Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Girlguiding - 103 Years of Relevance!

In case you haven't noticed, I'm proud to be a member of Girlguiding, providing varied and exciting activities to girls and young women and helping them develop as individuals spiritually, emotionally and socially.

As an organisation for girls and young women, I think it's essential that we represent their views on the issues that matter to them. Too often, the voice of youth is dismissed as unimportant or unnecessary. But if we are to engage them in social change and their own futures, then those voices need to be heard now.

I fully support Girlguiding's Advocate! panel and their aims - a group of young women aged 14-25 who reflect on issues that matter to them and their peers, and take action to change and make themselves heard. The discussions that have come from this group are insightful, thought provoking and have led to some truly wonderful campaigns, including the one currently in the media.

As a child, I was lucky enough never to come across The Sun or Page Three. I didn't even know of Page Three's existence until I was in my mid teens. For anyone who is fortunate enough to still be in that position, it's a full page dedicated to a topless "glamour" model, with a small news article that is generally used to poke fun at and belittle their intellect; because a woman is just there to look good, not to have opinions - obviously!

The first time I came across Page Three was when I worked at McDonald's as a 17 year old. The manager bought in a "selection" of newspapers for customers to read over their breakfast. If they lasted the morning, then maybe lunch as well. I was absolutely horrified to see Page Three wide open on the table with a family around it, the boy (about twelve or thirteen) telling his dad that he didn't "think much of her, her tits ain't big enough." He went on to make a comment about her face and how she looked like a dog, and the dad just laughed and told him, "it's not the face you're looking at, kid." The girl, who was younger, was just watching and listening to this conversation.

I asked the manager why we were handing out newspapers with topless women in a family restaurant. It seemed wrong that children were eating their happy meals with these overtly sexual images in front of them. I asked if they could maybe get the Guardian, the Independent, even the local papers. But I was told no. Because they're not family papers, and The Sun is.

The Sun is a family paper. And yet it contains those images. 

I couldn't quite get my head around it. But as you get older, you often lose a lot of that ideology and self-righteousness. You think there are bigger battles to fight, or just shrug and say, "it's the parents' choice, and it's the girls' choice to model". Some people call it maturity, others call it perspective. Sometimes, I think that it's unintentional ignorance, the forgetfulness of age. The more removed we become from youth, the more we forget the impact that these sorts of images have.

Every day, we have these images - this message of women being undervalued, being stupid, being nothing more than attractive commodities - thrown at us from the media. We swallow them all. We don't think we do, but we absorb them, we take them in and we become conflicted. Those messages are telling us that we're worthless if we're not beautiful, that we can be bought and sold, that we are nothing more than sex objects. And in our minds, we know that it's not true, but we have that voice that has been fed by years of indoctrination, telling us that we're unworthy. Many of us turn this voice into an inner critic - or self-deprecating humour - but the legacy of Page Three is there, embedded in our minds.

It seems the public is split on Girlguiding's decision to support the No More Page Three campaign. We have been congratulated, but also told to "get back in the kitchen". We have been told that we're little girls who don't know what we're talking about, we've been told that women can choose if they want to model and the public can choose if they want to buy. We've also been told that this is a last ditch attempt by a group of old, middle-class women to radicalise Girlguiding and make it relevant.


Girlguiding has been relevant for the last 103 years. The difference is that the good practice and social change that has been happening at local level, or by individuals, now has a national platform. The difference is that instead of having several individuals campaigning alone, Girlguiding has brought these people together and harnessed their collective power. We are the largest voice for girls and young women in the UK. We need to USE that voice.

People have cited all sorts of "more important issues" that need tackling, particularly focusing on violence and gender inequality. But this violence and mentality doesn't come from nowhere, it comes from ingrained "tradition" and "institutions", words both used to describe Page Three by its supporters. To end gender-based violence, you need to go right back to square one and tackle the mindsets and cultures that promote it, from stereotypes to media representation. And that is what Girlguiding is doing.

Others have criticised the sample taken. From over half a million members, only one section was consulted, and there were only 2000 respondents. Whilst I believe it right to only consult the young members whose voice we represent, and not the adult volunteers who just facilitate that voice, I was rather dubious about that consultation. Until I looked at the wider picture.

In the Girls' Attitudes Survey, 68% of respondents felt that women are judged more on their appearance than on their ability and only 14% believed that women are equal to men in today's society. And if you need an even bigger sample of the feelings of young people, look at the 25,000 signatures on Girlguiding's airbrushing petition.

Body image matters to them. What they are seeing in the media, the lies that they are fed about their self-worth and the impact it has, matters to these young people. And you can't just separate the idea of Page Three from body image and self-worth, because it's showing girls from a young age that their opinions only matter to men if their "tits are big enough".

And to critics within the organisation, who feel the focus is being taken away from having fun and put too heavily on activism, remember that Girlguiding has always been about putting the girls' wishes first. It's why Guiding started in 1910 - because they wanted something for the girls. We have always been committed to a balanced programme, and discussing the issues that they have identified as important is a vital part of that balance and self government. 

No comments:

Post a Comment