Learning the Difference Between Bravery and Perfection

Recently, I watched a TED talk that really hit home. The speech titled “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection” was delivered by Reshma Saujani, a lawyer, politician, and founder of Girls Who Code. Her talk discusses a learned bravery deficit in girls worldwide, and how it affects not only them, but the developing world as well.

Saujani started the organization Girls Who Code to start teaching girls at an early age the importance of education as well as their strengthen their confidence and ability to take risks. The talk was powerful and eye-opening, highlighting how detrimental societal stereotypes can be to youth.

She references an experiment done in the 80s by psychologist Carol Dweck, in which 5th graders were given a problem meant to be extremely challenging. The boys in the study group found it to be an exciting challenge and tried even harder to solve the problem.

Girls, on the other hand, were dejected and much quicker to give up, altogether.  This experiment demonstrated that girls, from a very young age, are told they ought to be perfect, or not bother at all.

As a female at a largely male-dominated STEM university, I relate with the insecurity of falling short relative to my peers.

I notice my male classmates are less hesitant to speak up and risk being wrong. I notice my female peers answering questions correctly under their breath, followed by a male repeating her answer louder and taking her credit. I notice even when my female friends know they are correct, waiting for someone else to speak up.

Holding girls to the impossible standard of “perfect” means they  miss out on an interactive education, one where important questions are not asked because of the fear of seeming stupid.

Do I believe that my parents and teachers purposely taught me to feel inadequate? No, but, if we don’t start being intentional with equalizing the educational experience for boys and girls, this cycle will continue ad infinitum.

I, for one, am excited to be a part of a generation of women that will teach girls to take risks and be brave.

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