Reshma Saujani’s Brave, Not Perfect was inspired by a popular Ted Talk that the author gave on the subject of the differences between how little girls and little boys are raised. While I’ve never seen the Ted Talk, which went viral, I did enjoy the book she wrote to continue the conversation sparked by the speech.
In Brave, Not Perfect the author examines how boys are encouraged to develop certain attributes — strength or bravery (take it like a man! be tough!), tenacity (try again!) and toughness, while girls get positive feedback for getting along with others (don’t pull your sister’s hair!), staying clean (don’t jump in the mud!) and making hard work look effortless. We attempt not to hurt the feelings of girls and encourage them to keep those feelings inside, while we pretend that boys shouldn’t express their feelings at all (though that is the subject for a different book altogether).
Saujani shares the process that allowed her to come to these realizations–her ultimately unsuccessful run for Congress.
As a child, Saujani writes, she was encouraged to do things that her parents thought she would excel at, even when those things weren’t ones she necessarily wanted to do. When she attempted a task–such as trying a new sport–and did not appear to take to it naturally, her parents would respond with a, “Well maybe this isn’t for you,” attitude. Had she been a boy, Saujani posits, she would have instead been met with, “If at once you don’t succeed, try, try again!”
“…parents and teachers tend to give boys more ‘process praise,’ meaning they reward them for putting in effort, trying different strategies, sticking with it, and improving, rather than the outcome. In the absence of this praise, girls come to believe that if they can’t get something right away, they’re dumb,” Saujani explains, drawing on the research of Dr. Carol S. Dweck.
I was fascinated to read statistics about the different attitudes displayed by men and women when searching for a new job. Men read the job description and list of required skills and are more likely to gloss over potential gaps in their qualifications. Why? Because they have faith in themselves to figure it out. Women, on the other hand, are far more likely to talk themselves out of applying for the job to begin with, because if they can’t fit the qualifications to a T they fear they will not understand the role.
The job application topic really struck home with me, because I can’t tell you the number of times I never completed the process of applying since there was a single software program or process referenced with which I was unfamiliar. My husband, true to form, has no qualms about jumping into something with both feet when he has no experience.
The confidence disparity appears in more areas than just the workplace. “From the time girls are young, they’re trained to keep a lid on anger in the face of an affront, unlike boys who are trained to stand up for themselves or retaliate. This explains why girls (and women) will do almost anything to avoid rocking the boat, and why they do choose to downsize their personal power and swallow negative feelings, rather than be seen as boastful or face the horror of confrontation,” Saujani explains.
Relationships between women are always complicated by the desire to be seen as perfect. Just think about Instagram.. I could end this book review right there.
“If being a confrontational bitch is the first cardinal sin for girls, being seen as conceited runs a close second. So they downplay, demur, and hold back” celebrating accomplishments or having strong opinions, according to Saujani.
This is where the bravery comes in. It takes bravery for women to step out of the comfort zones they developed as designed by their parents and teachers to keep them from feeling challenged, unsure, or getting their feelings hurt. Saujani was terrified to run for Congress, because she was pretty sure she may not win. And she didn’t. It took bravery, courage, and a lot of gumption to go after that seat–but it meant a lot to her, and she wanted the chance to make a difference. As a result she learned that chasing her dreams is tough but worth it. She found a way to make a difference without being an elected official, and is encouraging others to follow their own hearts.
I found the story inspiring and the research fascinating. The prescriptive parts of her book were a bit goofy–sure we can take small steps to get used to what may be considered failing, but I don’t think walking around all day with a run in my pantyhose is going to do much to develop courage.
This is a nice, quick read with a bunch of food for thought, so it’s worth it.