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Why Girls Are in Danger of Becoming Second Class Citizens and Why We Need to Act Now

15/04/2015 17:31 BST | Updated 15/06/2015 10:59 BST

It's not easy being a teenage girl in 2015. In fact I'd describe it as a bit like walking a tight rope without a safety net.

Younger and younger girls are being sexualised in adverts, in music, on social media. But rather than being liberating it's breeding an inequality that's anything but empowering. It's putting girls in a box. That box is unfortunately labelled slag or slut. It's a horrible, sexist double standard but it's rife.

One one hand girls are told it is good to be grown up and sexier than ever, then punished and called vile names such as whore and slags when they are. It seems to me the whole idea of girl power and equality is being replaced by a fake equality.

Instead of turning out a generation of strong, happy, confident young women who feel equal in society to men, we are in danger of turning out girls crippled with low self esteem and believing that men are ultimately in charge of them.

Talking to lots of people who work directly with young people made me realise there was a problem. But it was this statistic by the charity End Violence Against Women that got me writing. The charity reports: one in three school girls believe it is okay sometimes to hit a woman or to force her to have sex. Two in three boys think that's absolutely fine too.

Other children's charities report that demands by (mainly) boys to girls to send them sexts, naked or sexy pics of themselves, is seen as the 'norm' by girls now. Lyrics in many rap and pop songs aren't helping either, with women routinely called 'hoes' and 'bitches'. Porn is being watched on smart phones in schools, mainly by boys. This is leading to girls being treated as sex objects. Girls are reporting being groped on the way to lessons. The NSPCC reports some girls are taking to wearing shorts under their skirts to protect themselves. When did this become ok and why aren't we saying this is wrong?

A newly macho and highly sexual culture is not only encouraging boys to think they are in charge of girls' bodies but also to grow up thinking being female is to be inferior. This creeping misogyny is deeply worrying. It is dehumanising for girls.

Add in to this the relatively new and horrifying problem of grooming, which sees male gangs luring girls as young as 11 into a murky and dangerous world. A life of torture, rape and misery. A life which draws girls in like moths to a flame because they have no idea what the 'glamorous' older boyfriend they seem to have attracted so effortlessly has in store for them. It's certainly not the 'Cinderella' moment they read about growing up.

Just a few years ago and definitely in my day, growing up was easier. I remember being 13. I felt it was a time of new possibilities and opportunities. Yes, it was sometimes a tricky time too. There were the usual rites of passage such as growing into our bodies, bullies, bad boyfriends, as well as schoolwork and exams but it was nothing by today's standards.

I was brought up to believe I was just as good as anyone else, boys included. In fact my mother still recalls the confident and rather rude way, I dealt with a boy who was refusing to let me through the door into pre-school. The poor boy was probably merely playing but his chants of "you can't come in" and his blocking the entire doorway were dealt with swiftly by me. When it became clear he wasn't going to budge I pushed him over and stomped into the classroom. Not perhaps my finest moment but he wasn't hurt, more surprised, according to my equally stunned mother. I was feisty and I believe girls need to have that sort of fire today if they are to stop this creeping sexism. By the way I am not condoning violence. There are many ways to go about this. Firstly, we need to tell girls they are equal to boys and they deserve to be treated with respect. It sounds crazy but I don't think some girls are being told this which is normalising this bad behaviour.

The trouble is society generally seems unwilling to do anything to really tackle this problem. Society just seems to assume girls will cope, or worse they like the attention. Then there's the old saying it's just 'boys being boys'.

It is true the sexualisation of girls will not stop overnight, it's a money spinner for many businesses. It is also true boys will continue push the boundaries unless they are educated as to why they should alter their behaviour.

There is also no rule book on growing up to make it easier. Everyone matures at different speeds and messages need to be delivered appropriately. But what we can do right now is help young girls make sense of what's happening around them and empower them to deal with it.

We need to make sure we are turning out a strong, happy, fearless generation of girls who truly believe they are equal to boys. We also need to teach boys that girls are equal to them. If we don't we will not only have let down the previous generations of brave and courageous Suffragettes who fought and died for women's rights but also our next generation of girls who will have to fight the battle all over again.

Suzanne Virdee, is a freelance journalist and broadcaster, an award winning TV news presenter and author of the book, A Teenage Girl's Guide To Being Fabulous, out now on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. tiny url.com/q7jy5l7