From street harassment to the lack of LGBTQ+ sex education, five teenage girls share their greatest worries in 2018.
Monday morning, 5.30am. As I tear myself from my sheets to quiet my alarm, I give in to the daily urge to explore what could have happened overnight, be that a new Instagram post or another appalling revelation in American politics.
Bombarded by all the information my still semi-sedated mind is processing, I head outside for my morning HIIT session. As it loads up on my YouTube app, I hope this 15 minutes of calm will equip me for the day. Walking to school, my iCalendar glares back at me. From my exam in the morning to the Girlguiding meeting in the evening, my metaphorical scales appear in front of me once again.
My generation of young women are more stressed than ever but we are also the most empowered – you need only look at the creativity on YouTube, communities on Instagram or activism on Twitter. As we try to navigate the world we amass labels. Generation Snowflake and Gen Z – which sounds like a bad sci-fi movie – come to mind. I would suggest Generation Worry is a better fit – and I asked my friends to help explain what most concerns us.
The pressure of what’s ahead
Caitlin, 17, is from Reading. Her favourite website is Gal-Dem
The future is a great source of worry to us. Tests or UCAS forms aren’t just about everyday stress: they will affect whether we can get a job or buy a house. After all, we can’t remember a world before the recession. To suggest that, for young women, our worries are isolated in our immediate future, plays into a patronising narrative that’s fed to us constantly. Me and my friends grimly remind each other regularly that we’ll be working until we’re 85.
And that’s not even considering the future in a world where so many women worry about the gender pay gap. The Girlguiding Girls’ Attitude survey has shown that 26% of girls aged 11-21 worry about not being able to afford childcare – yes, my friends and I have discussed this! – and 34% worry about earning less than men. This is undoubtedly a pressure that disproportionately impacts girls. Are there groups of boys eating their packed lunches and worrying over this topic too?
However, passivity is not where this ends. We are using the resources we have at our fingertips to engage in the debate and challenge the inevitable. Which is why it is so enthusing to see announcements such as that from Jo Swinson MP, pressing for more clarity in businesses’ parental leave policies.
Grace, 14, from Reading can’t live without Amazon Music and is a fan of a fluffy blanket
My school is in a village in the countryside, yet as well as fire drills, we also practise lock-down drills in our classrooms, in case there’s an emergency on the premises and our safety would be compromised. It’s anxiety inducing. But also if we have to worry about our safety in schools – where we’re supposed to be safe – how on earth are young women supposed to feel safe in other environments such as public transport?
We, in 2018, are in a situation where something which should be easy to use and helpful creates anxiety for girls, with 47% of girls and young women aged 13-21 having experienced – or known someone who has – feeling unsafe on public transport.
From as early as 13, girls feel uncomfortable walking around where they live. How have we got to the stage where 63% of us have felt unsafe walking home alone? I myself have experienced street harassment. It’s not right at all that I have to worry about my safety when I’m out and about, especially when I’m at a point where I should be enjoying a bit of freedom. We must do something to make young women feel safer not only at school and on public transport but in all environments.
Social media politics
Izzy, 17, from Southampton’s hero is Jacinda Ardern
I was three when Facebook was created. I can’t remember a time when we weren’t trying to create a ‘perfect reality’ on social media. No wonder 59% of girls say social media pressure is a large factor in causing stress. Everybody has an opinion and can express it whenever they want – this is the best an worst thing about social media, and it feels like we can’t escape it.
There are Insta-rules that go unspoken among young women. These include posting regularly enough to keep your followers entertained (but not too much so they’ll unfollow), posting a group photo rather than selfies to detract attention from yourself, and avoiding holiday pictures if you want to escape without attention.
I’ve looked at photos long and hard before considering posting them, deciding if they “fit my aesthetic”. We want to create the right sort of attention on social media, but not too much. But, it’s very easy to look at young women and their social media usage and instantly criticise it. I’d disagree. Girls can use it for good – think of all the campaigns that have been birthed out of social media. We can creat a positive, open space for healthy ideas to grow and thrive. If we all promoted healthier discussion about reflection of reality, then we can create online footprints that reflect who we truly are, not just the “highlights reel”.
Abigail, 17, from Kent’s favourite song is The Killers’ Mr Brightside
Within my lifetime there have been plenty of changes within society to make it easier for everyone to live in. However, being part of the LGBTQ+ community still isn’t particularly easy. For a long time I would hide behind a computer screen when I spoke out about LGBTQ+ issues but I am done with doing this. Instead, I am using my voice in this magazine.
In my day-to-day life I regularly see homophobic events playing out, whether it’s people shouting out rude remarks on the street or asking if they can join in with a lesbian couple’s relations (the answer will always be no!). But an aspect which is often ignored is the more deep-rooted homophobia on which our society is based.
The lives of the LGBTQ+ community remain largely underrepresented, from incidents which pass unreported in the mainstream media, to how we’re portrayed in films and on TV. We have to deal with inequalities like the lack of inclusive contraception available anywhere but online or the guidelines for relationships and sex education which currently don’t include lesbian sex. But I do have hope. The content of the new relationships and sex education curriculum is currently being consulted on and I hope this will reflect all types of relationships.
I believe times are changing, and girls are leading the way in dealing with this. In fact, 36% of young women aged 11-21 have spoken out about issues that matter to them in 2018 compared to 28% in 2011. And although there has been a 4% drop in the number who feel their voices were heard, if we keep speaking out, people will have to listen.
Not being heard
Ruyuan, 14, from Edinburgh loves ballet and her favourite film is The Help
It’s 10am on a Tuesday morning and I’m sitting at my desk in my GCSE physics class, anxiously looking over test material. It’s a scene that’s become normal to me over the last few years – I am the only girl in the class.
On an almost regular basis, I face microaggressions linked to my gender. They’re often more hurtful than outright sexist. When me and my female peers behave assertively, we are labelled as loudmouths, feisty and pushy, whereas our male counterparts are congratulated and viewed as good leaders. Things are explained to me in simple terms, as if my knowledge isn’t up to their standard, and when I call out this behaviour I am called sensitive. I can vividly remember where people have told me that they’re “surprised I’d made it so far into the year”. The joke’s on them: I have the highest marks in the class.
It’s this perception and labelling of female dominance that can lead to girls being reluctant to speak up and lose confidence in themselves. This has happened to me in lessons. Even if I’ve known the right thing to say, there have been times when I’ve held back, and during group activities there have been instances where I’ve been reluctant to contribute. The result is that girls aren’t being listened to – 29% of girls aged 11-21 who had spoken out thought their voices hadn’t been heard or made a difference, so who can blame them, or me, if at times we feel like we can’t speak out.
I believe the way forward is empowerment – providing positive role models and inspiring others. Through this we encourage girls to speak out and help to eradicate these damaging stereotypes.
You can see more of Stylist’s Made By Girls content here.
Introductory words: Caitlin, 17, Reading
Illustrationb: Abigail, 17, Kent