We teach girls to think of others' needs first, be safe, and smile prettily. Meanwhile, we cheer our sons as they jump headfirst off the monkey bars or indulge them with "boys will be boys" when they run screaming through crowds waving sticks. Unsurprisingly, girls learn that risk, failure, and others' displeasure are terrifying. Boys learn to be daring and self-focused.
There's no extra credit for guessing which outlook translates better to achieving great things.
Risk and failure are part and parcel of any big accomplishment, Saujani insists. So when we teach girls to be perfect and selfless, we make it harder for them to climb professionally -- and we deprive the world of the incredible contributions they'd make if they were braver.
What do you do if you're a parent and Saujani's argument rings true for you? Given that most parents wish only the best for their daughters and fall into this pattern of behavior unconsciously, how do you break out of it?
That's the subject of much of Under Pressure by psychologist Lisa Damour. The new book outlines the many ways the world can hold women back and offers practical tips for how parents to prepare their girls to bust through these barriers. UC Berkeley's Science Center recently rounded up a few.
1. Think carefully about what you pressure your daughter to do.
Yes, all of us have to do plenty of things we don't want to in life, but we do those things for good reasons. We put up with the bad parts of our jobs because they're outweighed by the rewards. We visit an ailing relative because it's the kind, if not the pleasant, thing to do.
But be careful about how often you pressure your daughter to do things she doesn't want to do and make sure the rationale for the request is sound. Otherwise, you risk teaching her that she doesn't have the right to say no to others' requests.
"Our daughters shouldn't agree to do many of the optional things that make them unhappy, and we shouldn't miss out on opportunities to help them become skilled at saying no," writes Damour.
2. Point out double standards
A boatload of research and even more personal experience points to the fact that women face many annoying double standards. One of the most irritating and prevalent says that assertive men are admirable while assertive women are grating, even bitchy.
Prepare your daughter for this dynamic by pointing it out and highlighting its unfairness when you see it in action. (Sadly, the world will provide ample opportunities). Letting them know what they're up against will help them think through the right ways to respond.
3. Don't tell your daughter to speak like a boy.
Lots of well-meaning advocates advise women to speak more like men to get ahead -- use fewer exclamation points in emails, stop saying 'I'm sorry' so much, etc. The intentions are good but the underlying lesson is bad.
Asking "girls to change the way they speak adds to the cultural assumption that the way men speak is 'right' and the way women speak is 'wrong.' Instead, says Damour, we should honor the way girls use language to show empathy and concern for others' feelings, and to show humility and grace when they are wrong," Greater Good sums up.
4. Let you daughter get angry.
Both men and women get angry, of course, but women are often judged much more harshly for their negative emotions, leading to either anxiety or a sense they must repress these feelings. While encouraging healthy ways to deal with difficult emotions is a great thing, don't fall into the trap of outright dismissing your daughter's anger.
"Often, we're sitting at dinner on a weeknight when one of my girls gripes about a classmate or a teacher. At these times, I can be quick to minimize or dismiss her complaint with, 'Well, that kid probably has something hard going on. Your job is to be kind.' Or 'I'm sure your teacher is very busy,'" Damour relates. Kindness is wonderful but it should start with compassion for yourself, including all your difficult feelings.
5. Make sure she knows it's not her job to look pretty all the time.
Dressing up in nice clothes and putting on makeup can be fun and empowering, but no girl should feel obliged to be pretty all the time to please others. Nor should anyone think their value as a person resides is how they look. And that's just what our culture often teaches girls with seriously harmful effects.
"This preoccupation with looks can undermine girls' confidence. For example, one study showed that commenting on a young woman's appearance hurt her cognitive performance," reports Greater Good.
What should you do about it? Besides pointing out examples of this harmful message in action (for instance, political coverage that focuses on a female candidate's wardrobe rather than her policies), parents should "showcase what is great about their daughter's intelligence, sense of humor, creativity, leadership, or other inner qualities," says Damour.