Nfld. & Labrador

Young and feminist: Students on sexting, sex-ed, and inequality

Four high-school students took on topics of inequality at a recent speak-off, and then spoke with Labrador Morning about what life is really like as a young woman.
Julia Kelland, Kaely Marques, Frankie Leonard and Avery Brown all took part in a recent high school speak-off. (Bailey White/CBC News)

The great thing about a high school speech competition is, as a general rule, teens don't pull their punches.

So when four out of nine competitors at this year's Mealy Mountain Collegiate high school speak-off in Happy Valley-Goose Bay chose topics related to gender inequality, they made a huge impact.

Labrador students talk gender equality at school speak-off 15:07

At first, I thought these four speeches were an indication feminism had gone mainstream. It wouldn't be surprising, in an age when celebrities like Beyoncé and Emma Watson declare themselves feminists.

Curious to know more, I invited all four speakers — Avery Brown, Kaely Marques, Frankie Leonard and Julia Kelland — into our CBC studio for an interview on Labrador Morning.

"Do you all identify yourselves as feminists?" I asked.

"Yeah, 100 per cent," they responded, talking over each other.

"Do most girls your age identify as feminists?"

Again they answered in unison: "No."

Kaely explains: "They feel like, if  they're labelled as a feminist that boys are going to think they're lesbian."

Avery says her friend, a guy, agrees that men and women should be equal, but he thinks they already are. Her response: "How much do you know, about feminism, as a man? How do you know about what we go through every day?"

It's true, the girls go through a lot.

Sexting: 'every second person' is doing it

At school, students get an earful about the dangers of sexting, or sending naked or half-naked pictures via text message. But that doesn't seem to stop people

"Every second person," Frankie said, but she added she doesn't do it. "The boys trade them, just like Pokemon cards. They all have secret albums in their phones, and they'll come show you a picture of your best friend in a degrading outfit."

The boys trade them, just like Pokemon cards. They all have secret albums in their phones, and they'll come show you a picture of your best friend in a degrading outfit- Frankie Leonard

​Kaely  most girls think it's alright for boys to trade pictures, and girls don't defend other girls.

Julia chimes in: "When that happens, girls get so mad like, 'oh, she shouldn't be doing that' … but they they do it themselves. Guys aren't going to stick up for us, girls need to stick up for each other."

For all the lectures about sexting, Kaely said one crucial message is missing.

"They basically tell us, you shouldn't do this, you shouldn't do that, but nobody ever says to the boys, 'Don't send them. Be a decent person.' "

The young women see plenty of double standards in their world.

"It's like when they tell girls, don't wear shorts skirts, and I mean, I know some girls do wear skirts that are too inappropriate for school, but it's not their fault," Avery said. "Let them wear it for a day, and tell them not to wear it again tomorrow. Don't send them home and risk their education because a guy's distracted."

'Skimpy' sex-ed not cutting it

Julia, Kaely, Frankie and Avery say they get a lot of information about feminism and related issues online, from social media sites like Twitter and Tumblr.

As for sex education at school, they say they don't get much.

"I haven't talked about sex education since Grade 7," Julia said, "I'm in Grade 11 now, that's four years and it's more important now than it was in Grade 7."

I want everyone to change their opinions, not just the boys, but the girls, too- Julia Kelland 

There is a class called Human Dynamics, but Avery said sex isn't the focus: "We talk about how to raise babies."

"We weren't taught about intimacy or anything. We weren't told anything, no way to get  birth control, since Grade 7. So it's really a taboo topic, when it really shouldn't be, because everyone's doing it," Frankie said with a laugh.

Frankie's concern is not a rare one, or even a new one. Alex McKay of the Sex Information & Education Council of Canada says teens have been asking for change for decades now.

"There's always been an ongoing complaint amongst young people that the skimpy amount of sexual health education that they do receive in school is very often not relevant to their needs," McKay said.

What teens actually want to know about, McKay says, is relationships. Or intimacy, as Frankie put it.

"A major thing that they want to know about relationships is how to establish a healthy relationships and how to communicate with a partner around these issues, so that relationships are one, mutually consensual, and two, safe."

The Human Dynamics class curriculum guideline covers broad territory with lessons on what makes a family, parenting, and yes, relationships. But McKay says teachers have a lot of latitude when they teach the class, so the key is well-trained teachers.

"We need teachers who are motivated to provide relevant education, they have to have the training to do it, and most importantly of all, they need to feel supported by their school administrations to do it."

'Girls just constantly tear each other down'

Our panel of high school students agree: they want more from their teachers.

"The boys are taught that it's okay to ask for pictures, and it's okay to send them, but the girls are scorned and hated because they did it," Frankie said.

"I think we educate separately now, like we educate boys not to do this, and then we have a class of girls  and  you have a class of girls, and you tell them not to do that. I think what we need to do is bring it together, and educate them together.

Julia, Avery, Frankie and Kaely dream bigger than their high school. Sex education isn't the only issue on their radar. They want massive, societal changes. 

"I want everyone to change their opinions, not just the boys, but the girls, too," Julia said. "Girls just constantly tear each other down. We all need to stop and re-evaluate."

"We need to start to raising our girls to believe that they're capable, because we are capable, and we need to start raising the boys, too, to believe that we are equal," Kaely said. "It's not just a girls' fight."

About the Author

Bailey White

CBC News

Bailey White is a journalist based in St. John's.

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