Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in her now famous TEDxEuston speech about gender equality:
“I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femaleness and my femininity. And I want to be respected in all of my femaleness because I deserve to be.”
Women the world over, know too well the struggles of embracing their gender identity. They face modern sexism everyday from school through university and even in the workplace.
From the moment we are assigned our genders at birth, society’s expectations have been placed along with those labels. Dolls for girls and toy trucks for boys is a simple example of this.
These expectations may not gel with what we feel about ourselves and they can be constricting and even oppressive.
Society’s expectations of the female gender are more rigid and sometimes, overbearing. This has caused generations of capable women not achieving their full potential, clipping their wings and limiting their dreams to conform to those expectations.
According to research, it was found that individuals, regardless of their gender, view words associated with feminine qualities to be weaker; that those stereotypically feminine characteristics are somehow lesser than stereotypically masculine ones.
However, the winds of change, which have been blowing for decades, have picked up speed in recent years, breeding a new generation of fresh-faced, confident young women who dream big and challenge oppressive expectations set by society.
To gain the perspectives of women from this generation, eight young people from Australia, Finland, India, Malaysia, Scotland and Singapore were asked about school, the challenges they face as young women, and how they plan to overcome these oppressive stereotypes.
These are excerpts of our interviews.
Shweta Hota, 20
Medical student, Singapore
How do you think school has prepared you for the future?
Going to an international school exposed me to people from different cultures and backgrounds. Having close friends with different values has helped me be more accepting of people.
In particular, I think this helped me settle into university in the United Kingdom despite never living here. I found it very easy to adapt and integrate with the community.
School gave me the basic knowledge and skill sets I need to succeed in life, e.g. being in the committee of societies taught me leadership skills, group work in projects has prepared me for teamwork later on when I’m working as a doctor.
Examinations and assignments taught me to work and deliver under pressure. Doing the International Baccalaureate (IB) gave me a base level of knowledge in subjects unrelated to my undergraduate course which has given me an upper hand at times. For example, learning psychology at IB level helps me understand psychosocial issues in healthcare.
Deevianna Vicna Vinesh, 16
Secondary school student, Australia
What do you think is the biggest challenge for young women in your age group today?
One of the biggest challenges for young women in my age group could very well be dealing with the inequalities in society. The double standards that still exist today are appalling.
Feminism is a movement that surfaced in the late 18th century and then sparked again when the suffragette movement came about in the late 19th century. A “second wave” of feminism erupted in the 1960s.
If we can’t fix an issue that has been identified almost 50 years ago, then how can we have faith in humanity evolving any further?
Erin McAuley, 17
St. Matthews Academy
Senior student, Scotland
How can these challenges be overcome?
The old stereotype of women needs to be abolished and it’s ridiculous that some still live by this.
Today women are much stronger, more powerful and more motivated to stand up yet there are still some inequalities and stereotypes that need to be dealt with.
These challenges will only be overcome when people start waking up to the modern day society and noticing that these old miffs do not and cannot exist.
These challenges will only be overcome in an equal society where women and men are equal over all lengths and breadths of society especially within job positions and pay.
It is outrageous in some places now when men are still being paid more compared with women for doing the same job, the same hours with the same pressure, time and effort yet just because they are male they get a higher wage. That is discrimination!
Nivedita Nair, 18
A-Levels student, India
From your observations, what is modern society’s perception of women advancing in their career? Why do you think that is?
Women advancing in their career make people sceptical and these women are constantly questioned about their achievements.
It is difficult for people to believe that a woman can do anything a man can do, because it makes them insecure.
If a woman can be successful then it proves that the age old thought of keeping them in the kitchen because of their supposed uselessness is illogical and it makes the believer of such a thought seem illogical.
Nobody likes to admit they are wrong, but they ought to feel shameful for stunting humanity’s progress by clinging onto such beliefs.
Shauneera Vicna Vinesh, 16
Secondary school student, Australia
What can you do to fight the age-old stigma that women are somehow inferior to men?
It’s impossible not to quote Emma Watson:
“It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining ourselves by what we are not, and start defining ourselves by who we are.”
At first, the gender equality movement was considered a protest led by only women. Lately, men have begun addressing these discriminations faced by women and girls. This is a huge step in the movement.
Sarah Tan Li Ern, 18
Pre-university student, Malaysia
Who is your female role model and why does she inspire you?
My mother. She works, cleans the house, takes care of our family, and is the unofficial errand runner. She’s the champion juggler of many high demand roles and is still somehow able to remain cheerful through them all.
The way she functions is unbelievable, especially more so to me since I know first-hand she is able to go about her business like Superwoman.
She is amazing, and I only hope that I can at least be half the mother she is in the future.
Tasha Raj, 19
Communications student and aspiring journalist, Malaysia
What do you think you can do to change the world?
Move to Pluto. I’m kidding. To change the world, we would need an education system that teaches humanities besides academic excellence.
Instil in children that differences don’t really matter. Gender stereotypes are set since we were born – pink for girls, blue for boys.
If we can raise a generation that does not discriminate gender, race, or whatever not, we’d change that aspect of the world.
Emma Karstunen, 20
Medical student, Finland
If you could invent anything, what would it be (without money and time being an issue)?
(An) International education model and every single person could (get the same) education. So everyone would be highly-educated.
Although these young women hail from different parts of the globe, their views on women’s rights and achieving gender equality are strong and clear, many of them emphasising the importance of education.
This is a reflection of how billions of young women the world over are empowered to make a difference for the betterment of future generations.
They are willing to work their hardest to show the world that women are more than just their stereotypes and should be viewed as being on equal ground with men.
When everyone is treated fairly, we have more opportunities to learn from each other and therefore, try our best to emulate everyone’s best qualities regardless of gender, which can help us evolve into a more progressive society.
These intelligent young women surely proved that the new generation of women will undoubtedly utilise their full potential to help the world become a better place.
Look out world, because young women are paving the way for the future!
Tara is a feminist who believes in gender equality and hopes to one day work actively for organisations that fight for human rights. She hopes to see a future with no matriarchies or patriarchies – just all genders in society being given equal opportunities and respect. To share your thoughts with Tara, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more Starting Young articles, click here.
Published in English daily The Star, Malaysia, 14 March 2015