This morning I was listening to the news about some schools that are intending making ante-natal classes available to some of their older girls – needless to say the ones that get pregnant.
This news item brought back a recent discussion when I was working with a group of young people during a workshop. It began after I witnessed such incredibly sexist behaviour within the group that I felt obliged to question the views being presented; I should add that this was outside the context of the workshop I was facilitating. I was surprised to hear the young women in the group being the first to challenge my ‘old fashioned’ views. “I like being referred to as a bird” one explained to me. I had thought these attitudes had been successfully challenged a decade ago.
One of the young women showed me a magazine she was reading. It was a contemporary magazine directed at teenage girls and filled with articles and fatuous comments that could only serve to confuse its readers, some of whom, as teenagers, would possibly be going through difficult times in their lives. For certain, the content would challenge the hopes and aspirations of most caring parents.
Whatever issue was being addressed, what your boyfriend wants was more of a guiding principle than what could help you grow into a strong woman. Should a magazine determine after how many dates you should allow him to touch your breast or to what extent you should remove your body hair; what is the most popular pattern amongst the boys, if you get my meaning. It seemed that everything it offered as female advice was centred on the needs or requirements not of the teenage girl, but of the boy.
The magazine I read even encouraged a liberal spattering of sex, if you want to get on in the social world of your teenage peers. Surely this is designed to match the requirements of readers of lads’ mags, which encourage as much sexual promiscuity as can be achieved. No wonder we have a country with the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Europe and an ever increasing amount of STDs being treated.
I am not suggesting a Victorian ‘virgin on your wedding night’ puritanical approach, but something should be done to protect teenagers from pressure to grow up too quickly and begin ‘adult games’ too young.
Perhaps as a parent of a 13 year old girl, I am addressing this from a somewhat personal perspective, but perhaps as an equality consultant, I am also concerned at the impact this has on our ongoing societal development. When we leave sexist behaviour and language unchallenged, surely we are also condoning it. We would not tolerate racist language or behaviour in our schools or workplaces, so why allow the sexist equivalent. I wonder what the correlation is between this perceived acceptable sexism and the glass ceiling which still blights many women’s lives, or indeed issues of domestic violence and rape.
It must be time to put a stop to this behaviour and challenge the magazines that encourage it and perhaps even create it. Someone needs to take a little responsibility. Girls – say “no” and be strong.
Then perhaps the schools will not have to spend curriculum time on ante-natal classes for students.