Writing Competition -Siân Allen

Title – We are the Change

I have a confession to make – I don’t really know how to answer this question.

As an ardent and passionate feminist who spends most of her time daydreaming about the hilarious and witty signs I’m going to hold up at future Women’s Marches, it came as a surprise when I opened up this Word document a week ago and my mind went completely blank. Trust me; I usually can’t keep my mouth shut talking about women’s rights, so this was foreign territory.

And I have to admit – the more I thought about the question, the harder it became to answer. I struggled less with thinking up changes to improve women’s lives than I did with narrowing down the thousands of changes I would like to make in order to create a society that makes identifying as female less of a disadvantage and more of a strength. I didn’t even know where to begin.

Nonetheless, I persevered. I made mind maps and stared at inspirational quotes and procrastinated (a lot), and after all that? Well, I’ll be honest – I still don’t really have a solid answer.

But I think that just might be the point.

The truth is, there is no “one single change” that can magically improve the lives of girls and women, let alone one that can be easily implemented in the quiet, mostly uneventful and reasonably liberal suburbs of leafy Cheshire. Let’s face it, if there was a simple and easy solution to end the sexism that’s been stitched into the fabric of society since society was a thing, I wouldn’t be answering this question right now. I wouldn’t be thinking up feminist related puns for my future protest signs, and I definitely wouldn’t have to worry about my shoulders showing in class.

(Because, you know, how can boys possibly be expected to focus when a girl’s upper joints are exposed?)

So that’s that. Except, I don’t think that answering “I don’t know” is really what you had in mind for these articles, and I’m still pretty short of the qualifying word count; so, if I really have to choose one change, it’s going to be what I believe is one of the most powerful tools in the world – education.

Nelson Mandela once said that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – so think how powerful education could be in just changing Cheshire! I truly believe we need to be putting way more time into educating not just girls and women but everyone about just how powerful and strong and wonderful women really are.

And, sure, that means teaching about the amazing women who have already done so much to stand up against feminism. Teaching about the Suffragettes, about Florence Nightingale, Anne Frank and Rosa Parks – but it also means teaching about modern day sexism too. We, the small yet mighty county of Cheshire, need to be made aware of the sexism that is still shockingly prevalent in our day to day lives, in our workplaces and on our screens and wired into our heads – and be actively encouraged to change it. Moreover, we need to be given the opportunities to change it.

I want to be able to march – whether it’s in New York or London or Nantwich. I want to be able to represent my gender proudly and use my voice to fight for gender equality, and I want to be surrounded by other people who want to do that too. I want local clubs for like minded young women to unite and stand up for themselves and for all the women who can’t. I want local events where we can educate, empower and enable local women and inspire them to stand up against the stereotyping and the submissiveness every girl is forced into.

And I know what you’re thinking (I don’t, actually, but I know what I’m thinking, and I’m sure if you’ve got this far into my rambles then we’re probably more or less on the same page). You’re thinking, “it’s all very well saying that the change we need is education, but who’s going to do the educating?” Don’t you worry; I’ve got the perfect answer for your burning question – another inspirational quote.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” That one’s from Ghandi, and I’m using it to say something obviously equally as profound – we need to be the educators. I feel like we’ve really bonded over the last 800 words or so, so I’m going to tell you a secret that you have to promise to share with everyone you know – women are amazing and they deserve the same rights as men.

We are not the ones who need to benefit from the change – we need to be the change. Powerful, right? I came up with that myself. But it’s true – we need to be the ones educating, empowering and enabling the women in our lives. So teach everyone about the fight for female empowerment that the Suffragettes sparked 100 years ago, and tell everyone about how women are still fighting for equality today. Shout it from the rooftops – because if we don’t, then who will?

It may not be a change that improves every single woman in the local area’s life overnight, and I can’t guarantee that everyone will be willing to listen. But if one girl realises that she can be anything she wants to be, or if one guy realises what he can do better to help, isn’t it worth it?

I can’t tell you what to do – like I said, I don’t know how to answer this question. What I do know, however, is how to paint my hilariously witty feminist sign and stand on my soapbox – and if I teach one woman that she is amazing by making that one single change and doing more to educate? I think that’s more than enough.