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There is a lot of talk about millennials wanting greater equality, which is great. It would be nice to believe that progress is inevitable, but things don’t progress on their own. They need a bit of a push and they can sometimes go backwards.
I was talking to a teacher the other day. We’ve been having some problems with boys in year eight making all kinds of horrible comments. The teacher said she had noticed an increase in misogynistic attitudes among younger boys. Porn culture is rife and many are accessing it on their phones. It’s unlikely to give them a particularly egalitarian view of women.
The tide of mental health problems among girls is high. We live, of course, in an age of anxiety where young people face hugely uncertain futures on all fronts. There are multiple causes of anxiety and boys suffer from it too. It may just be that I am hearing more about the girls because I have teenage girls, but the level of mental health problems is shocking. Daughter one was with a group of friends the other day and one of them had a panic attack. I know of multiple other girls who have had mental health problems. In fact I know more who had had mental health problems than who haven’t. That is surely worrying, not just now but for the future.
These are girls who are being fed a tornado of different messages – to ensure every part of their body looks ‘peng’, but to be strong, independent women who love themselves for who they are; to achieve all the time [don’t get me started on targets and interim reports from schools. This generation is treated as if they are corporate entities rather than actual human beings] which means being constantly on the brink of failure; to be able to make a fortune overnight or to live in debt for ever.
I’d like to think that all the focus on the gender pay gap is going to move things forward in terms of gender equality, but what if it creates more pressure on girls as it certainly has on my generation who have had to succeed both at home and at work? That is why there is a need to focus more on boys, who also face their own imprisoning stereotypes, and there is great work going on to tackle the root causes of the gender pay gap. But I’ve been depressed by some of the comments I’ve heard from some quarters. The tendency to big up cases like Uber where there is a gender pay gap even though everyone gets the same rate because, so I am told, “men drive faster”. The comments that John McEnroe is so much better at commentating than Martina Navratilova [despite her winning more Wimbledons]. The focus on minor details against an overwhelming avalanche of evidence that women are generally paid less than men for a raft of reasons related to social norms – being the primary carer, going into sectors or jobs that are less well paid than those traditionally done by men [why?], not being promoted…
The long-term impact of this is clear in the recent figures about the gender gap in pensions, a gap that is actually widening due to the rift between senior pay and what the rest of us get. The thing about gender equality is that it is an ongoing battle. We may think we are getting somewhere, but there is always a need to stay vigilant, to wait for the next wave, the next backlash.
*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.