'Here's What The Women Of The Future Really Need' Gemma Cairney On International Women's Day.
The Debrief: In the run up to this weekend's Women Of The World festival, Gemma Cairney took to the road to find out what young women in this country are really thinking...
The WOW festival at the Southbank Centre takes place this weekend and I’m excited. It’s in it’s 5th year and I remember plodding down there four years ago on the request of their PR and to take a megaphone, stand on top of an open top bus, and talk about what it feels to be a woman.
I had no idea why I’d been asked to be honest, I had nothing planned, it was International Woman’s Day and I didn’t even really know why it existed. But whilst there, I started to think about what separated us from men, the lingering feelings of confusion about some of the things we are faced with everyday.
In one afternoon my gut pretty much identified that some of those feelings was this thing I was to become a student of... feminism. I have found my self in some crazy situations whilst exploring this new-found land, including sitting in the private library of original feminist frontier Germaine Greer and picking her relentless brain on the subject.
Right. Anyway. I wanted to do some research on what it’s like out there for WOMEN OF THE FUTURE, teenagers across the country. In my job, I so often hear ‘young people are...’ ‘young people feel...’ ‘young people need...’ bandied around, I felt like it had a been a while since I’d actually checked in. So, ahead of this weekend's WOW festival, we took a camera to different schools and did exactly that. Chatted. Here's what we found...
A lingering anxiety ran through everything
The bombardment of 'doom stats' with regards to employment and terms such as 'economic crisis' and 'unachievable property prices' and 'the glass ceiling' are bandied around our media with the intent of engagement for adults. It is unfortunately way too easily soaked up by young people, that mixed with a heavy pressure from schools, hell bent on steering their students to good grades is effecting young women especially. They are genuinely worried that if they make the wrong decisions when it comes to subjects and do not achieve the right grades, it could potentially ruin their future. 'I could even end up homeless'... Said one girls on her fear of underachieving.
As did insecurity
Insecurity when it comes to body image and obsessive behaviour with regards to the way we look or wish we could aesthetically change has always been a problem amongst young women. But I was alarmed at how the choice of imagery and body types favoured by advertisers, TV, magazines, beauty, and fashion is deeply affecting teenagers right now. There is nowhere to go to get away from a certain type of 'ideal woman' and hours can be spent looking at picture after picture of unrealistic looking women, who are projected as desirable. One girl told me she could lose six hours in searching the word 'skinny' on Tumblr and that when she got food poisoning over Christmas, she remembered seeing her hip bones sticking out and feeling satisfaction.
Girls vs. Boys
Every group of girls that I spoke too had experienced the opposite sex treating them badly. 'We often get called sluts or slags or bitches' was something I heard from more than one group. I started to wonder why this happening so much - and so much of it seems to permeate through from popular culture, from music to porn. Which I do believe very much is part of 'popular culture' in teenage lives, whether we like it or not.
Internet pressures are huge
So much of the above connects to it, THE INTERNET. It's a messy and complicated thing that means so much for us that it's become an almost human-like life line. But I think it intensifies growing pains beyond belief. 'Likes' on social media totally influence our decisions and how we feel about ourselves. And if you are being bullied in 2015, there is the potential to be bullied 24 / 7 rather than being able to go home and shut the door.
The future is changing
Though the WOW Now film, does what we initially set out to do, I now feel like we have to do so much to achieve. The film highlighted that it's essential that a balance is struck, diversifying role models, encouraging young people and helping them to gain more self confidence. None of us can change the world tomorrow or alone, and rather than apportioning blame, we should be looking collectively at positive change. So what can we all do to make these girls know how absolutely incredible they are?
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