When Julianne Speyer encountered everyday sexism, she refused to take it lying down – and now, a letter she wrote to her local newspaper has gone viral.
‘That game’s not for girls.’ ‘We expected more from a young lady.’ ‘He’s only doing it because he likes you.’ Everyday sexism starts young, and children are frequently bombarded with reductive, damaging messages about gender.
As adult feminists, we’re more attuned to picking up on these messages and challenging them. But for young girls, who often lack confidence compared to their male peers, it can be daunting to call sexism out. Of course, children should never be given the responsibility of critiquing or fixing deep-rooted social problems - but we’re still rather thrilled when we see a young girl stand up for herself and call bulls**t on gender inequality.
This week, our pre-teen hero is Julianne Speyer, a 12-year-old Girl Scout from a small town in Ohio. On 4 July, she attended an Independence Day parade with her fellow Scouts, where an announcer described the Boy Scouts as the “future leaders of America” and the Girl Scouts as “just having fun”. (Flames. Flames on the side of my face.)
Thoroughly displeased, Speyer picked up her pen and wrote a firm, eloquent letter to the editor of her local newspaper, the Geauga County Maple Leaf. That letter has since gone viral after being shared on Twitter – and for good reason. Have a read:
“My name is Julianne Speyer. I am 12 years old and I would like to inform you of how offended and disappointed I am by the announcer of the Chesterland 4 July parade’s comment about the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts,” Speyer wrote.
She continued that she found the announcer’s comments “very sexist and patronising. I would appreciate it if you would help me to let other people know how much thing kind of thing happens and how bad it is. I feel it is an insult to both girls and women of all ages. This kind of thing happens way too much and it is not OK at all.
“I have always been taught that if you think something is unjust, change it,” Speyer concluded.
“So this is how I am making a change. Thank you for listening to me and I hope you can help me.”
Speyer is absolutely right to note that girls’ skills and achievements are often downplayed compared to boys’. A study released last year showed that girls in the UK start viewing intellectual brilliance as a specifically male trait from the age of six. A report by Girlguiding, meanwhile, has found that more than a third of British girls had felt “patronised or made to feel stupid” because of their gender.
And this stuff matters. According to research by Rebecca Bigler, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, children who are exposed to gender stereotypes at a young age are more likely to say that “only men” should have certain jobs, such as construction worker, doctor or president – and that “only women” can be kind, gentle and take care of children. Some people might dismiss the remarks called out by Speyer as harmless, but hearing comments of that sort can have a real effect on how children perceive the world and their place in it.
So three cheers for Speyer, a 12-year-old girl with more wisdom than many adults. It can sometimes feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket - but if there are more young women like her out there, we think we’re going to be OK.
Images: Getty Images