Empowering young women for gender equality

June 18, 2024

L-R Olivia and Katie’s rendition of the ‘We Can Do It!’ original produced by J. Howard Miller in 1943 (American World War II)

Olivia, Katie, Ehsen and Aishiek delve into the challenges experienced by young women

While we all agree there is more equality in the perception of each other, as young women and men nowadays, we still observe disparities including those in the workplace. The change can be exemplified by old advertisements from the 1950s, which casually demonstrated sexism, such as the Van Heusen bowling advert. It famously declared “Show her it’s a man’s world”, subtly alluding to domestic violence. You can check out examples of these old adverts here.

This advert published so casually in the 50s would never be published in 2024. Although women are more respected in society today, the workplace is a different story. According to reports globally in CEO magazine, women only account for 5.4% of CEOs. Also, it found that in the 2022 tech sector, only 27.6% of employees were female. And shockingly a 2023 report in Forbes Advisor revealed that in legal occupations men earned 59% more than women.

Locker room talk
We’ve witnessed the normalisation of derogatory remarks and inappropriate behaviour towards our female friends, often from individuals we’re close to or wouldn’t expect it from. They often dismiss such conduct as ‘locker room talk’ or excuse it with the excuse that “boys will be boys”.

A couple of us have experienced situations where a close friend made remarks suggesting they hold sexist attitudes. They would say things like, “girls should stick to what they’re good at, being pretty and shopping”.

It’s difficult to challenge something so deeply ingrained casually into our culture, but it is vital for people to take a stand. Call out your friends. We need to work harder to make everybody feel safer and protected, and a good way to start would be to challenge the toxic nature of ‘locker room talk’.

Party culture
It’s pretty common today for girls to simply be reduced to their looks and treated like objects of desire at parties by young men. This reinforces a lack of respect for women, and perpetuates the harmful idea that this is all women offer.

One of us has experienced this firsthand recently at a gathering. Surrounded by a group of boys from her school, she attempted to chat about a band she’d just seen and other shared interests. However, despite her efforts, the boys continually made comments about her appearance, rating girls who walked by, and making inappropriate jokes. She felt uneasy and frustrated, being reduced to her looks and treated as an object of desire. It is important to remember that everybody is still a human underneath their looks, and therefore must be treated as one, with respect.

Chauvinistic call out
We’ve been discussing other ways to drive home the negative impact of sexist and misogynistic speech. Clearly explain how these attitudes have adversely affected society for years and encourage your friends to re-evaluate their views.

If your friend says something sexist to somebody else, ensure the person they’re talking to is okay, and suggest to your friend that they should apologise.

Although it can be uncomfortable to take that step and call them out, it is absolutely necessary. To be fair, it’s not easy to pull them aside and confront them. But when you do, ask them to clarify what they mean by their comments. Chat with them about how their words make you feel and why it’s not a positive, safe or beneficial view to be spreading.

We all agree that if your friend doesn’t acknowledge their mistake, it may be best to reconsider whether to spend time with them. By enabling these attitudes, they contribute to a society that perpetuates harm against women.

People often discuss the stereotype that men should be ‘protectors’ of women. However, what is often overlooked is that, in many cases, men find themselves ‘protecting’ women from other men. We’ve overheard conversations where individuals acknowledge this reality, saying, “Let’s face it, most of the time we’re protecting girls from guys like us who don’t get boundaries or show respect.”

The heart of the issue lies in addressing the underlying cause rather than focusing solely on protection. By addressing sexist attitudes, we tackle the root problem. However, it’s important for men to still protect women. Society should definitely prioritise women’s safety by implementing simple measures, like increasing streetlights for better visibility at night.

Situationships
We also chatted about the ‘Situationship culture’. It’s like we’re all navigating these undefined relationships where nobody really wants to put a label on them. It’s all about keeping things casual and avoiding any real commitment. It’s kind of confusing, but it’s a big part of how we date and connect nowadays.

We agreed that this can often lead to seeing the other person as just an object of desire, without a deeper connection. This normalisation of ‘talking stages’ and the general in-between of dating and friends that our generation is stuck in, could be the downfall of traditional ‘old love’.

It is less common for people to seek this bond and connection, instead searching for something more ambiguous, to avoid getting ‘sucked in’. It could be seen as an act of self-preservation – a means to avoid heartbreak – yet it can lead to a lack of mutual respect and perpetuating the idea that either person is merely just an object of desire without anything deeper.

Family gender respect
Olivia and Katie: We asked the question and initiated thoughts with Ehsen and Aishiek regarding their perspectives on the treatment of their female relatives within the context of sexism and misogyny.

Ehsen: I have concerns for my older sister, especially when she’s out at night with her friends. Given the very real threats that affect women today, there’s always a lingering fear in the back of my mind that something may happen to her. You just never know.

Aishiek: I’ve seen enough times where guys act like idiots and aren’t even aware of how misogynistic they’re being. They’re too busy trying to prove themselves, driven by the need to impress their male friends.

Together, we underscored the prevalence of threats faced by women due to their gender, including domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of sexist behaviour, predominantly perpetrated by men. We prompted consideration of the victim as someone’s sister, daughter or loved one, challenging perpetrators to confront the implications of their actions.

By emphasising the importance of empathy and respect for all women, our conversation seeks to raise awareness and challenge sexist attitudes. We call for broader recognition of the connection between personal relationships and societal issues, advocating for a shift toward treating women with dignity and equality.

We feel that by standing up against sexism and advocating for empathy and respect towards women, we can build a society that is safer, more equal and ultimately happier for everyone.

Check more from:

Exposure is a youth communications charity enabling young people to thrive creatively, for the good of others as well as themselves.

Other work

Donate via PayPal

Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice.

Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.