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Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Thinking about Barbara

Girls can do anything, part two.

Barbara Schuman was the brightest kid in the neighborhood. She excelled in school, could throw a ball as far as any boy, climb a tree, run like the wind, and was prettier than a picture. Barbara believed that everything was possible. The cloud of socialization had not yet consumed her, telling her what she could and couldn’t be. As she grew older she was no longer merely a tomboy; she became an anomaly, an aberration of what was consider feminine.

Last week I wrote some thoughts prompted by a remark by a Boy Scout leader who said, “Girls don’t go backpacking — they make bracelets.” My column found its way to San Angelo, Texas, prompting a response from Carolyn Mioduski, a leader in Girl Scout Troop 5039.

“My Scouts can read a compass,” she wrote in an email. “We hike. We cook out. We explore. We work on badges that require real Scout skills. And, we’ve never made a bracelet, arranged flowers, braided hair, or experimented with make-up.”


As the girls of Troop 5039 experience physicality, adventure and daring, they will foster self-assurance and confidence, and elicit a greater sense of self in shaping their identity. Their ranks will produce women who will break gender barriers.

Sherrie Inness, author of “Tough Girls,” asserts that girls who are exposed to roles associated with typical male physicality are prone to take greater control of their own destinies and imagine themselves departing from traditional gender roles.

Since I’ve been blessed with two daughters, I’ve become emphatic in my assertion that physical skill development is as essential for the overall actualization of emerging young women as it is for boys.

One of my favorite adventure stories, “Annapurna: A Women’s Place,” by Arlene Blum, is an account of the 1978 Woman’s Expedition to the Himalayas of Nepal and the subsequent ascent of Annapurna I. This is a must-read for any young girl. The expedition’s accomplishment had a positive impact for women around the world and changed perceptions about women’s abilities. Conquering the mountain is incidental to developing the soul, thus Annapurna is a metaphor for achievement.


Blum asserts, “Striving to achieve such objectives draws on all of our abilities and brings out the best in us. There are still many ‘Annapurna’s’ to be climbed in the world — such as protecting our natural environment; decreasing the gap between rich and poor; providing basic necessities for everyone on this planet; and raising our children to live with love and good values.” Her implication is that physicality in women builds confidence and becomes a catalyst that advances women — and consequently, society.

In his book, “Iron John,” Robert Bly says, “Boys need physical challenge to successfully navigate adolescence.” Girls do too.

A few weeks ago I accompanied the Girl Scouts of Troop 889 on their third backpacking adventure. Throughout, they were engrossed in life lessons disguised as streams, campfires, snakes and bears. A continuation of such opportunity will build confidence and security in the contention that “girls can do anything.”

Let me finish my story about Barbara. Barbara became enthralled by the challenge of climbing. She and I would climb the dangerous precipices of Coogan’s Bluff along the Hudson River. The adults scoffed at her dream to climb Mt. Everest, and reminded her that young girls should not dream of such foolishness. In college she began to believe those cynical adults and her passion for life and adventure subsided. Her positive addictions atrophied so she turned to the drug culture of the ’60s to fill the void. Barbara would never climb Everest. She died a young death.

I became a climber and took her memory with me to many summits. Often, I’d sit at the top and wonder what her life could have been.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at