This year’s International Women’s Day’s theme is Choose to Challenge. By choosing to challenge our own conscious and unconscious bias from gender bias to likability bias, we are all helping to take a step forward in disassembling inequality. At LEH, our Sixth Form Creative Directors have chosen to seek out and celebrate achievements of women from different ages, genders, sexualities, abilities, races and cultures in our virtual assembly this week. This includes those who are the most marginalised from trans women such as Dr Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender federal official, to Black Muslim women, such as Dr Hawa Abdi, a human rights activist and physician, who has helped to save the lives of Somalis throughout the civil war.
Quite often when looking for inspirational women, you do not have to look further than your close network. From mothers to female managers, most of us have female role models who have challenged stereotypes to overcome barriers and make the world a little kinder and more accepting to the next generation of girls. This is not any different at LEH. Some of our alumnae are inspirational women, who have taken the time to share their experiences with our students during their PSHE session. LEH alumnae, Melanie Ivarsson, Chief Development Officer at Moderna, Inc alongside Nicki Shields, CNN reporter and Automotive presenter and others talk about the challenges they have faced and how they have choose to break down stereotypes.
During this week, students have been exploring women’s rights and the fight against inequalities across subjects throughout the week. Journalist and Broadcaster, Helen Lewis kindly agreed to talk to Tanishya in U6 and Ms FitzGerald about her book and share her views of feminism. Her recent book ‘Difficult Women, A history of Feminism in 11 fights’ tells the story of the victories secured by 19th and 20th-century feminists that have been forgotten or taken for granted. Please click here to view the full interview on the Parent Portal. In Drama, the L6 explored the female gaze on TV and Media, which you can watch on our social media. In Art, pupils used hand art to celebrate a diverse range of female artists., whilst the English Department ran an essay competition about period poverty. Additionally, in Biology pupils researched and presented the medical advances that would not have been possible without the strong leadership and persistence of amazing female scientists. With such a vast range of activities going on, I am sure our pupils will be empowered and inspired to tackle any problems they face with the courage and determination instilled at LEH.
By Miss Ranjan - Teacher of Biology and member of IWD Team
Watch our interview with LEH Alumna Melanie Ivarsson, Chief Development Officer at Moderna, Inc.
Watch our interview with LEH Alumna Nicki Shields, CCN Reporter and Automotive presenter
Our L6 Creative Directors discuss what International Women's Day means to them
2020 was a year in which inequality of all types was brought to the forefront of the public consciousness. At LEH, we wanted to use International Women’s Day to celebrate inspirational, intersectional women, and to accelerate progress beyond its current pace.
As Grayson Perry says in his book, ‘The Descent of Man’: 'At the present rate of change, it will take over one hundred years before the UK parliament is 50% female.’ In 2018, the World Economic Forum estimated that it would take 202 years to close the gender pay gap.
Like many women and feminist writers, we are not satisfied with these statistics. We would like to see true equality in our lifetimes. Most importantly, we believe that International Women’s Day is a brilliant opportunity to strive for equality in many fields and to support women from across the globe with different backgrounds, LGBTQIAP+ women, Women of Colour, disabled women, plus-sized women, and women with various religious beliefs.
We know that LEH is a small-scale establishment in comparison to a world of inequality. However, if we can use International Women’s Day to project a message of respect, it could be very powerful, especially as LEH is a place of education, in which young minds are forming their key beliefs of self-worth and respect for others. Additionally, by challenging the gender binary, we truly believe that we can create a more inclusive world, or at least school community, for all genders.
In a poll sent out to Lower Sixth students, 92% of students said that they have decided not to do something because they were afraid. When asked what they were afraid to do, responses were varied, from ‘experimenting with fashion,’ to ‘sport,’ ‘walking alone’ and even, ‘being myself in public.’ This showed key issues we see in modern-day Britain, where women, due to the likeability bias we face, the threat of judgment and even violence, present watered-down, hesitant, more palatable versions of ourselves, due to fear. This is unacceptable.
As students at LEH, we recognise that we are all incredibly privileged in that many of us have not faced gender discrimination on the same level as many other women and young girls across the world. . Considering the events of last year, during which we saw a reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the opening up of discussions surrounding discrimination of all shapes and sizes in the UK, it was brought to many of our attentions that, whilst we may not actively believe in the discrimination of others around us, being brought up in a society which fosters such behaviours, has led us to subconsciously internalise those behaviors ourselves.
When discussing how we felt we had been affected by gender-based discrimination, we all agreed that internalized misogyny had been a hurdle we had all had to overcome. For instance, when we were aged 9 or 10, believing that having more stereotypically feminine interests such as fashion or wearing make-up made a woman guilty of setting back the work of feminists by 100 years - a belief soon debunked when all of us grew up and began to understand the actual meaning of feminism. This is clearly an extreme example, however there are still biases and expectations that we hold ourselves to as women that we may not even realise we have, due to our upbringing in a society in which race, gender, and sexuality-based discrimination is so normalised.
Whilst we are all acutely aware of the larger, and more extreme examples of gender-based discrimination (such as child brides, femicide, sexual harassment), as students and women ourselves, we wanted to draw attention to the ways in which misogyny infects our society on a deeper level than an imbalance in pay, and ask ourselves to question our own internalised biases and try to rectify them, and to stop apologising for who we are; recognise that our feminism or womanhood is not something we have to prove, but something for us to take pride in. This may seem like something so small and insignificant, but it is truly a vitally important step towards equality for all.
Key ideas we wanted to get across in the assembly were challenging your own biases and standing up for your fellow women. As a student-led assembly, we wanted to ground the subject matter in experiences the students could relate to. We wanted to advise students on how to take steps to challenge the biases which have been programmed into them during their life, in a challenge, trivial or large. Some examples were: expressing yourself through clothing and hair, as fashion and hair can hold large cultural and individual significance, reading feminist literature, complimenting the women around you (as 96.6% of students said that an unwarranted compliment changed their perception of themselves), trying an activity you have been told not to do (by yourself and others), or volunteering for a charity.
Through classes and extra-curricular activities, students have been exploring International Women’s Day further. Posters and presentations have celebrated inspirational women from history and literature. For STEM students, the mural by the science labs depicts inspirational women all year! The Theatre Department had a series of activities, such as the Lower Fourth analysing excerpts from Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s powerful play ‘Emilia,’ and a Lower Sixth forum on ‘the male and female gaze in film and costuming. The presence and definition of the ‘female gaze’ was a highlight of this discussion. ‘The male gaze’ was a term first coined by Laura Mulvey in her essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” and the forum inspired many of us to go away and read her other work. “Shine A Light” explored roles in the theatre industry traditionally dominated by men.
Overall, International Women’s Day has filled the halls of LEH this year, and was a brilliant way to reopen after lockdown.
By L6 Creative Directors, Amy and Amelia
Below images are the slides put together by our L6 Creative Directors for the IWD whole school assembly which they hosted virtually and detailed the history of International Women's Day and the research they carried out.
- LEH Enrichment