To raise brave girls, encourage adventure | Caroline Paul

When I was a kid, I was obsessed
with the Guinness Book of World Records, and I really wanted
to set a world record myself. But there was just one small problem: I had absolutely no talent. So I decided to set
a world record in something that demanded absolutely no skill at all. I decided to set a world record in crawling. (Laughter) Now, the record at the time
was 12 and a half miles, and for some reason,
this seemed totally manageable. (Laughter) I recruited my friend Anne, and together we decided,
we didn’t even need to train. (Laughter) And on the day of our record attempt, we put furniture pads
on the outside of our good luck jeans and we set off, and right away, we were in trouble, because the denim was against our skin and it began to chafe, and soon our knees were being chewed up. Hours in, it began to rain. Then, Anne dropped out. Then, it got dark. Now, by now, my knees
were bleeding through my jeans, and I was hallucinating from the cold and the pain and the monotony. And to give you an idea
of the suffer-fest that I was undergoing, the first lap around
the high school track took 10 minutes. The last lap took almost 30. After 12 hours of crawling, I stopped, and I had gone eight and a half miles. So I was short of
the 12-and-a-half-mile record. Now, for many years, I thought
this was a story of abject failure, but today I see it differently, because when I was
attempting the world record, I was doing three things. I was getting outside my comfort zone, I was calling upon my resilience, and I was finding confidence in myself and my own decisions. I didn’t know it then, but those are not
the attributes of failure. Those are the attributes of bravery. Now, in 1989, at the age of 26, I became a San Francisco firefighter, and I was the 15th woman
in a department of 1,500 men. (Applause) And as you can imagine, when I arrived there were many doubts
about whether we could do the job. So even though I was a 5’10”,
150-pound collegiate rower, and someone who could endure
12 hours of searing knee pain — (Laughter) I knew I still had to prove
my strength and fitness. So one day a call came in for a fire, and sure enough,
when my engine group pulled up, there was black smoke billowing
from a building off an alleyway. And I was with a big guy named Skip, and he was on the nozzle,
and I was right behind, and it was a typical sort of fire. It was smoky, it was hot, and all of a sudden, there was an explosion, and Skip and I were blown backwards, my mask was knocked sideways, and there was this moment of confusion. And then I picked myself up, I groped for the nozzle, and I did what a firefighter
was supposed to do: I lunged forward, opened up the water and I tackled the fire myself. The explosion had been caused
by a water heater, so nobody was hurt,
and ultimately it was not a big deal, but later Skip came up to me and said, “Nice job, Caroline,” in this surprised sort of voice. (Laughter) And I was confused, because
the fire hadn’t been difficult physically, so why was he looking at me
with something like astonishment? And then it became clear: Skip, who was by the way a really nice guy and an excellent firefighter, not only thought
that women could not be strong, he thought that they
could not be brave either. And he wasn’t the only one. Friends, acquaintances and strangers, men and women throughout my career ask me over and over, “Caroline, all that fire, all that danger, aren’t you scared?” Honestly, I never heard
a male firefighter asked this. And I became curious. Why wasn’t bravery expected of women? Now, the answer began to come when a friend of mine lamented to me that her young daughter
was a big scaredy-cat, and so I began to notice, and yes, the daughter was anxious, but more than that,
the parents were anxious. Most of what they said to her
when she was outside began with, “Be careful,” “Watch out,” or “No.” Now, my friends were not bad parents. They were just doing what most parents do, which is cautioning their daughters
much more than they caution their sons. There was a study involving
a playground fire pole, ironically, in which researchers saw that little girls
were very likely to be warned by both their moms and dads
about the fire pole’s risk, and if the little girls
still wanted to play on the fire pole, a parent was very likely to assist her. But the little boys? They were encouraged
to play on the fire pole despite any trepidations
that they might have, and often the parents offered
guidance on how to use it on their own. So what message does this send
to both boys and girls? Well, that girls are fragile
and more in need of help, and that boys can and should
master difficult tasks by themselves. It says that girls should be fearful and boys should be gutsy. Now, the irony is that at this young age, girls and boys are actually
very alike physically. In fact, girls are often
stronger until puberty, and more mature. And yet we adults act as if girls are more fragile and more in need of help, and they can’t handle as much. This is the message
that we absorb as kids, and this is the message
that fully permeates as we grow up. We women believe it, men believe it, and guess what? As we become parents,
we pass it on to our children, and so it goes. Well, so now I had my answer. This is why women, even firewomen, were expected to be scared. This is why women often are scared. Now, I know some of you
won’t believe me when I tell you this, but I am not against fear. I know it’s an important emotion,
and it’s there to keep us safe. But the problem is
when fear is the primary reaction that we teach and encourage in girls whenever they face something
outside their comfort zone. So I was a paraglider pilot
for many years — (Applause) and a paraglider is a parachute-like wing, and it does fly very well, but to many people I realize
it looks just like a bedsheet with strings attached. (Laughter) And I spent a lot of time on mountaintops inflating this bedsheet, running off and flying. And I know what you’re thinking. You’re like, Caroline,
a little fear would make sense here. And you’re right, it does. I assure you, I did feel fear. But on that mountaintop, waiting for the wind
to come in just right, I felt so many other things, too: exhilaration, confidence. I knew I was a good pilot. I knew the conditions were good,
or I wouldn’t be there. I knew how great it was going to be
a thousand feet in the air. So yes, fear was there, but I would take a good hard look at it, assess just how relevant it was and then put it where it belonged, which was more often than not behind my exhilaration, my anticipation and my confidence. So I’m not against fear. I’m just pro-bravery. Now, I’m not saying
your girls must be firefighters or that they should be paragliders, but I am saying that we are raising
our girls to be timid, even helpless, and it begins when we caution them
against physical risk. The fear we learn
and the experiences we don’t stay with us as we become women and morphs into all those things
that we face and try to shed: our hesitation in speaking out, our deference so that we can be liked and our lack of confidence
in our own decisions. So how do we become brave? Well, here’s the good news. Bravery is learned, and like anything learned, it just needs to be practiced. So first, we have to take a deep breath and encourage our girls to skateboard, climb trees and clamber around
on that playground fire pole. This is what my own mother did. She didn’t know it then, but researchers have a name for this. They call it risky play, and studies show that risky play
is really important for kids, all kids, because it teaches hazard assessment, it teaches delayed gratification, it teaches resilience, it teaches confidence. In other words, when kids get outside
and practice bravery, they learn valuable life lessons. Second, we have to stop
cautioning our girls willy-nilly. So notice next time you say, “Watch out, you’re going to get hurt,” or, “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.” And remember that often
what you’re really telling her is that she shouldn’t be pushing herself, that she’s really not good enough, that she should be afraid. Third, we women have to start
practicing bravery, too. We cannot teach our girls
until we teach ourselves. So here’s another thing: fear and exhilaration feel very similar — the shaky hands,
the heightened heart rate, the nervous tension, and I’m betting that for many of you the last time you thought
you were scared out of your wits, you may have been feeling
mostly exhilaration, and now you’ve missed an opportunity. So practice. And while girls should be getting
outside to learn to be gutsy, I get that adults don’t want
to get on hoverboards or climb trees, so we all should be practicing at home, in the office and even right here getting up the guts to talk to someone that you really admire. Finally, when your girl is, let’s say, on her bike on the top of the steep hill that she insists
she’s too scared to go down, guide her to access her bravery. Ultimately, maybe that hill
really is too steep, but she’ll come to that conclusion
through courage, not fear. Because this is not
about the steep hill in front of her. This is about the life ahead of her and that she has the tools to handle and assess all the dangers
that we cannot protect her from, all the challenges that we won’t
be there to guide her through, everything that our girls here and around the world face in their future. So by the way, the world record for crawling today — (Laughter) is 35.18 miles, and I would really love
to see a girl go break that. (Applause)

