Barbara Morgan: Allow girls to take risks

Women are just as brave and courageous as men, teacher and astronaut Barbara Morgan said, so it’s important for teachers and parents to support girls who are willing to take risks.

And adults need to be careful about pressuring children to fulfill traditional roles or behaviors.

“Don’t risk everything, because there are foolish risks,” Morgan said Friday at a conference at Boise State University. “Go after those things that are important to you and risk being the person that can make it happen.”

Morgan addressed several hundred women and a few men Friday morning at “Transforming America: Women and Leadership in the 21st Century,” a conference sponsored by the Andrus Center for Public Policy  at BSU. Morgan was among 18 national and locally recognized female leaders, entrepreneurs, writers and politicians speaking at the two-day conference. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke on Thursday.

Barbara MorganMorgan talked about the calm, cool and collected manner that female astronauts have while experiencing frightening and challenging moments. She named five female astronauts she knew well who died while doing their jobs.

“I’ve been there, coming through the heat of re-entry from space and the women were as collected as the rest of the brave crew,” Morgan said. “In my career, physically and psychologically, there is no difference.”

But, she pointed out, she saw differences in boys and girls when she was an elementary teacher in McCall.

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“Young boys take far more risks than girls, not only outside but in the classroom, too — boys are more willing to venture a guess or have wild ideas,” Morgan said. “Risk-taking comes easier or more natural for boys and they can be wrong again and again and it’s OK. Girls will sit quietly with the right answer.”

Morgan led a conversation with nationally recognized author Anne Taylor Fleming and took questions from the audience about how parents and teachers can encourage girls to take reasonable risks.

“I love the idea of encouraging girls to take more physical risks, such as in sports, and starting girls earlier,” Morgan said. She said she was told to stop swimming in the fifth grade because her shoulders were getting too big to fit into her dresses. The woman who has spent hundreds of hours in space has since taken up swimming again, she said with a smile.

“There is such pressure to conform and girls are raised to be good and proper — that’s not bad, but it discourages risk-taking,” Morgan said.

Taylor Fleming agreed. “Courage is very contagious.’’

Morgan said she remembers being encouraged to be a dental hygienist because it’s a great backup career if a marriage doesn’t work. “Dad joked that he had four sons yet it was his daughter who wanted to study science.”