempt and make progress, but wind up failing, we would rather backtrack than show the progress we made, because it’s not perfect.
Tell your sweet little girls to go for it, be risky, be adventurous, wild, and BRAVE. Encourage them to continue on, despite imperfections or perceived failure. Influence them to persevere through challenges, cheer them on and embrace their perfect imperfections with them.