Girls Are Tough… If Parents Allow Them To Be

“I was one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department. For more than a dozen years, I worked on a busy rig in a tough neighborhood where rundown houses caught fire easily and gangs fought with machetes and .22s…I expected people to question whether I had the physical ability to do the job… What I didn’t expect was the question I heard more than any other: ‘Aren’t you scared?’ Apparently, fear is expected of women.” C. Paul, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Women firefighters NYC.

Women firefighters NYC.

Excerpt: Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared? By Caroline Paul, NYT

“…It was strange — and insulting — to have my courage doubted. I never heard my male colleagues asked this…This fear conditioning begins early. Many studies have shown that physical activity — sports, hiking, playing outdoors — is tied to girls’ self-esteem. And yet girls are often warned away from doing anything that involves a hint of risk…I spoke recently to a friend who admitted that she cautioned her daughter much more than her son. ‘But she’s very klutzy,’ the mom explained.

The Iron Workers union has many female members.

The Iron Workers union has many female members.

I wondered, wasn’t there a way even a klutzy child could take risks? My friend agreed there might be, but only halfheartedly, and I could see on her face that maternal instinct was sparring with feminism, and feminism was losing. I had been a klutzy child, too. I was also shy, and scared of many things: big kids, whatever might be under my bed at night, school. But I pored over National Geographic and Harriet the Spy. I knew all about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table, who wandered the countryside swearing oaths of bravery and honor. None of these characters talked about fear. They talked about courage, exploration and exciting deeds. 

Female boxers.

Female boxers.

So I biked down a steep country road (and hit a car). I sledded down an icy hill (and hit a tree). I don’t remember my parents freaking out; they seemed to understand that mishaps were part of childhood. I got a few stitches, and kept biking and sledding…

Women in combat.

Women in combat.

Nobody is saying that injuries are good, or that girls should be reckless. But risk taking is important… Fear becomes a go-to feminine trait, something girls are expected to feel and express at will… We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. When I worked as a firefighter, I was often scared. Of course I was. So were the men. But fear wasn’t a reason to quit. I put my fear where it belonged, behind my feelings of focus, confidence and courage. Then I headed, with my crew, into the burning building.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced

Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.

Time: Approximately 2 hours.

Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.

Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Using a Pre-reading Organizer

Directions:  Ask students to examine the title of the post and of the actual article they are about to read. Then, have them  examine the photos. Ask students to write a paragraph describing what they think this article will discuss. Students can use a Pre-reading organizer for assistance.

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann

Pre-reading chart by J. Swann


II. While Reading Tasks

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. It was an insulting remark.
  2. Many of these activities  build self-esteem.
  3. Parents caution their daughters more than their sons.
  4. Her face  showed  the maternal instinct.
  5. I had been a klutzy child.
  6. They talked about courage and exploration.
  7. Mishaps were part of childhood.
  8. With each triumph over fear I gained confidence.
  9. I had been  discouraged from having adventures.
  10. My mom is an outlier

vocab Freeology

Reading Comprehension

True /False/NA-Statements

Directions: Review the following statements from the reading.  If  a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is  not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they  mark  it F and provide the correct answer. 

  1. According to the author fear conditioning begins late in life.
  2. Studies have shown that  sports, hiking, and playing outdoors is tied to girls’ self-esteem.
  3. Only dads teach their sons to face their fears.
  4. Boys can be taught to fear things.
  5. The author states that she had been a klutzy child.
  6. The author is teaching her daughter to be courageous.
  7. According to one report girls may be more  likely than boys to try challenging physical activities.
  8. The author states that when a girl reaches adulthood it’s too late to teach her empowerment.
  9. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult.
  10. The author  was a police officer.

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.


  1. We must chuck the insidious language of fear.
  2. When girls become woman, this fear manifests in timid decision making.
  3. Parents caution their daughters more than their sons.


  1. I was been a klutzy child.
  2. I was also shy and scared of many things.
  3. I knew all about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table.


  1. Nobody is saying that injuries  is good.
  2. We are failing to prepare them for life.
  3. Fear wasn’t a reason to quit.

III. Post Reading Tasks

Directions:  Have students use this advanced organizer from Write Design to assist them with  discussing  or writing about  the main idea and points from the article.

Main idea chart By Write Design

Main idea chart By Write Design


Discussion/Writing Exercise

Directions: Place students in groups and have them review  the following topics. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the discussion topics.

1. We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous. And it’s not cute when a 10-year-old girl screeches, I’m too scared.”

2. Have group members choose one woman that they admire  and share with the class the reasons why they chose this woman.

1-Minute Free Writing Exercise

Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading.  Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.


Category: Culture