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Smashing gender stereotypes
02 March 2015
Ashleigh Grogan (left) and Haylee Collins (right) are Young Vagabond. The following statistic makes them angry: Australian Bureau of Statistic figures released in February 2015 show the wage gap between men and women has grown to 18.8 percent, that’s an increase of 1.4 percent since November 2014. In real terms, women are now earning $298.10 less than men.
Ashleigh and Haylee, who met through work, share a common passion for furthering the empowerment and equality of women, and understand that the reductive nature of gender stereotypes limit the potential of young people to live their own lives and do their own thing, including choosing career paths.
(They also know that those limited career paths penalise women economically and ABS figures bear this out.)
Both Ashleigh and Haylee began engaging in the debate around gender equality online – only to find they became deeply disappointed with the community, which they saw as having “the capacity to make a difference, but it wasn’t”.
Lunchtime meetings – in secret – and private weekend catch-ups were spent discussing what they could do to make a change.
“We thought about school workshops, looking at gender stereotypes and empowering girls,” says Ashleigh, who, when we speak, is somewhere in Melbourne on the side of a road on the run between appointments to disseminate the Young Vagabond message.
“Haylee and I came to the conclusion that schools were going to be too hard. What we dreamed of was a magazine – a piece of media that traditionally disempowers young women – but this one would empower them,” says Ashleigh, who goes on to say that their next decision, to put the idea on crowd funding was not something they did lightly.
“The exposure was terrifying. We set a $15,000 target and within two months we had $18,000…”
“Actually,” Ashleigh goes on to admit, “the total was $17,960.”
The figure frustrates Ashleigh to this day because it fell short of the 18 by $40.
“We had the money, and were in a state of shock. We had a community that cared about our idea, and now we had to produce it. We googled: how to make a magazine and created Young Vagabond. That was in early 2013,” says Ashleigh.
The magazine was launched nationally through Body Shop stores, and, in a quirky twist of fate, spawned a school workshop program for 14 to 18 year old students to deconstruct gender stereotypes now being piloted in 10 high schools in Victoria.
Westpac Women’s Markets is riding the crest of the wave with Young Vagabond, sponsoring the roll out of the pilot to schools.
Women’s Markets has also engaged in its own research into gender equality to better understand where it can support women at an earlier stage to achieve in business and corporate life.
Some of the standout findings in the Westpac Youth Gender Report include the fact that almost nine in 10 adolescents agree gender equality is important and recognise the economic benefits of gender equality. Nearly half of those surveyed ranked their mother as the most important role model in their life and the majority sought their parents’ guidance on career paths.
Young Vagabond also understands the importance of the role of parents and teachers in supporting young women and men to understand gender stereotypes and how society, through the media, limits people by reducing them to certain generalised characteristics, especially when it comes to career choice.
“The research on developmental stages of young people indicates that there is a peak in happiness at about 12 years old,” Ashleigh explains. “From there, happiness continues to lower until the age of 16, when it plateaus. We’re pitching our workshops at 14 to 15 year olds because, at this age, they are not quite mature enough to just accept what they’re dealt or shown. They still exhibit a curiosity and want to learn and know more about what they can do with their lives. It’s also the age marketing targets. It is important to get in and have the conversation about gender now, so they’re aware how they’re being manipulated,” says Ashleigh.
The workshops begin with toy catalogues from which students write a story based on the toys they are given as children.
“What the process shows them about how gendered toy catalogues are and how we conform to stereotypes from a very young age, they find eye opening and very funny,” Ashleigh explains.
“We take two different approaches from there. With the girls we focus heavily on media influence and how media encourages them to look, feel and act in a particular, very gendered way,” continues Ashleigh, who still remains startled by the very limited options made available to women by media.
“Those limited views inhibit women from reaching their full potential,” she finishes.
When it comes to the boys the focus is on masculinity and what that means versus what it is to be a man. The workshops also want young men to understand that gender stereotypes reduce as all, adversely impacting everyone.
Feedback forms received by Young Vagabond from participants indicate more than 70 percent come away understanding more about gender stereotypes and their impact on them; 25 percent want to learn more.
“We knew it would be good,” says Ashleigh, “but we had no idea how good. We had students, teachers and parents contact us telling us how much they appreciated the program. To hit the nail on the head simultaneously with such diverse stakeholders was amazing.
Ashleigh’s standout feeling about the workshops is witnessing how excited students are and how their eyes open up when they’re discussing the concepts in the workshops. She even admits to “crying a little bit” when she first experienced it.
“It makes me wish when I was a girl of 14, 15, I’d been told this stuff. The other insight we’ve gained from student feedback is they’re really interested in learning about relationships and confidence.”
So, what if we ever reach gender equality?
“That would be beautiful but Young Vagabond, the magazine and the voice of the movement, would never die. It would always exist to share stories about young, amazing women,” finishes Ashleigh.