As a Headmistress of a Girls’ School, you truly hope that the future of the girls you are educating will be secure. A future where girls are recognised as equals, they are given the same opportunities as boys and are able to choose and succeed in a career unaffected by their gender.
This weekend, reading the Sunday papers I became more reassured. There is a growing band of campaigners in Britain and the US who are trying to get girls to look beyond the mirror. They are trying to boost girls’ self-esteem, by calling for less gendered advertising, better role models and equal treatment of the sexes in schools. Last month, one of the UK’s best-selling magazines for girls, ‘Girl Talk’, declared itself feminist with its campaign #GirlsAreAmazing. The editor, Bea Appleby said, “we are promoting feminist values – equality, sisterhood, empowerment and making the magazine a safe place that girls can be proud of who they are and meet great models. I did not think it was right that all our readers would see were pop starts and models. We are encouraging them to think about what’s equal and what’s not.”
Hannah Webster, speaking for the Independent Association of Prep Schools, warned of the dangers of the increasing marketing pressures on girls wearing pink and boys blue. “If we designate a particular colour to a gender, it leads us to designate all manner of other things by gender too. The result is girls are ultimately valued differently by society.” Children’s laureate Malorie Blackman and author Philip Pullman want publishers to “stop labelling books, in the title or on packaging as for girls or for boys” as it can lead “to false and stupid assumptions about what each gender wants, narrowing the horizons and possibilities for children.”
The advantage of an all girls’ education is that you can avoid these stereotypes. Girls, here, do not see any pressure to conform to a societal norm. At our recent Open Morning, our Head Girl reinforced this message, “It has been great growing up in an all girls’ school without any pressure to conform to stereotypes or having to worry about my appearance. It’s interesting to see that many girls who’ve joined the Sixth Form this year from mixed schools have made a real effort to focus on their appearance, and those of us who’ve been here ages have been thinking ‘what’s the issue?’ There’s no need. And it’s good to see that by this point in the year they’ve given up on this and realised that actually that’s not important here and that so long as they’re smart, they can come in looking however they feel comfortable and will still be taken seriously.”
We continue to challenge stereotypes at our schools but it is difficult when there is a mass of pink-tinged advertising, cartoons, toys and clothing that are stereotyping girls. I am therefore delighted when there is a growing swell of opinion from girls themselves that this has to change.