#HerTake: awakening strength, liberating young women

April 17, 2024

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio at Pexels

Elen Cunningham challenges societal norms and champions authenticity

As teenagers hit puberty, girls are forced to confront concerns about body image and sexual harassment, Margaret Atwood said, “you are a woman with a man inside watching a woman”. It’s quite a statement, isn’t it? This idea that throughout our lives we are always being watched; that all our actions are influenced by what we think is the ‘correct’ way to do things.

I guess one big change I went through was biological. I was the first to get my period in my friendship group, the first to get a bra, the first to start buying adult sizes in clothes shop, the first to shave. But this is natural right? This is what’s supposed to happen.

I was undergoing the same changes and experiencing the same emotions as all my peers, feeling anxious about our bodies changing with our hormones intensifying. So why did I start to feel isolated and conscious of a divide between me and my friends? Why is puberty, a common and natural phase of life, such a different experience for men and women?

I think that puberty for us, as young women, is such a big turning point in our lives because, before this, we were simply children, and now we have this burden of what society deems to be womanhood thrust upon us.

I wish it were just a simple, biological evolution. But beyond the biological changes, societal expectations kick in.

Society expects us to hide our sanitary products in the bathroom; nobody wants to hear about periods. We’re expected to maintain a certain weight; nobody should be above a size 10. We’re told to shave; body hair is disgusting on women!

It dawned on me that I would face discrimination and objectification in every aspect of my life

Before puberty, all we worried about was who to hang out with at break, what dinner would be and what game to play next. Now we’re worrying about weight, body image and sexual harassment. We suddenly find ourselves navigating predefined roles and behaviours, feeling the pressure to align with societal norms regarding how we look, behave and communicate.

Everyone’s growth is complicated and unique, leading us to sacrifice our childhood to societal expectations in an enforced effort to conform and ‘do the right thing’. What does this even mean? How is this development anything other than being authentic; ourselves?

Another big change that I went through was realising that, systemically, I faced disadvantage. That, through no fault of my own, I understood I would face discrimination and objectification in every aspect of my life. Unravelling the depths of sexism, the patriarchy and the significance of feminism is daunting and at times debilitating. They are such nuanced and complex concepts for a child to grasp and they pose a heavy burden.

People have created these constructs, fabricating ideas about ‘right and wrong’ as well as gender stereotypes and societal roles. It’s time to make a clear distinction between man-made expectations and our inherent selves. It’s time to teach the lesson that bodily changes are natural and different for everyone, that difference does not mean divide, that puberty is just puberty.

We must work together so that when the next generation experiences this change it does not carry the same weight.

Elen is studying Spanish, Classical Civilisation and English Literature at college. She finds joy in reading, writing and having political discussions. Elen is interested in exploring Journalism careers in the future.

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