Is inequality why girls aren’t inspired by women?

Last Monday, the patrols I was working with finished doing the Promise Consultation earlier than we expected. And knowing that after half term they’ll be using time to plan the two nights they are leading next term, I wanted to get them thinking about International Women’s Day.

So I asked them what I thought was a simple question.

‘Can you tell me about a woman who has inspired you?’

With blank looks, I asked them if there was a woman who they looked to as a role model, or did something they thought was cool, or maybe showed characteristics they’d like to have as they got older.

One girl (aged 10) piped up with ‘Rosa Parks’.

The rest of the two patrols all looked at her strangely then looked at me and said ‘Who is Rosa Parks?’

With some help, this 10 year old girl explained who Rosa Parks was and her simple act of courage. But all the girls struggled to come up with their own answers. One said ‘Peppa Pig’ and someone else said ‘Can we choose One Direction?’

I’m trying to remember who I looked up to when I was their age. I remember Betty Boothroyd being the woman with the gavel in the House of Commons. I remember the Spice Girls and finding out a lot more about their back stories – I really admired Melanie C because it was someone who wasn’t wearing teeny skirts and high heels all the time. I wasn’t a fan of Margaret Thatcher, but I do remember being told she was the first female Prime Minister. I admiring the dancers in the Scottish Ballet. Lavinia Milosovici, Kerri Strug and Amanda Borden because they seemed like nice people as well as so hard working that they got to the Olympics! Perhaps Mother Teresa and Princess Diana.

But really most of history seemed filled with men. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Steve Redgrave, Linford Christie, Winston Churchill, soliders from World Wars, Stephen Biko, Donald Woods, Nelson Mandela… All the ladies just seemed to be there to look like human Barbie dolls. Perfect hair, perfect make up, pristine clothing. That wasn’t me, and I didn’t identify with them. There just didn’t seem to be many equivalents to not just admire their talents but their ability to live functional ‘normal’ lives.

I have been blessed to grow up in a world where anything seemed possible for women. The only inequality I found growing up is that girls were not allowed to play football at primary school. I remember distinctly there being a football team set up for the boys, but there was absolutely nothing for the girls. Not even another sports team of any sort.

And so it makes me wonder why it is such a difficult question to answer.

And how really I’ve believed a myth of no inequality when actually there seems to be a special secret going on.

Only just this morning, I heard that the Scholastic Athletic programme in Massachusetts is doing away with Men’s Gymnastics.  The MIAA spokeperson went so far to say this: “It’s a girls’ sport…. when was the last time you watched boys’ gymnastics? They don’t get on the cover of the Wheaties box. They don’t get the endorsements.

Oh. My. Word.

Who hires people like this?! First of all, I’m not even American, and I know plenty of male gymnasts with endorsements. Hilton Worldwide. BMW. Ralph Lauren. That wouldn’t have been John Orozco on Piers Morgan would it? And no they haven’t been on a Wheaties Box recently. Because they haven’t been quite so successful as the American women’s gymnastics team.  But hey – in the UK, Louis Smith made it to our equivalent of Dancing With The Stars and you’ll see him on Subway shop windows. And maybe, just maybe,  the state that produced one of America’s most well-known male gymnasts perhaps wants to rethink that decision. Especially if that’s your sexist and severely misguided view of the sport of gymnastics.

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So it makes me wonder if the problem with inequality lies in ignorance or stereotyping. Perhaps some of the guys out there have the same problem. Who are the male role models for them?

I think I have a lot more to say on this subject, but I would love to hear your thoughts…

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