Susan Dalgety challenges First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to do more for gender equality – and urges girls to ditch the pink fluffy unicorns that have become a ‘grotesque symbol of modern femininity’.
The future has never looked bleaker. A global recession looms – again. Brexit promises to destroy a European way of life we have enjoyed for more than 40 years. And climate change hovers over the world like a big, bad storm cloud.
There is nothing blissful about 2019 and, it seems, nothing heavenly about being young. Particularly a young woman in Scotland.
One hundred years after women finally got to vote alongside their male peers, more than two thirds of Scottish girls believe they are treated differently because of their sex.
Nearly half think it will be much harder for them to succeed in their chosen career because they are female. And only 45 per cent of girls aged 12 to 17 think they can do anything a boy can do.
Girls, I have news for you. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can spend eight hours a day in a darkened bedroom fighting imaginary monsters. It doesn’t take an overdose of testosterone to be able to play Fortnite.
But I digress. A survey published a few weeks ago by that most august of youth organisations, Girlguiding Scotland, paints a demoralising picture of gender inequality that, if left to fester, will damage not only individual lives, but our country’s future.
If we are to survive the very real challenges ahead, then we need to nourish all our talents, and not just those of spotty lads who are wizards with a joystick.
Inequality is intersectional, I hear you cry. And yes, you would be correct. A middle-class girl, with a private school education, has a better start in life than a boy born to a teenage mother living in a housing estate. Class matters. It always has, and always will.
But that middle-class girl is far more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped by the time she is 25, and chances are she will earn far less than her male peers. Women are paid, on average, 15 per cent less per hour.
And even the most successful of women, if she chooses to have a child, has to take a career break to give birth, a fact of life that most girls are only too aware of, even when they are still playing with dolls.
So, given that gender inequality, like climate change, is all too-real, what can we do to prepare our girls for an uncertain future? How, in the age of Trump, can we help our girls navigate, and succeed, in an unequal world?
Some of the answer lies, as ever, with our politicians. They are the law-makers, with the power to change society’s rules, and to spend national resources on things that make a real difference.
Our own First Minister has shown an admirable commitment to gender equality – up to a point.
She presides over a balanced Cabinet, has introduced equality for public boards, and set up the First Minister’s Advisory Council on Women and Girls. Its aim is to “raise awareness of gender inequality ... champion for positive progress ... and be a catalyst for change by providing a challenging voice to the First Minister”.
Here’s my challenging voice to Nicola: “First Minister, you have shown admirable support for Women 50:50, the campaign for equal representation. Now use your considerable powers to begin the process of introducing quotas for the Scottish Parliament and our councils.”
Any such move may bring Holyrood into conflict with Westminster (and some political parties), but what’s new? Our First Minister relishes a fight. And if Ireland, that one-time proud bastion of men and the Catholic Church, can have quotas for its parliament, then surely Scotland can too.
Gender balance in Holyrood and our council chambers would make an immeasurable difference to the lives of our young women and girls. Law-making, policy development and service delivery would be equally influenced by the life experience of both sexes. And there would be a bigger pool of women to choose our leaders from. Who could argue with that?
My second challenging voice is to the Education Secretary, John Swinney, and everyone involved in the education of our children and young people.
The Girlguiding Scotland survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of girls learned little or nothing about healthy relationships, online pornography, consent, or even gender equality at school.
Of course, parents have an important role in helping their children – male and female – navigate the terrifying, and exhilarating, world of sex.
But surely schools have as a big a role to play, particularly now that dad’s dog-eared copy of Penthouse, hidden deep inside his sock drawer, has been replaced by hard-core porn, freely available at the swipe of a teenager’s iPhone.
A recent survey by HIV Scotland of nearly 3,000 schoolchildren found that more than half of Scots pupils do not participate in sexual health lessons.
Feedback from young people, gathered during the Government’s current review of review of personal and social education (PSE), shows why. The programme is “outdated”, “not relevant to our experience” and “should be more progressive”, they said.
Discussing the ins and outs of sex, from masturbation to consent, and also the risk of the sexual assault is never easy, particularly in a classroom setting. But neither is algebra, and I know which subject is more pertinent to the long-term well-being of our next generation, and it isn’t x=y.
So, Mr Swinney, in 2019, let’s see Scotland develop the world’s most forward thinking, relevant, compulsory curriculum for personal and social education. One that is designed for Ariana Grande’s generation, not Lulu’s.
My third shout-out is a personal bug bear, and I apologise in advance to my grand-daughters. Unicorns. Pink, glittery, fluffy unicorns.
The bloody things are everywhere. It seems no self-respecting girl can survive without a herd of plastic unicorns to groom.
I, almost, understand the appeal of these mythical creatures. After all they have been part of human culture for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks considered them as real as the horse, and they pop up in Chinese mythology.
A unicorn is even Scotland’s national “animal”, in part, asserts the VisitScotland website, because in Celtic mythology the unicorn was considered a symbol of purity and innocence, as well as masculinity and power. All very gender fluid, but thanks to clever marketing, unicorns have lost their mythical sparkle and have become a grotesque symbol of modern femininity.
So, my 2019 message to young women is unload those unicorns. Believe in yourself. You’re much more powerful than you think.