Young Women of the UK, grab yourself a cuppa, I've got a little story for you...
On a blustery, dreary day in Scotland around the millennium (I know, right?), I had the dreaded careers meeting with my guidance teacher, the weather and the prospect of my UCAS form was not the only bleak, bleak happenings on that day. Sitting in front of her with my clean sheet of 8 1's (A's for those South of the border), I was told to perhaps consider speech therapy or dentistry instead of becoming a doctor.
"Its very very difficult, especially for girls"
"But I have the grades and I'm predicted them for my highers to apply"
"I know but I'm just setting your expectations"
Scottish self deprication at best and sexism at worst, it was at that point I knew inequality wasn't just the boys being allowed to pinch our bums or be nasty to us 'because they fancied us'. I wish I'd had the confidence and conviction to speak up then, instead I nodded and took the sheet. I wish I'd had the assurance when told to take my make up off at drama school, I wish I'd had the sureness to speak up on holidays when men picked me up in the street and ran off and I should've told the police when I was sexually assaulted whilst travelling. I didn't. All those countless times in the DJ booth and in meetings where I knew I was treated with less respect than my male colleagues. I didn't speak up, but now I do. I know I have to set an example for the young women who look up at us expectantly to navigate them through "too much flesh" "not enough flesh" "frigid" "unambitious" "quiet". They need us and we need them to stand up and make our daughters lives free'er and far more equal.
Help is at hand, not from people in position of power, parents or head teachers from YOU. Action for Change is a campaign that will skill you up to give you the tools and courage to make positive change in your community and beyond. You are the little grass roots with the big strong voices, green and naive you are not, tall, strong stalks ready to take on the world you ARE. Petitions, organising events, fundraising and being vocal about the change you want to see, this campaign is right behind you. With Girlguiding and their half a million strong members, you can't be ignored any longer, the internet has given us the power to make local issues, global issues. It doesn't have to be big over arcing decisions or campaigns, if this gives you the boldness to speak your mind to the boy who puts you down, or the teacher who tells you you cant, its a victory among many.
I spoke to Katie Horsburgh, 16, she is a member of Girl Guidings youth advocate panel, to see if the generation underneath me still has same obstacles? One thing I starkly remember about school is boys speaking out more in class, she finds the same...
Katie: At school it is fairly common that boys generally seem to feel more confident than their female peers. They are rowdier, more open with opinions and more likely to speak out in class. I think that this is due to the outdated expectation that women should be seen and not heard, as well as girls not wanting to "scare boys off" by appearing "too smart" if they know the answers. This is really detrimental to the educational experience of girls. Some girls also feel too shy to speak up because of how loud and rowdy many of the boys are, which stems from the "boys will be boys" attitude. This type of behaviour is really intimidating, especially when many girls have inappropriate sexual comments made about them in a place where they are supposed to feel safe - school.
Lisa: Do you feel your opinion is valued less than your male peers?
Katie: I am very fortunate to have wonderful teachers who value the opinions of girls and boys equally. However, in certain groups of boys of my school there is a macho-climate where boys seem determined to constantly prove their masculinity. I think it's really sad that they feel that they must always confirm to their peers that they fit into an outdated societal ideal of what it means to be a man. In these groups, it is seen as "cool" to laugh at the opinions of girls, to evaluate girls based on their bodies and make vile sexual comments. This kind of toxic masculinity makes it quite difficult to speak out in school. I have often worried about what a big group of boys will do if i state an opinion. On many occasions this led me to stay silent, however, more recently i have begun to stand up for myself and my female peers.
Lisa: Why do you think young women struggle to be heard?
Katie: In my opinion, young women struggle to be heard because of the fear of judgement. It's all very well to say that girls should just be more confident, but in fact there is much more to it than that. Girls need to know that their opinions will be listened to and valued. Girls need to know that their safety in school will be protected. Girls need to know that their voices have the power to make real, tangible change. With our collective voice, we have the power to do anything.
Lisa: If you could change one thing about the dynamics between boys and girls what would it be?
Katie: I would encourage boys and girls to build a mutual respect for each other. If boys started to view girls as three dimensional people, we wouldn't constantly be downgrades into silent, sexual objects. With this newfound respect, girls would grow in confidence and begin to express opinions more. This mixing would also eradicate the lad culture that is so common nowadays, as perhaps by being surrounded by people of all genders boys would feel less pressured to frequently reaffirm their masculinity.
Lisa: What would be the first thing you would lobby for in parliament?
Katie: If I were an MP the first thing I would lobby for would be compulsory, high quality PSHE. PSHE takes many of the issues i care most deeply about, such as gender equality, mental health and sexual health and relationships, down to a grassroots level. By giving all students this essential information, we set them up for life.
Lisa: Which skill that is not taught in school would you most like to acquire and why.
Katie: There are many many topics that I wasn't taught about in school which i would love to learn more about, including mental health, body confidence, LGBTQ+ and so on. However, in terms of a skill, i would really like to learn how to write a CV. I literally can't get a job without one, so why on earth haven't i been taught how to write one?!
Katies opinion echos alot of what I hear from my little cousins right down to what I witness on the street, from cat calling to institutional sexism there is lots to be done and we can all do it. Together. We are the big sisters you never knew you had and we're right behind you.
Find out more: http://new.girlguiding.org.uk/latest-updates/blogs/take-actionforchange