Saturday, 15 March 2014

Young Women's Voices

This will be my last post for a couple of months and it's long overdue!

Photo credits: Rose Lyddon

A week ago today I spoke at the Women of the World Festival alongside two other young feminists, 14-year-old Anisa Khalique and 11-year-old Mila Harrison. Now I don't particularly enjoy public speaking, but I really enjoyed this particular event because I was super duper inspired by my fellow panellists! For a long time I've ranted about how young women are hardly ever given a platform to speak. So I'd like to thank WOW for introducing me to two new voices of the future.

One of the most annoying things I have ever come across (and believe me - there are a LOT of them) is the phrase "she's only... (insert age under 18)." And I admit, I'm a reinforcer of this preposterous phrase myself, and I'm not proud of it. The use of the word "only" is one of the most offensive, demeaning and therefore irritating insults I have ever come across. And most of the time, it's said with very good intentions...

When somebody uses the word "only" to describe the age of a young woman who's done a great thing, generally it's intended as a compliment. The word is supposed to highlight :"Wow, look at all the great things you're doing, that's pretty impressive for someone of such a young age."

But here's the thing. Great things are not impressive for people of a "young age." Every day, I speak to teenagers who both challenge and inspire me. I am absorbed by their opinions, and I have yet to come across another human being who doesn't fascinate me. No matter their age.

When a young person is described as "only" all it does is feed the hideous stereotype that young people have nothing much to say. That we are all opinionless, and it is impressive for us to conjure up any sort of creative or conceptual thought. When a young person is described as "only" it completely undermines the brilliance and the intelligence of thousands of young people across the country. Because we do have plenty to say. And perhaps the problem isn't the lack of youth opinion, but the lack of a willingness to listen to it.

I'm not having a go at people for using the phrase here. I've used it myself countless times! What I'm saying is that we need to observe and reassess our own language, challenge our own mistakes, and realise that we're part of a wider cultural problem. The more we start accepting that young people have a lot to say, the more we're going to start listening. Until then, it will be exceptional for teenagers to voice their opinion, and we'll continue to be surprised when they do so.

Afternote: I have exams in eight weeks. I am panicking. Massive apologies to anyone who reads this haphazard collection of my thoughts, but I'm going to be taking a two-month break in an attempt not to flop my A-levels. I doubt anyone will miss this blog much, but I will miss writing it! As always, thank you so much for reading, and I'll be sure to make the most stupendous return I can think of at the end of May. Love and peace xxx

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