Focus on the positives

There’s been some great stuff in the press and on TV lately – well great in so much as it’s fuel for our campaign. Not so great in that it highlights some of the serious issues which are now facing girls as they grow up. Today saw the launch of a report by the Mental Health Foundation and Girlguiding UK called ‘The changing face of girlhood’. The report focused on the outcome of a range of discussions both organisations had back in October which involved a range of professionals and opinion formers and girls themselves. The report looked at (amongst other things) what it calls the ‘new generation of potential triggers for mental health problems – premature sexualisation, commericalisation and alcohol misuse.’ 

Some of the evidence is disturbing but … alongside this there’s a call from girls, and the people who work with them, to focus on some key outcomes and it provides a positive framework to work around – albeit undetailed – but a good start nonetheless. There’s a list of nine outcomes – or areas of focus – in the report which I won’t repeat here, but in terms of PinkStinks and what we want to do, the repeated reference to lack of positive role models for girls is striking. It’s literally sprinkled throughout the report and it links very heavily to the majority of the areas on which to focus. Needless to say we’re making urgent contact with Girlguiding UK (though we have already done so – this is new impetus for us work with them.)
A couple of weeks ago we were also ‘treated’ to a special section in the Observer on Sunday which focused on the change – or lack of it – to women’s lives over the last few decades. The 15-page special report called: British women – the state we’re in, featured a series of articles on how we have progressed so little and yet we are fooled into thinking that we are now indeed liberated or equal or indeed powerful!  I picked out some key statistics which say much about where we’ve got to:
  • Women’s political representation is 19.3%
  • Women’s representation among FTSE 100 directors is 11%
  • On the World league table on equal pay the UK is 81st out of 130 countries
  • 30% of people think that the role of women in society is to be good mothers and wives – with the highest percentage age group believing this being 15-29 year olds (IPSOS-Mori survey)
  • Women listed in the Sunday Times Rich List – 1%
  • Increase in the number of women having cosmetic breast surgery in the past five years – 175%
And it goes on … and on … and on! And then we look at the research coming out of organisations such as Girlguiding UK and we ask ourselves why!? 
The girlhood report was featured this morning on GMTV – great publicity and I hope it can get them some exposure and make a difference to their campaign. And when I was alerted to this (sadly I’m not in a position to be watching tele first thing in the morning) I immediately logged into the GMTV site and found the reference to the piece – sitting neatly beside it (quite literally) was a feature titled UK’s coolest women – which reveals the not-so-shocking results of Company magazine‘s survey for 2008. Now – all I can say is that at least they have tried to dress this up as more than just a beauty pageant. But really if you look too closely you’ll not be too surprised by the results and the fact that every single commentary on each of the women who have made it onto the list, comments on their looks and what they wear.
Okey, okey, it’s a fashion magazine but it’s just so boring really … In particular it’s worth noting what the editor of Company, Victoria White, says:
“Being cool isn’t just about having the trendy clothes, the great job and the fabulous friends. It’s also about what you do with your life, the achievements you make.  Everyone in our top 20 list has done something incredible with their lives whether it’s combining a modelling career with university studies, or transforming a hobby into a luxury range. Company is proud to celebrate these fantastic, and cool, achievers of 2008!” 
You don’t need to unravel that statement too far to see that beauty really does get you everywhere – especially if you’ve got a degree from Cambridge to boot – and that success being linked to transforming a hobby into a luxury range really isn’t what most girls’ lives or experiences are all about. And for me – and I suspect actually many, many girls and women out there, being cool means something entirely different altogether (Rebecca Adlington for example – who only came third in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year contest instantly springs to mind). I give them one for effort though. One out of what, I’m not sure yet. Incidentally, GMTV seemed quite obsessed with the fact that only Pixie – and not Peaches Geldof had made the grade this year. I’m tempted to say ‘whatever’. 
I really liked the simple, concluding sentence in the Changing face of girlhood report. “We seem so frightened of young people that we have stopped seeing them as they really are – often kind, sensitive about people’s rights and ambitious about the future. We need to focus on the positives that young women bring.” (Ed Haliwell for the Mental Health Foundation. www.writingforwellbeing.com)
I think that’s what really drives Abi and I is the word ambitious … because it certainly shouldn’t be about being beautiful or being about developing a range of cosmetics out of a nice little hobby. But it’s about giving girls the space to be ambitious and having some real and brilliant people to aspire to.
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