Being brave isn’t always perfect

by Audrey Hertel

It’s 2007. 7-year-old me raises my hand in first grade math, confident that I have the right answer. Yet, I lower my hand in fear that I may be wrong. I sit and ponder in silence, “Why is it that as a young girl I am afraid to be wrong, afraid to make mistakes? Why is it that boys can blurt out the wrong answer without batting an eye?” Just kidding. As a first grader, my biggest worry was if my mom packed my Go-Gurt in my lunch.

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From a young age, girls and boys are encouraged to act differently. However, being perfect isn’t always the perfect option. 
Editorial cartoon by sofyherrera

When I was in grade school, the girls were the teacher’s favorites, obviously. That may be because 7-year-old girls are much more mature than 7-year-old boys. Apparently, boys don’t reach their maturity level until they’re 26, but that’s besides the point.

The boys in my class sat in the back of the room, made paper airplanes and threw pencils at the ceiling. But the girls remained front and center with their hands folded, eyes wide and mouths shut. Were they doing this because they actually wanted to learn? Or just to please their teacher and hear the words, “Thank you for being perfect, girls”?

The boys would mess around only to hear the teacher say, “Boys, please settle down.” When the girls would misbehave or giggle, they would immediately stop when they heard, “That’s not how young ladies are to behave, is it?”

Looking back, I realize that as first graders, we were being programmed to be perfect. We were being taught not to be brave or make mistakes because when we did so, we were told that we should know better.


This “perfection programming” stays with us our entire lives.

Think about how many times you have raised your hand to answer a question and started your response with, “This is probably wrong but…” or if you were showing something you made to someone and said, “This is terrible but here it is…”

Now how many times have you heard a boy say that?

The reason that girls do this is because we are taught from a young age that we have to be perfect, and when we don’t get the opportunity to do so, we self-deprecate. We consider our work and knowledge to be worthless, when in fact we should be proud of the things we accomplish.

We shouldn’t be afraid when sharing our creations or opinions with others. We shouldn’t hold back because when we don’t, amazing things can happen.

Could you imagine if Malala Yousafzai wouldn’t have been brave enough to stand up for girls? If Rosa Parks would have moved out of her seat? If Dorothy Vaughn was too scared to work for N.A.S.A.?

All of these women had many obstacles that they had to overcome, but they did so without being perfect. They were brave. They didn’t let “perfection programming” alter them.

None of us should let it change us either.

Ignore everything that you were programmed to do at a young age. Raise your hand. Confidently answer the question. Don’t self-deprecate. Have opinions and share them with everyone else. Take risks without fear of not being perfect. Chase your dreams.

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another steppingstone to greatness.”

2 responses to “Being brave isn’t always perfect

  1. Audrey,

    I love this piece, especially your references to Malala and Rosa Parks. I have heard the “I am probably wrong…” come out of my students’ mouths before. I want them to know that they should not second guess their ideas and answers. Back up what you say with evidence and be confident!

    Thanks for your passion and your spark!

    🙂 Mrs. Bauman


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