98 thoughts on “To raise brave girls, encourage adventure | Caroline Paul

  1. Why ted talk now only talk about touchy feely subject… I used to like ted talk, now its just stupid subject treated like they are important or interesting .. sighh

  2. Do we have any comments that aren't complaining about how many people don't like this video?
    Does anyone have anything useful to say about the video whether you like it or not?

  3. The definition of Feminism is EQUAL treatment of the sexes. Not "balancing perceived injustice with further intentional injustice in the other direction."

  4. Great advice. I see girls/women as totally my equal and recognize, that we each have our individual roles to play according to the dictates of Mother Nature, but that does not change the equality. Just like some boys/men are not less, because they don`t want to assert themselves with some kind of physical conquest. Yes, emotional feelings are to a great extent the result of one`s upbringing, even though we may have natural disposisitons to lean either way. Bravery and fear are like heroism and cowardice gender neutral qualities. Thanks Caroline for a very educational talk, as we usually get on TED.

  5. I have to be honest: i only clicked on the video to see how many people would dislike something just because it has 'brave girls' in the title :I

  6. This is truly a well talk, not some feminist BS. Thanks for the inspiration! I hope many people will listen to your words. I hope these ideas will spread.

  7. Random; I couldn't figure out for the life of me who you reminded me of. Then I realized you look so much like my favorite Baywatch actress. I had to google. I see now you ladies are twins…and that I'm not crazy, lol! Wonderful message on this talk!!!!!

  8. I lost my patience with TED lately. can somebody who watched it tell me if it is about teaching girls to suck as many dicks as possible and try all holes? I will give it an upvote if that's the case.

