Director's Cut: We do not need to 'empower' girls, we need to upskill them

Last year, our Director Madeline hosted 'The Weekly' - a weekly blog post pertaining to feminist issues. This year, it is the 'Director's Cut'. Stay tuned for more blogs from our National Director and Founder, Madeline Price

Last week I had the privilege of attending a breakfast at Ipswich Girls Grammar School celebrating their young leaders, with a keynote address from journalist, author and political commentator Madonna King. 

Madonna spoke of her recently released book, Being 14, the research that she undertook on fourteen-year-old girls, the increase in calls to the Kids Helpline by young girls in this age category (in the past four years, 20 000 fourteen-year-old girls have called), the relationship between young men and sexual education through online porn (and the impact that this has upon teenage relationships), and the increase in diagnosed anxiety amongst young women.

And then, she said this line - 'So we need to empower our young women'. 

This is a line I have heard before - heck, this is a line I have said before! - from politicians, public speakers, authors, feminists, anti-feminists, advocates, business people, teachers, everyone. 

We need to empower our young women.

This is a line that exists to demonstrate the importance of building up our young women, of raising our girls like we raise our boys (with the belief that they can conquer the world), of embedding in them feelings of power, of resilience, of drive, of passion. 

But what I have come to realise, is that our young women, our young girls, do not need to be empowered. They have spent their entire lives being told 'you can do anything you put your mind to', 'you can change the world', 'you can achieve in [insert industry, or sport, or classroom subject here]'. There are stickers and campaigns and television shows all dedicated to the slogan - Girls can do anything! 

Our young girls and women know that they can 'do anything'. 

They just do not know how to do it, or, more specifically, how to do it in a society that discourages them at every step of the way (#patriarchy). 

Studies in the United States of America have shown that, from a young age, equal numbers of young boys and young girls want to become the President of the USA. By age 15, the gap in young boys who still want to fulfill this dream, and young girls who have given up on it, is growing. By the time we reach the actual levels of women in these political positions of power, it is a sea of homogeneous male faces.

It is not that our young women do not have the passion, or the drive, or the skills to become President (or, in Australia, Prime Minister), they simply do not have the knowledge to do so in a patriarchal society (and the gendered advantage provided to their peers). 

We need to stop telling our young girls and women that 'they can do anything' and, instead, upskill them to do it. 

We need to stop telling our young girls and women that they 'can be Prime Minister (or President)', and instead teach them how to run for office, how to expose discriminatory political practices, how to engage with a constantly contradictory mainstream media (or better yet, we could show them). 

Now, I know Madonna would agree with this point - and her perspective on 'empowering' young girls would also reflect 'upskilling' young girls - but I think we need to change our language, and our actions. 

We need to start creating our future leaders not by telling them they can do it, but by teaching them how.

And, as a personal pet project of mine within the One Woman Project, I will be doing just that.

The One Woman Project will be introducing a 'Director's Series', led by myself, dedicated to teaching young girls and women (and feminist ally men) the skills they need to be empowered.

Our first series?

How to Become a Prime Minister - a four week series covering the background of Australian politics (and how to choose your political party/independency), how to run for office, public speaking and engagement with the media, and an introduction to policymaking. 

Keep an eye out on our Facebook page, website and Instagram for more details in the coming weeks! 

But for now, let's change 'empower' to 'upskill', and we can change the world. 

Madeline Price
National Director and Founder

Are you interested in the image we used? Read more about Australia's Film Cooperatives (and the women behind them) here.