I Can't Be Equal If I'm Told I'm Not

For every message that says we can do it, there is one that says we can't.

13/10/2016 5:41 AM AEDT | Updated 13/10/2016 5:41 AM AEDT
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
"How can girls watch this and think that their work will be rewarded fairly?"

I was brought up in a household where gender wasn't a major player. I was told I could do whatever I wanted if I had the skills and put in the work. As an adult, I now know life isn't quite that black and white and we do not live in a meritocracy.

I work in a male-dominated industry. I am often one of the few female faces at professional gatherings. My gender has been talked about, thought about and used for me and against me.

That aside, I still believe that it is important to tell people that they should reach for their dreams and I spend a fair bit of time delivering that message to young women. I tend to provide a slightly more honest account of all the things that have been difficult, not just the triumphs. I want these women to be both inspired and informed.

But not everyone is hearing this message. Implicitly and explicitly, girls still think that they are different.

Plan Australia and Our Watch conducted a survey into how girls aged 15-19 feel about gender equality. The results were a little disturbing considering the day and age in which we live.

Only one out of every 10 girls surveyed thought that they were treated equally to boys. Only 14 percent of girls believed they would be afforded the same opportunities as the boys in the future. Half of the girls said they are never valued for their brains over their looks.

What a bleak outlook on the future these girls have. I would hope that the girls of that generation would be feeling like the world is their oyster. But they don't.

I think I'm equal, but still sometimes I'm not so sure. And the reason is that, in many different ways, I am told by society every day that I am not.

The train wreck of the US Presidential Elections is a fine example of how gender can come into play. Regardless of how you feel about Hillary Clinton as a person, a politician or a leader, she is actually much more qualified to run the country than her opponent, Donald Trump. She has held office, been part of policy change and high-level decisions. She does not make racist or sexist comments that are tantamount to sexual assault or racial discrimination. And yet, the world has now watched two debates where she was interrupted by a man who didn't feel the need to prepare.

How can girls watch this and think that their work will be rewarded fairly? When you are clearly better than your opponent but still risk losing, where is the incentive to put yourself out there?

With half of girls still being sold the message that looks are more valuable than brains, why would they put effort into their minds? Social media amplifies such pressure as young starlets post picture-perfect lives.

We joke about women being left for younger, prettier versions of themselves, but I have to say, as I look around my own life of family, friends and colleagues, I can find a bit of truth in this. Basically, be smart and be single.

On a much more serious end of the spectrum, again back to Trump's blatant disregard for what constitutes legal touching of another person, the internet has been flooded with stories of sexual assault. On public transport, in workplaces or by trusted men in their lives -- some women reported experiences dating back to when they were just children.

Although we want to live a life free to catch public transport without being touched, it seems that, once again, society is laughing at us for wanting equality. Especially if you choose to wear what might be termed 'revealing' clothing, because then, clearly, that is the same as asking Donald to exercise his celebrity right to grab a woman by her genitals.

We are pushing so hard for equality and not just in the realm of gender. We are taking steps and becoming increasingly vocal that gender, race, religion or sexual orientation is not what defines our entitlement to basic human rights, employment or success. Yet for every message that says we can do it, there is one that says we can't.

If I manage to muster the courage to pursue my goals, but then I'm given a message that I can only succeed if I am male, or that my intelligence and personality is no match for a younger, prettier version of myself, then why bother? Why would these girls surveyed think anything other than that they are different and therefore not worthy?

We need to be careful about the mixed messages we are sending. We need to go all in with our support and all out with the negativity. Every single one of us should be worried that our young girls are still feeling disenfranchised because of gender and start contributing to this being a thing of the past.

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