From the Principal
The annual celebration of International Women’s Day took pride of place at St Catherine’s this week. International Women’s Day has been recognised since the early 1900s; a period of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world. In 1908, 15 000 women marched through New York City, demanding improved pay, better working conditions and voting rights for women. Two years after this march in New York, the ‘rights of women’ gathered momentum across Europe and the first IWD was recognised in 1910. And whilst IWD was born out of a ‘call to action’ and a greater need for equality for women, it is also a joyous time to acknowledge the achievements and potential of women and girls.
Many women from younger generations may feel “all the battles have been won for women”. Clearly, much progress has been made since the early 1900s; we have female astronauts, women prime ministers, school girls are welcome to university, women can work and have a family. Women have real choices; this is certainly evident in Australia. However, as we heard from our Year 10 presentations at Assembly this week, women still do not have equal pay, women are still underrepresented in business, on boards and in politics, and violence against women remains a significant issue in our society. In this edition of the Blue Ribbon, our Director of Student Wellbeing, Ms Merran O’Connor, provides a summary of the School’s acknowledgement of IWD at our Senior School Assembly this week.
In many ways, today is still considered to be the best time in history to be a girl. Opportunities for a girl’s success are as unlimited as her dreams. Yet societal expectations, cultural trends, and conflicting messages are creating what psychologist and researcher, Stephen Hinshaw calls the “the triple bind”. In his book by the same name, Hinshaw explains that as girls reach adolescence, they are increasingly asked to conform to what he views as “an impossible set of standards”. Hinshaw highlights how girls are told to be ambitious, smart, and successful but for girls, the directive comes with conditions that hamper individualisation.
“Girls who don’t play by these rules often experience negative social feedback. A girl who is assertive might be called bossy, a girl who shows confidence in her ideas, conceited. Though still told to work hard, get ahead, and be successful, girls are often shamed, especially by other female peers, if they appear pushy, overly confident, or too forward.”
Dr Rachel Busman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute further elaborated that girls can be prone to over-apologising to feel less demanding. As a result, they pepper their language with apologies and qualifiers “that turn statements into suggestions and make requests feel less demanding. “I know” becomes “I’m not sure, but…”, “I have a question” turns into “Sorry. Would it be okay if I asked a question?”
As a society, we encourage all genders to have good manners and to be polite if the situation calls for it. However, Busman suggests that for girls overly prefacing questions with ‘excuse me’ when they are not interrupting sends the message that she feels like she needs permission to express her ideas and over-apologising or starting sentences with ‘sorry’ delegitimises any authority and downplays any power. How can women sound competent, if they are always sounding defensive or unsure?
Building self-worth and encouraging young women to trust their own capabilities can enable them to develop a healthy self-confidence. Encouraging girls to be mindful of their language and to accurately articulate goals, opinions, impressions and ideas, large and small, should make girls feel strong. Hinshaw also suggests that high-quality connections with adults, being part of a community with a shared purpose, and involvement in service to others can all help give girls a greater sense of self. Hinshaw also promotes connecting girls with a larger community of women who can help them see their issues from a broader social perspective and to also provide inspiring role models.
St Catherine’s is committed to promoting the achievements of women and in particular to celebrating International Women’s Day. SCOGA’s Nil Magnum Nisi Bonum project adorning the walls of Sherren House, successfully highlight the great achievements of many St Catherine’s women who are paving the way for future generations. To celebrate International Women’s Day, I invite you to reflect on the contribution of women from St Catherine’s who are making a difference in their field.
S, Hinshaw and R Kranz, (2009), The Triple Bind, Ballantyne Books.