  9. Good for her. It would be nice to see more women taking part in traditionally male activities I have both a son and daughter. I've spent more time trying to encourage and get my daughter to try to challenge herself than my son. It just so happens that from day one, my son has always been physically tough and enjoys rougher games and taking risks. Conversely, my daughter has always been more risk averse. That's just their inate characters. Everyone's different but on average men have a greater desire and physical aptitude for things like firefighting, whether girls and women are encouraged or not. Give all individuals the encouragement and choice to do what they want but don't expect or force parity in certain fields.

  10. people think I'm insane and really brave for travelling alone, and they think it's a scary thing for a girl. It's true, we girls do have to watch our backs, but that's everywhere, I feel if girls only knew it takes only common sense and a bit of motivation to travel alone, that it's not a big deal. Most girls including friends and my family, want to wait for their partner to go with their partner or they won't travel. Many times, they make up excuses saying they don't have money or time, and then as soon as they get a partner, all of a sudden, they've got both. I don't think travelling alone is for everyone, in fact, if you have a great travel partner, of-course you'd be happy to go with them, but I'm sick of girls waiting for that "someone" in order to go ahead and go on an adventure. Or people thinking travelling alone should be a last option, when it could be one of the most rewarding and learning experience of your life. That's just my two cents.

  11. there is just a fine line between bravery and stupidity…she means well but its sometimes ok to say no

  12. Egotistical, female centered, feminist bullshit. Rather than addressing all children you pick the half you belong to? It's like fixing anorexia with obesity.

  13. Hmmm… protective attitudes breed caution. I extrapolate the following: From an evolutionary standpoint, women are the critical limiting factor in reproduction. Therefore, women are less expendable than men. Therefore, we are more protective of women starting from a very young age. Therefore, women learn to not be brave relative to men. Therefore, women are expected to not be brave relative to men.

  14. Why girls? Why not kids? If it would have been brave BOYS you would have seen a wave a feminist just arguing about the fact that its always about men. Now that its a girl its ok now? I would have needed that kind of video to see when i was a young boy too. So ill ask again. Why not just KIDS.

  15. Hold on, since when is being scared the problem? Isn't the problem reacting badly after being scared? In other words, the key is dealing with being scared, analyzing the fear, not letting it paralyze you and cause you to make bad decisions.

    Also isn't one of the major differences between men and women across time and across cultures, that men are much more likely to take greater risks than women and get hurt and die far more often as a result of risk taking behaviors?

  16. I really appreciate this talk. Very professional and fair. So glad it wasn't a pity party women talk. Thank you.

  17. Who needs brave women? What purpose do they serve? Other than to perpetuate the nonsensical idea that women and men are made equally, therefore capable of the same jobs/tasks. Only outliers can even come close, outliers are not to be used as an example for the average woman. Cry patriarchy, cry social construct all you want, there is no denying nature & reality. We need fewer women trying to be subpar men, more women utilizing & embracing the strengths only women posses.

  18. does testosterone or estrogen level affect fear based thrill seeking desires? if so could these differences have affexted the conditioning that girls are fragile and boys are expected to be sturdy?

  19. Some people don't liket aking risks though. I'm not a girl, and I can't climb, can't skate, and the only adventures I enjoy are those involving a lot of many-sided dice and a DM with a stack of rule books.

  20. It seems all women can doom TED is try to improve women's lives, and blame men for their problems. Imagine a male scientist giving a talk about how to get only boys interested in science. He will probably be hanged.

  21. awesome…..some lesbian telling everyone with common sense to ignore biology. When are you retards going to realize boys/men and girls/women are wired differently by nature.

  22. Enjoyed this very much. It's not just parents of girls who are overprotective thought (I fully appreciate that's off-topic). Any bravery I have was mainly self-taught … with a little help from my old military instructors. Thanks guys ;-/

  23. Nowadays, parents wouldn't risk with their children's life. They warn them and say !Be careful! because they know that this world is getting worse and worse everyday. And also playing in the risky area is dangerous and risky)) what will they do if smth happens?! In my opinion, to be brave for the women mean smth other. For instance, in my country, if you have more than 3-4 children, it means that you took a risk and tries to do your best and show all your best as mother. It is my sudden idea and opinion, so if I think a little bit more, I can give you a thought-out idea or smth worth.

  24. thought this was gonna be another divisive men vs women talk, but its pretty good. can be targetted just as well towards anybody. she's giving constructive criticism instead of blaming someone for her problems.

  25. Why I never had friends who were girls, generally, those surrounding were always boring and afraid of everything. It only depends on the parents if the soul is weak and programmable. She/he will do as they wish despite having fearful parents if they grow up knowing who they are within. If they grow up thinking they need permission from everyone, well, good luck reprogramming. We don't need more followers and people wearing blinders, afraid of truth, we need more pointing the obvious to those so afraid, showing all of society they've been made to be afraid of that which they shouldn't by parents(the government), both sexes, still as adults. I meet men just as afraid as little girls, it just depends on which parents your talking about and which situations.

