Don’t teach our girls and young women that they are weak


I don’t generally write about politics in the context of gender, because frankly, it doesn’t matter to me. Maybe it was a terrible oversight, but my mum simply didn’t bring me up to think about my gender in any political or economic context.

And that’s why the past year or so has been particularly frustrating for me, as issues around gender and politics, feminism and sexism (and on and on and on) have been discussed repeatedly – almost literally ad nauseum – both nationally and internationally.

But now it’s not just frustrating – it’s worrying too. I consider myself a pretty strong woman: I’ve done well against some difficult odds; I have succeeded, and am succeeding, in fields that are traditionally male dominated. It even feels strange to write that, because it’s never felt male ‘dominated’ to me and I’ve never found it harder as a woman.

I am worried, and quite angry, that the culture and atmosphere being created by a supposedly feminist, pro-women agenda is actually toxic for girls and young women. And I can’t help but compare it with my own upbringing.

My mum always said to me, pretty much every day of my childhood, that I could do and be anything I wanted to as long as I was prepared to work hard enough. But instead of being encouraged in this way, girls and women are now told time and again that they are limited by their gender. That the odds are stacked against them and that everything will be harder for them; don’t bother aiming high, because the patriarchy means you will never get to the top.

Instead of being empowered, they are told that even words are dangerous to their weak constitutions, and that they need to be shielded from opinions that are distasteful or just different. Bring back the fainting couch and smelling salts – it’s all gone a bit Victorian.

My mum always said to me, it doesn’t matter what people look like, where they come from or what they have; instead, what matters is whether they’re a good person or not. Being kind, being honest, and being responsible – they’re the things that are important.

That’s not what girls and women are told now. Instead, they are told that they will be judged every day of their lives for their gender, how they look, how they speak, and how all of this matches up to society’s expectations of ‘femininity’.

At the same time as being told that they will be judged unfairly, girls and women are encouraged to judge others – if people come from certain ‘privileged’ backgrounds, or if they say something that doesn’t fit into a narrow version of politically correct speech, they are irredeemably bad, and so must be denounced and avoided.

Every woman nowadays is encouraged to think of themselves as a victim. Whatever happens to you that isn’t exactly as you want; you are a victim of sexism and the patriarchy. If someone disagreed with or ignored you, it is because you are a woman. If you find getting a job or a promotion harder than you thought it was going to be, it is because you are a woman.

If you walk into a room where there are few women and many men, you are inevitably going to be ignored or belittled or treated unfairly – no need to wait and see, get your guard up now – all because you are a woman.

I just can’t understand it. I was a victim of a serious crime at quite a young age. I experienced all those feelings of powerlessness, confusion and shame that come with being a victim. First of all, why would you go looking for that where it doesn’t exist? And secondly, why would you belittle the suffering of real victims with your fake victimhood? Equating rape and being wolf-whistled as part of the same thing where we’re all victims of the patriarchy together absolutely disgusts me.

I am worried that all of this together will hold girls and young women back. In being told to expect everything to be a battle, are they not likely to shrink from it? In being told that the only thing holding them back is their gender (and ‘the patriarchy’), are they not likely to look at every setback as sexism rather than examining their own performance, learning and improving, and through that succeeding? In being told that they will be judged (and should judge others), on a narrow, superficial basis, is it not likely that their confidence will be undermined and their anxiety increased?

When I was growing up, my role models were my mum, my granny, and my great grandma. These are women who endured through enormous hardships and succeeded against the odds. They did so with humour, love and joy. And that’s what they taught me too; but what are the next generation of women being taught? Please, don’t let it be that they are weak, perpetual victims. Let’s make sure they learn that they are strong, and they can do and be anything they want if they are willing to work hard enough.