Each March, International Women’s Day (IWD) takes place. A global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it’s also a call to action to accelerate women’s equality. So, how are we doing with that?
Some would say, due to the fact that such a day exists, we’re a long way from achieving equality… But by coming together, our individual actions and behaviors can have an impact on our larger society. The 2020 #EachforEqual campaign draws on this notion that by pulling together, we can create a gender equal world – and an equal world is an enabled world.
But how far have we come and how far do we have to go? Having held an insightful discussion with a group of Generation Alpha girls (aged from 9 to 11), it was fascinating to hear the thoughts of our women of the future.
As a Generation Xer, I find this new generation extraordinary: they are digitally native and are so naturally attuned to technology that it makes me feel like a dinosaur! They also have large social consciences – they are so passionate about global issues that affect not just them but the world as a whole. They are smart and savvy, and I think we should be grateful for them for wanting to undo the messes of previous generations. They’re aware of this responsibility and are often p*ssed about it. But they won’t back down and might just be our saviors.
I spoke to a small group of (almost intimidatingly!) articulate girls in honor of this year’s IWD because I wanted to discover how it felt to be a girl in 2020. Have things moved on? Is gender bias a thing of the past?
Meet Rose aged 11, Rhea aged 10, Mila aged 10 and Keira aged 9.
What does IWD mean to you?
Rose: “It’s a day to celebrate how far women have come and how amazing we are! It’s also to remember all the women who have shaped our world today.”
Mila: “We can have a day for women to reflect on what we’ve done and realise how far we’ve come. But we learn about this from our mum and her friends – we don’t learn about this at school.”
Keira: “Without women no humans would have been created, so it’s kind of important!”
As the future generation of women, what does it mean to be a girl today?
Rhea: “I’m proud to be who I am because there’s nobody else like me.”
Rose: “I love being a girl because I’m very girly but very strong.”
Mila: “Being a girl is way better than being a boy because you get more outfit options. Boys only get trousers! We also get experience of creating life. Men can’t do that. It’s pretty cool being able to make a human being.”
What’s different about being a girl?
Mila: “I like to play sports such as football but the boys never pass us the ball.”
Keira: “Boys never kick us the ball. They don’t trust us… They think girls are weak.”
Rhea: “Boys say ‘girls can’t play football’, so we need a girls’ team. But there should just be a mixed team for everyone.”
Mila: “I’ve never scored a goal because the boys won’t let me.”
Rose: “Boys are asked to do all the heavy man work in the classroom. And it’s very annoying. I’m a strong girl and am just as capable as any boy of moving a table or a bookcase.”
Rhea: “Girls are as strong as boys but boys don’t think that this is true. And if we’re good at maths, they get jealous and weird.”
Are some subjects considered to be ‘girl subjects’?
Rose: “Yes! Art, DT, English, Music, History are thought to be more girly. Boys won’t participate if they don’t like the subject. The boys sit and joke around and never do any work. They disrupt us if they see us concentrating.”
Keira: “The boys never do any work, they just mess around and try to stop us girls from working.”
And ‘boy subjects’?
Keira: “Maths, Science and PE…”
Where does this ‘girl subject’ / ‘boy subject’ come from?
Rhea: “Because the boys don’t pay attention in the subjects they don’t like.”
How can we overcome this inequality?
Keira: “By proving that we are as strong as them and we’re good, too.”
Rhea: “By fighting back. The boys don’t care if they hurt your feelings but if we hurt their feelings they get all moany and go and tell the teacher. We’re expected to take it off them but they can’t take it from us.”
Mila: “Boys say ‘girls are crybabies’. When we are told off, we don’t cry. When boys get told off, they sob their eyes out.”
Are you encouraged to do ‘boy’ subjects at school?
Rhea: “No… The boys would tease you.”
Rose: “If you followed that path, you’d be teased for it by the boys.”
What’s the worst bit of being a girl?
Rhea: “The way you look. We’re expected to put energy into looking nice – and we could be using this energy for other things.”
Mila: “We have more worries than boys, such as bullying from boys.”
Rose: “There’s a lot of pressure from society to look a certain way. It’s a stupid loss of time. Boys have more space to think about important things.”
Who are your female role models?
Rhea: “My mum. She works so hard for us and she’s amazing. I want to follow in her footsteps.”
Rose: “My mother. Also, Frida Kahlo because she didn’t follow the rules of society. She was so free.”
Mila: “My mum, and Mrs Althorp from school!” [Note: Mrs Althorp is a very kind teaching assistant from Mila’s school!]
Keira: “My mum because she’s a really kind person.”
What struck me having spoken to these awesome girls was that inequality and sexism hasn’t been stamped out – it’s still alive and very much kicking. How exceptionally dismaying. The fight is far from fought. It’s clear to see that, in order to move forward, these deeply ingrained habits STILL need to be eliminated at a ground roots level.
There are still ‘girl/boy’ subjects and if a girl follows a more ‘boyish’ path, she’s teased for it. It’s easy to see where the imbalance of women in tech originates. Boys clearly still need educating on this. Girls feel constrained by having to think about their looks, while the boys seemingly don’t (they only have to think, according to Mila, about putting on their trousers!). The girls feel this difference. Girls are scorned for playing football; they’re not asked to move classroom furniture. Everyday inequality in action.
Having spoken to this small sample of our women of the future, it seems we still have a long way to go. One thing that did hearten me, however, was that these girls are so aware and passionate about their own place within the world: they are warriors and if there’s one generation that will reset the balance, and put things right, I’m certain it’s this one. They’re fearless, formidable and really quite wonderful. I have every faith in our girls and believe that they will stop at nothing until they feel they’re getting what’s fair for them as women.
Happy IWD2020! Here’s to the future.
Let’s all be #EachforEqual.