Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017
Each year, Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey takes a snapshot of what girls and young women think on a wide range of issues.The overwhelming message that girls and young women are sending us in this year’s survey is that they live in a world where sexism and gender stereotypes are entrenched in all areas of their lives. From a young age, girls sense they face different expectations compared to boys and feel a pressure to adjust their behaviour accordingly. Girls encounter stereotyping across their lives – at school, in the media and in advertising, in the real and the virtual world, from their peers, teachers and families. Yet it is also clear that girls are not passively accepting this situation. Perceptive and confident, they are well able to identify stereotyping, and many feel able to call it out and stand up for themselves and others.
At school, many girls encounter an inbuilt assumption that some subjects are more for girls or for boys, restricting their free choice to study what interests them as individuals. Girls feel that stepping outside the norm – for both girls and boys – can result in teasing and labelling from their peers. Girls say they are not getting the sporting offer they want at school, with some sports still being offered only to boys. It’s hardly surprising, then, that a quarter see PE as being ‘more for boys’. Nor is school a place of safety from sexual harassment: a worrying finding from the report is that girls now experience higher levels of sexual harassment in school than they did in 2014. Sexual intimidation via social media has shown the greatest increase, but girls are being subjected every week to name-calling, physical harassment, and obscene graffiti and images.
In the wider world, girls face a continual barrage of sexist adverts and gender stereotypes perpetuated across traditional and social media, and in marketing. Even the youngest girls are aware of being sold gendered clothing and products, and they find it disappointing and annoying. Despite this awareness many are internalising the messages that girls are kinder and better behaved, while boys are stronger and take more risks. And they are altering their behaviour as a result: over half of girls of all ages will change what they wear and how they express themselves in order to conform to the stereotypes they are being sold, both on- and offline.
Girls see digital technology as an essential, fun part of their everyday lives, and the overwhelming majority are confident of their tech skills. However, just over a third would consider a career in technology and many feel that schools perpetuate the myth that tech subjects are more for boys. In their social use of tech, girls worry both about their safety and about the pressures they face including threats from strangers, bullying, seeing unwanted pornography, and having control of their own images. A quarter see sexting as a normal part of a relationship and almost one sixth report having felt pressure to send nude photos.
Despite these challenges, girls are using all the tools available to them to look after themselves and develop the skills they need. Most girls tell us that they feel confident in their ability to protect themselves online and are unfazed about entering a male-dominated area of work. They are experts in identifying sexism and stereotyping in the media and in the products sold to them. Many feel angry about gender stereotyping and more determined to succeed because of it. Girls are inspired by role models who challenge and overcome stereotypes, and they are increasingly prepared, as they get older, to challenge sexism themselves.
Girls are doing everything in their power to navigate, survive and challenge the stereotyped world they find themselves living in. However, changes on a bigger scale are required, and girls are using their voices to tell us what needs to happen. They call for schools to do more to encourage girls into subjects dominated by boys and to provide better careers advice; they want increased security and greater protection from threats online; they demand that the advertising industry ends its use of sexist, stereotypic al and sexualised images. They ask to live in a world where they need not feel defined or restricted by their gender, and listening to their experiences and opinions is the first step for all of us in working towards that goal.