If the number of extreme sportswomen is any indicator, women appear to be a lot less daring than men—at least when it comes to athletic endeavors.
Caroline Paul, a long time adventurer, noticed this in her friends’ daughters. She noticed that, compared to boys, girls showed less bravery and were more likely to shy away from thrill-seeking—even before puberty, when their bodies aren’t too different from their male counterparts.
Paul told Quartz she began to ask herself “how come women seem to be much less gutsy than men?” She found the answer to be in the way they are raised, as girls. Research, which Paul recently quoted in a New York Times op-ed, shows parents are a lot more likely to warn girls than boys about perils, and demand caution. Even when playing outdoors, they tend to discourage daughters from taking risks and assist them, as if they were too frail to do it by themselves, while they encourage their sons’ initiative, letting them push their boundaries on their own.
And what is learned in play as kids is practiced in real life as adults—fearful girls become less daring women. “Girls are being treated as if [they] need help and are too fragile,” Paul told Quartz. Worse, being afraid is understood to be a cute, girly trait, so “women learn that it is feminine to act scared.”
Paul had a different experience. Her mother, who had been discouraged from seeking adventures, made it a point to raise fearless daughters (she has a twin sister), and supported her thirst for physical challenges. Paul thought sharing some of her adventures and inspiration with young women would help them get gutsier. The result, part-memoir and part manual, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, is a book for girls which every grown woman should read, too.
She outlines the attempts, successes, and failures of her adventures. She was one of San Francisco’s 15 female firefighters for many years, and before that, she collected seemingly impossible missions: walking up the Golden Gate Bridge (meaning: walking all the way to the top, on the suspension cables); climbing Denali (the worst-weathered mountain of Alaska); and rafting on improvised rafts with a group of hikers from Siberia (hint: they were much tougher than anyone you know).
Parents be warned, most of Paul’s adventures aren’t the kind you’d want your girls to try at home—and she says so herself, over and over warning: safety first. What, however, you should hope they try is to dream big, forget fear and, if anything, get scared by the sheer size of their ambitions.
“I think the pressure that girls face at puberty to be pretty, perfect and liked is enormous,” she explained to Quartz, saying that a familiarity with the kind of outdoor adventure that she encourages works as an antidote to that. Being pretty and perfect in the outdoors doesn’t happen and doesn’t help the fun—which makes for real life training. Plus, not all of Paul’s adventures end in success, which is great: daring means daring to fail, too—something girls and women are particularly scared of.
Like Paul, there have been women to buck the trend: Fanny Workman climbed the Himalayas in the 1890s; Roberta Gibb, ran the Boston marathon in 1966, despite it being a male-only event; Mae Jemison, who traveled the world as a physician before she became the first African American woman in space.
Paul’s book will convince any woman that she, too, is destined for a life of epic adventure—whether it’s in the woods or in the boardroom.