Armstrong teen reflects on equality

Kayla Wirth is a Grade 12 student at PVSS in Armstrong. - photo submitted
Kayla Wirth is a Grade 12 student at PVSS in Armstrong.
— image credit: photo submitted

I am Woman, Hear me Roar!

The other day I was asked over anonymous social media what the worst thing about being a girl is. This person probably thought I would answer with something unbearable about our menstrual cycles, but I didn’t. The answer I gave the person with no identity was this: “I think the worst thing about being a girl is knowing that there is an expectation of what a girl should be like and how she should look. Apparently we should all be prim and proper and feminine and cutesy, tall and thin with long naturally coloured hair, but the truth is I don’t believe there are real defining characteristics we all share because every girl is different. We are all special and deserve to be cherished and respected by society and the opposite sex.”

To be saying this as a teenager in the 21st century is sad, it really shows that the progress made after the women’s rights movement of the ‘60s isn’t as monumental as most people are led to believe. Some employers still question placing women in managerial or leadership roles, women still are not top picks for labour-related or physically demanding jobs, and most shockingly of all, women are being let go from the jobs they need because their male bosses find them too attractive. What is it going to take for our so-called modern society to see women as equals to men?

If we as women began to see ourselves in a more positive light, our confidence would spread like wildfire. We would find ourselves more likely to go after those important positions and squash the male competition with our skills, understanding, and experience so no man would come out on top just based on the fact that he is a man. But, in order for us to gain that sense of self respect and pride in our abilities it has to start with modifications to aspects of our lives, the Canadian Dream, that we cannot control: film, media and advertising.

Only 16 per cent of film protagonists are female. This is outrageous, the ideas that men are superior to women and that women are not as capable as men are being subconsciously taught to us from a young age through our favourite type of entertainment. The fact that female protagonists make up just 16 per cent is pathetic in itself before looking at what they are made to look like. Take heroines Black Widow, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Cat Woman for example, how efficient would it really be to save the world or be a productive villain wearing a skintight suit with an exposed midriff and stilettos? We look for role models who remind us of ourselves, or display the type of character we would like to develop, how are young girls supposed to find someone to look up to when their female heroes are sexually objectified?

It is important for everyone to have a role model to base our own morals off of and aspire to be like, but it is hard for young women to find a strong female role model to look up to when less than 20 per cent of news stories focus on women and their achievements. Women accomplish great things every day and a lot of them go unheard of. My personal role models are Kathleen Wynne and Malala Yousafzai. Wynne is the first openly gay premier in Canada and the first female premier of Ontario, and Yousafzai was shot in the head by the Taliban in her home country for campaigning for the right of girls to get an education, and now she speaks at the United Nations about youth and women’s education and was runner up for the Nobel Peace Prize. These incredible women are wonderful people and plant seeds of inspiration in the hearts of people like me, but it is unfortunate that I have heard more news coverage of astronaut Chris Hadfield playing David Bowie’s Space Oddity in space than I have of them. Canadians do not know how big Wynne’s accomplishment is, but they know a Canadian astronaut can play Space Oddity on guitar. Maybe it would be easier to find a female role model in political figures if male broadcasters and politicians didn’t criticize them for being too professional, uptight and unattractive in the case of Hillary Clinton, or too feminine, ditzy and sexy in the case of Sarah Palin.

Besides movies and media, advertising is another factor as to why women are still stuck on a lower pedestal than men. So many advertising campaigns are focused on online dating, beauty and dieting, which all contribute to the negative way adolescent girls see themselves. Our daughters are being informed by television commercials that self worth is based on looks, with 78 per cent of girls up to 17 years old unhappy with their bodies, 65 per cent have eating disorders and 17 per cent resort to methods of self harm to deal with self esteem issues. I wonder how much of that unhappiness is due to seeing the televised version of what all girls should look like? Companies are crushing the self esteem of teenage girls in order to sell their products and that loss of confidence diminishes the belief of being able to be successful at something important. There is no longer family hour during the day on television so advertisements promoting sex (via pregnancy prevention methods), alcohol, makeup, diets, and dating play all hours of the day, not just at night, when our children are watching cartoons. The next generation is learning to see themselves as objects, and that it is all about the body and not about the brain, during the commercial breaks in SpongeBob SquarePants. When did the way we look start to trump our self worth, self respect, confidence, pride and achievements?

People disagree that men are higher on the totem pole than women, but how can they when they see only three women working at the mill, two firewomen, one police woman and the woman lose the municipal election to the man based on doubts about how a woman could fulfill such an important duty?

How can they when they watch movies with strong male roles and stereotypical female ones? And how can they when professional women are being bashed on television for behaving as a man would, or being sexually objectified and having their work be discounted because of their femininity? It is indeed a medieval time we live in.

Kayla Wirth is a Grade 12 student at Pleasant Valley secondary school in Armstrong. Her essay was published in the school’s newsletter after she presented it at her Graduation Transition/Exit interview with school principal, Abbas El Gazzar, and Mayor Chris Pieper.

“I wrote this essay in response to a documentary we watched in my English 12 class called Miss Representation. I encourage anyone, male or female, to watch it. My essay scored 90 per cent and it scored so highly because I had such a connection with the issue of equality and empowerment because I can see all of the things described in the documentary happening around me in the real world. I did not write the essay to be a ‘man-bashing’ essay by any means; I didn’t write it as a raging feminist whose goal is to persuade people into thinking women are better, I wrote it to make people aware that even though we think we have come so far and that our generation is so much more advanced, women have still not achieved equality with men and that we will continue to fall short of equality every time if people of both genders do not change their outdated thinking.”


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