Writing Competition – Katie Brown

‘What single change would most improve the lives of women and girls in your local community and why?’

I find it difficult to put into words the challenges of being a girl, as sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the strange complexities it comes with from our own identity. It’s almost impossible to determine which problems belong to us and which are the ragged hand-me- downs of our mothers, tossed to us the moment our chromosomal cosmos align.

When we’re walking alone clutching cold keys in sweaty palms, hearing deep voices in the darkness around, it can feel like we’re under a spotlight. When we’re squirming in a chair, eyes down, embarrassed to give an answer we’re certain of, or when we’re desperately trying to work on a table filled with boys making rape jokes, it can feel like we’re invisible.

But when we’re alone it feels like nothing. We forget to smooth down our hair, to readjust our legs, to think about how every inch of our behaviour might be perceived. A temporary shelter where we don’t feel the need to apologise for wearing too much makeup or too little, showing too much skin or not enough, for being too girly, for not being girly, for standing up for ourselves or simply saying what we think. When we’re around others, we can pollute ourselves with self-deprecation. Every “I don’t mind” distorts our minds. And when we struggle to value our contributions, so do those around us.

Fixing these problems is far from easy. Many are external, claustrophobic within the fixed mind-set of others, and many are systemic. But more concerning to me are those which exist within ourselves. Therefore the change I would make within my community would be to encourage positivity between women. Because being surrounded by supportive women is when being a girl finally feels like an asset.

This means that we stop scrutinising the bodies of other women. As long as our own insecurities breed negativity, companies will profit from the value that we, and society, place on our appearances. Therefore, compliments should not be limited to our appearances but on our character and accomplishments. That way, we can feel pride however we look on any day.

This means that we stop assuming the cut of a top or the length of a skirt correlates to a girl’s sex life. More importantly, that a girl’s sex life is in some way linked to her morality or intelligence, or that it is anyone’s business other than her own. We need to stop rating each other on the “scale” of women, from prudish to promiscuous, in order to make ourselves feel more relaxed in our positioning. Through this we are enhancing the double standards of sexuality between men and women. We are objectifying ourselves.

This means that we start protecting one another. We help each other see through the fog of a toxic relationship and remind each other that we are worth more than that. On nights out we watch over each other’s drinks like guardian angels and travel in pairs like their wings. And if a girl confides in us about any form of abuse we listen without conclusions or judgement, only advice and empathy.

This means that we lose our complacency in lack of recognition. We have to encourage each other to stop deflecting praise or rewards which we have worked hard for. Through this, we can strive to achieve what we deserve, not what modesty dictates.

I have been fortunate to have seen this behaviour between women countless times as I have grown, especially within my group of friends. However what is fundamentally missing in my community and within our society as a whole is the application of these practises to women who are not close friends- women who are acquaintances, strangers, celebrities, enemies. As I have stressed, we are all complex. The world is made up of over 3.4 billion girls who are all completely different. Therefore the often advertised idea of feminism being a movement where we all hold hands love each other is not only ludicrous but slightly insulting. But we can and must respect all women.

We, as females, know what it feels like to face discriminative disrespect; therefore we must relinquish our part in its perpetuation. I believe this personal change within girls would have the power to change my community and society as a whole.