Last weekend, Hook Research attended the Women of the World Festival and sat in on a panel of four adolescent girls discussing their views on the feminist movement as teenagers. Whilst there was a genuine buzz of positivity and empowerment, there was also a real sense of just how much work we still have ahead of us, particularly among the younger generations…
‘Some guy told me to get back in the kitchen’ – Feminists facing a backlash in schools
One revelation from the festival was the backlash that feminists are facing in schools. Mixed schools were reported by the panel as creating environments that pressured girls into silence, with boys stating that sexism doesn’t exist – despite the experiences of their classmates clearly suggesting otherwise (in one example shared by the panel, male pupils were heard describing the feminist movement as being about girls ‘unleashing their inner sluts’). Plan International UK’s 2016 report found that sexual offences in schools have more than doubled in recent years to an average of 10 each school day, with two thirds of victims being girls or women.
Continuously, girls report incidences of sexual assault and sexism happening in front of teachers, only for the situation to be ignored. Some of the comments around sexism in schools submitted to The Everyday Sexism Project, founded by Laura Bates, offer some examples of the sexist remarks being swept under the carpet:
“A boy in my class told me ‘Just shut up, you ugly fat cow’ when I made a mistake. Teacher ignored. Never put hand up again’
“I shouted out the wrong answer in class the other day. Some guy told me to get back in the kitchen.”
Feminism online – avoiding ‘social suicide’
The general consensus from the Teens Talk Back panel was that social media was a more free space to share thoughts on the feminist movement and inequality, whereas doing so in the classroom was – according to some of their friends – ‘social suicide’. Shan Hama, a 16 year old member of Plan International UK’s Youth Advisory Panel, said that her peers at school thought she was radical for discussing the feminist movement, but online she discovered a sense of solidarity where she could freely discuss these topics. It seems that she’s not alone: 46% of girls aged 13 – 21 say that social media empowers them to speak out about things they care about.
Yet the online space also opens the door to the very real issue of trolling and cyber bulling. 44% of girls self-harm due to cyber bullying with 49% of girls aged 11 to 21 say the fear of abuse online makes them feel less able to share their views. This however, does not mean they don’t share.
When asked how they deal with online harassment, the panel assured us that they would ‘continue to speak out for the rest of their lives’. Confirming this, Girls Guiding’s Survey found that the majority of girls they spoke to were committed to challenging sexism when they see it; these girls are reclaiming the internet to express their views and have a voice.
Is it possible to take part in the feminist movement and stay safe?
The Teens Talk Back panel called for social media platforms to take responsibility in keeping young women safe online, saying that options for reporting accounts were lacking. Similarly, Plan International’s UK research suggests that measures designed to protect girls were ineffective or had negative consequences for girls, reinforcing a sense of voicelessness by often barring girls from the internet.
As a result, girls have been educating themselves, stating ‘activism shouldn’t deteriorate your mental health’. Staying safe online is currently trending among activists and political bloggers, with influencers releasing posts that girls use to create safety strategies and still remain a part of the feminist movement.
While it’s clear that adolescent girls are finding ways to challenge sexism, the risks to their well-being and safety reinforces just how important it is that society takes more responsibility. Plan International UK calls for schools to begin engaging boys, parents and girls in conversation and the pressure for social media platforms to begin tackling the issue is stronger than ever.
It’s a bittersweet fact that girls and women are leading the feminist movement – we urgently need to create environments where they can be heard, encouraged, and supported by society.
Enjoy reading this blog? At Hook, we’re always on the lookout for the latest trends in youth, media, and entertainment. Follow us on Twitter or sign up for our newsletter and make sure you don’t miss out on our weekly updates!