For peace of mind, we must end sexism
A survey published this week by Young Women's Trust found that young women aged 16-30 were the most likely group of women to experience sexism and that, shockingly, a third of young women have experienced sexism in the past year.
The statistics reflect a dark reality for young women: sexism is still rife in our society and is having a lasting impact on our mental health.
My experience of sexism
My experience of sexism has been both subtle and obvious. I found in high school sexism was evident with boys being pushed towards sport and praised more for their academic achievement, while girls were pushed towards the arts and expected to do dance or drama.
Girls wore skirts, were expected to be quieter, to be more focused on work and more obedient. The phrase 'boys will be boys' was used as an excuse when male students behaved in an unruly way, yet we girls got detentions and lectures on how to be more respectful.
A ‘woman’s role’ in the world
As women, many of us are made to ‘understand’ our role in the world from an early age - to be the obedient daughter, attentive housewife and perfect mother. These roles are reinforced throughout society. We’re forever reminded of these perceived roles and cannot be our true selves; it’s as if we must learn to live up to an unattainable, unsustainable standard of beauty, career and motherhood.
This sexism is why, as the Young Women’s Trust’s new report shows, there is a crisis of mental ill health among Britain’s young women.
The sexism and mental ill health link
I was raised by my father to be a strong woman. But he would, like many of his generation, make sexist comments without realising. As I grew into my teens, I became wary of my voice, of being a strong woman, which conflicted with the patriarchal society around me and my self-esteem suffered.
Now, as a young woman, it’s sad to see female MP's resign in alarming numbers citing 'abuse' and 'intimidation'. And it’s unacceptable that so much of the abuse on social media - including rape and death threats – is aimed at women.
Despite movements like #MeToo raising awareness of the fight against workplace sexual harassment, Young Women’s Trust’s report shows that young women continue to face abuse, harassment, sexual assault and threatening behaviour in all areas of life.
Sexism contributes to fears, pressures and expectations that do little to help us flourish. It quietens our voices. It removes our rights and impacts the representation of women in the public and private sectors. I feel that I must work twice as hard in all facets of life just because I'm a woman.
This is wrong, this is an injustice. This is not how it should be for young women in 21st century Britain, or anywhere in the world.
What we need from the next government
We need our politicians to listen to the young women in our society and act on what they are saying – to take actions against what the report highlights. The next government must improve social media governance, it must insist on robust abuse reporting tools and issue greater punishment to the internet companies that fail to protect users. It must allocate more funding for mental health services and recognise the harm sexism causes daily. And it must create a dynamic sex and relationship education in our schools from an early age.
Sexism is being challenged like never before. Now it needs committed politicians to defeat it, finally.
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