Last week I watched some of our younger girls swim in a gala (Years 3–7). For the Year 3s, it was their first competitive swimming event, they were incredibly excited. The din from the swimming pool was overwhelming!
The girls were competing against Bedford boys, and what struck me was the girls saw themselves as equals, their goal was either to win or if not win, beat the boys. They took their marks, in a variety of ways, depending on their swimming ability, and swam. On many occasion BGS finished first, second and third. All the girls swam and they swam proud.
By puberty this self-belief and pride in who they are can ebb away. Self-belief can be replaced with fragility, pride replaced with anxiety and some become less resilient in shrugging off negativity. Girls can become so overwhelmed with the hormonal overload that they struggle to understand who they are and what they represent. At the same time they are bombarded with subtle marketing messages, social stereotyping creeps in and they start to believe the myths that they are less equal and need to conform and be more of a princess, rescued by the prince, than be a powerful queen.
Being like a girl suddenly takes on a new meaning – and instead of being proud to be a girl, it’s seen in a derogatory way. Always are running a super campaign that highlights this. They ask girls of 10 and 14 to “run like a girl”. The younger girls run confidently, the older girls run limply, in an effeminate way. The message behind the ad campaign is that girls should be proud of who they are, being a girl should not be a mark of weakness but a mark of huge strength. Older girls should break away from the negative stereotyping and reclaim the word with pride.
The advantage of a girls’ school is that we can openly challenge these stereotypes. We work with girls when they hit puberty to reassure them, build up their confidence and give them opportunities to find their own inner power, enabling them to follow the path that allows them to express themselves.
We ask our girls to be proud to run like a girl, to be confident to throw like a girl and to always be as self-assured as the Year 3s were in lining up to the boys at the swimming gala.