When I watched Reshma Saujani’s interview on Fox Business’s The Maria Bartiromo Show about her book, Brave, Not Perfect, I felt inspired by what she was saying about this movement against sexism. So I decided to buy the book. Imagine my surprise when I realized I already owned one of her books, Girls Who Code, and had thought that it would be bad because my grandma got it for me and she generally still thinks I’m five years old. (For the record, it’s an excellent book and I’ll be reviewing it in short order!)
Brave, Not Perfect discusses how girls are pressured to be perfect from birth; upon entering kindergarten to grade school and all the way through to their careers, this pressure continues. The book includes real women’s stories about how they felt forced to be perfect, and likewise, stories from women who were brave instead of succumbing to this perfectionism “cult” we have created in our society. Girls are told to not speak their minds and are programmed to think they have to be liked, look pretty, and get stellar grades in school. Girls, she explains through a series of stunning statistics and anecdotes, are more likely than boys to say “yes” to doing favors and to requests even when they need or want to say “no.” Girls and women, more often than boys and men, think that once everything is perfect in their lives then they’ll be happy. They tend to steer away from taking on challenges because they think that if they won’t be exactly perfect at it, they will fail. In school, girls almost always take negative feedback personally, thinking that it means there is something wrong with them. Their parents also give them more assistance than they give their sons, which sounds great, but in actuality, it harms girls because they are not empowered to do things on their own. Saujani states, “Perfection can ruin a really good thing. Instead of allowing us to see everything we did right, it demands that we hyperfocus on the one thing that wasn’t 100 percent.”
This programming of their minds then influences them throughout life, including the work-world. For example, “…men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications.” Steering away from challenges because they think that they will fail if they aren’t perfect also applies to taking on jobs, like management positions, which is a huge reason why there are more male leaders than female ones.
It may not shock you to learn that women think that they always have to look flawless, too. According to the book, 80-89 percent of women are not happy with their weight, ten million women in the U.S. have eating disorders, and shockingly, 81 percent of 10-year-old girls worry that they are overweight! Saujani explains that women think that if they look perfect (perfect makeup, perfect clothes, etc.), this perfection serves as a shield that will protect them from criticism and bad judgement.
Boys, on the other hand, are the opposite. They’re told to speak up and try again if they fail, and are not encouraged to be liked, to please others, or to get perfect grades.
So in general, boys are taught to be brave, and in contrast, girls are taught to be perfect.
This sexism has been going on for generations. The book even indicates that “…gender marketing of toys is even more pronounced today than 50 years ago…” which I had a hard time believing at first! I was also shocked upon reading that when ABC News did an experiment and gave girls and boys disgusting lemonade with salt in it, the boys spit it out and called it gross, but the girls drank it without complaint.
This shocks and saddens me at the same time!
This book then talks about how to choose the path to bravery instead of perfection. Saujani explains in detail the strategies to building a “bravery mindset.” Mindset, she says, determines everything.
All in all, I loved this book. It’s an easy to read page-turner that will make you think long and hard about the way things are now and the way things should be in the future. If you’re like me, it will also make you want to fight for change.
While I think this book is good for kids and their parents, parents should be aware that it has some four-letter words in it. Thus, Brave, Not Perfect might be more suitable for younger teens and up, in my own 13-year-old point of view. However, I felt like the questionable language was necessary to get Saujani’s point across; it wasn’t what I would call gratuitous or put there for shock value.
I highly recommend this book and it is a definite must read.