  26. Why is anyone saying that she blamed men? She didn't blame anybody. It's a societal issue and she's simply asking for everyone to pitch in to change it.

  27. well said. It is never about men vs women. It is always about fear vs bravery. And she really presents that point of view in a great way.

  28. As a tomboy, I was always out exploring with our town's mongrel pack. I was the only girl in the group and often had to make myself an authority just to not seem like a tagalong.

  29. At 3:10 forward. "At 5'10" and a collegiate rower, I still had to prove my strength and fitness." She assumes this is because she is a woman. If she was a man, at the same or even larger proportions, she would still have to prove her mettle. Men don't do that to just women, they do it to other men as well! And in professions like fire-fighting, it is a matter of survival. When will women stop feeling like a victim when they are subject same standards as men?

    And why is it that when a big guy named Skip says "Nice job Caroline." that it is seen as some sort of anti-female rhetoric? It is a man's way of saying "you are now accepted." A man would not be insulted as she was, but would take it as affirmation. She has no business presuming Skip's motivation on the scandalously subjective evidence that she provides.

    How ironic then, that she would go on to lament that parents are raising risk avoidant girls. Doesn't the point of this talk justify Skip's reaction?

  30. my friend used to employ women then ask them to remove their clothes and dance naked for him in the office, this was before equality laws came about

  31. I love this woman. She looks confident and mentally physically strong. She doesn't crticize men or blame them. She just talks about our attitude and prejudice including men and women.

  32. Caroline Paul is a lesbian. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. However, gay women have a different brains to straight women. They tend to think and act more like men, and this explains why they are constantly frustrated with their straight counterparts' lack of enthusiasm for competing head-to-head with men. It also explains why so many furious feminists are gay, and why so many straight women have been turned off from feminism by them. They are two sets of women who think fundamentally differently. Unfortunately, the gay feminists refuse to accept this really quite self apparent state of affairs, and instead blame straight women's apparent lack of willingness to be more like men on a mysterious patriarchy, and on girls being brainwashed at an early age. I have two children – a girl and a boy – and anyone who''s been in that privileged position understands that the genders really do think very differently despite any perceived social 'brainwashing'. It certainly came as a surprise to me quite how marked the differences are. It would be interesting to see how many of these 'gutsy girls' are lesbiens. My guess is a large percentage of them.

  33. its weird that women aren't the dominant race… much more thorough, thought-out and calm…though that alternative universe would probs be much much different and maybe even much much worse

  34. I thought she was a doppelganger of Alexandra Paul who starred on Baywatch along side David Hasselholf, in the 90s. Turns out she's actually Alexandra's twin sister!

  35. I'm a bachelor, and I enjoyed this talk very much. Although I don't know what the future holds, I've always looked forward to raising a capable, smart, adventurous, imaginative daughter. Thank you.

  36. Great speech. Gender inequality starts whenever you tell a little girl to be afraid of something while telling the little boy to go for it no matter the danger.

  37. and let the get raped by those hordes maraudering through Europe right now. Good idea. (No, I haven't even watched the video)

  38. It's revealing that at this point, 20% of the responses are negative to a talk on encouraging bravery in girls and women. Isn't that awful! We should be ashamed.

  39. #FreeAmerica

  40. #WeAreChange

  41. Incredible woman, she's so inspirational and confident, an example for every human being, male and female.

  42. im an Indian and my dad has taught me to be independent and on my own in every little and big aspect of life as against my mom.

    i am so proud and happy , and also can observe the cultural gap in bringing up girls in India and in the US

  43. BS any man on the first day would be under scrutiny also and a commander would act surprised at a show of bravery so she was not singled out having said that my daughter is encouraged to do anything she might want to try

  44. That's why we have a world of helpless women (mothers) whose entire focus was on being the perfect woman (or mother).

  45. I can't believe you actually started with 'skateboard' as you listed the brave things we should encourage our girls to do, if they like..super blessed, started skateboarding with my own daughter and only child when I was twenty-six.:)
    So rad trying, giving ourselves the chance, to be brave!

  46. So that's why in the movie Marty McFly stole the little girls hoverboard that had a handle, handle represents a support, not brave enough. Even tough Marty fell down on the hoverboard, he kept going until he got the hang of it aka brave. I guess girls are raised to be chickens.

  47. I think the world is still an unfriendly place for girls/women that parents are worried and try to be protective. But sometimes I think instead of asking girls/women to avoid situations like this they should try to teach them to deal the situation and even know how to fight back instead of hide away.

  48. I love this. I was raised with the freedom to be brave despite my mother was very anxious but she wanted different for me. I'm now a rock climber who loves adventure and solo travel now about to raise my own daughter. I'll be raising her to be a brave woman as well.

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