Massey Lectures inspires Grade 7 student to teach classmates about sexism

Twelve-year-old Gwendolyn Allen attended the final 2019 CBC Massey Lecture in Toronto and asked the last question of the night: she wanted to know how to get the boys to pay attention to her presentation on sexism. Armstrong answered and then said: "I'm coming to your school."

'To truly have equality, females and males need to stand together,' Gwendolyn Allen tells her classmates

Inspired by Sally Armstrong's CBC Massey Lectures, 'Power Shift: The Longest Revolution,' Gwendolyn Allen decided to do a presentation on how sexism continues to play out in the world. 'I felt this was a great opportunity to show how important this is and why we need to change it.' (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

*Originally published on November 15, 2019.

When 12-year-old Gwendolyn Allen took the microphone to ask CBC Massey Lecturer Sally Armstrong the last question of the night, Toronto's Koerner Hall fell silent.

Every member of the audience turned to hear what this young girl had to say.

Allen told Armstrong she really admires her work, and mentioned she is doing a presentation on sexism for her Grade 7 class.

"I noticed that when I bring up the topic around a group of boys, they often kind of shrug and sigh and get angry that I talk about it a lot. So I was just wondering how in my presentation I could maybe catch their attention?"

Before Armstrong answered the question, she told Allen: "First of all: I want to go to your school."

Then the acclaimed journalist suggested Allen tell the boys in her class that equality is good for everyone.

"It's not their job to take care of the whole world. Women are here to take care of the whole world, too," Armstrong explained.

"And together, we know from everywhere we've been that you get a better job done, that people are better, they're healthier, they're happy and they're richer if women and men work together."

Imagine a world where success and well-being were not based on your gender, skin colour —or rather your abilities and strengths. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?​​​​​- Gwendolyn Allen

A couple weeks later, Armstrong traveled north of Toronto to Wellington Public School in Aurora, ON, to hear Gwendolyn's presentation on sexism.

"Imagine a world where success and well-being were not based on your gender, skin colour —or rather your abilities and strengths. Sounds amazing, doesn't it?​​​​​" Allen asked her schoolmates. 

"One of the biggest factors that is keeping us from having a world like this is sexism."

Grade 7 student Gwendolyn Allen gives a presentation on sexism to her class.

2 years ago
Duration 4:44
Grade 7 student Gwendolyn Allen gives a presentation on sexism to her class. 4:44

The Gender Gap

Throughout her presentation, Allen referred to facts and research from Sally Armstrong's CBC Massey Lectures, Power Shift: The Longest Revolution.

She examined the gender wage gap, the lack of education for girls and women and how sexism is not an issue females alone should take on alone.

"One of the most unfair and shocking things that negatively affects us and our lives is the gender wage gap," the Grade 7 student told her class.

"For example, think of how much wealthier people would be if women were paid the same as men? Not only financially, but intellectually as well."

"Imagine the wealth of families where both the female and male guardians were providing for the family, and how much more would be given to economy if women were as easily accepted into jobs."

'You might not think that this present- day society, and especially in Canada, one of the most equal countries still perceives women as weaker and less capable than men, but there are so many reasons as to why that assumption is not true,' Gwendolyn Allen says in her presentation. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

Allen shared with her peers how shocked she was to learn the facts around the gender wage gap in Armstrong's Massey Lecture. 

"We often think such drastic discrimination only happens in other, less advanced places in the world. But it is happening in our own backyard," she said.

The Gender Wage Gap

  • For every profession, even the most sophisticated, women are paid less than men. 
  • Asian women are paid 87 cents for every man's dollar. 
  • White women are paid only 79 cents. 
  • Black women only 63 cents.
  • Latino women only a shocking 54 cents for each man's dollar, nearly half what males are paid. 

* Stats from Sally Armstrong's, Power Shift: The Longest Revolution

"Not only is the lack of women in the workforce severely dragging us down from the world we all want, the lack of education is, too," Allen said, addressing to her classmates on how lucky they are to be able to learn.

In poor countries such as South Sudan, Liberia and Somalia, almost two-thirds of girls receive no education in their lifetime, she said.

"Studies show that if girls were more educated, they would have better communication with their partners and at the workplace. This means that their children will learn from a more thoughtful, open-minded, confident female guardian, and therefore end up more successful and self-assured as well."

Allen added that voting polls and other forms of civic participation would also benefit and for each year of education, women's income would increase by 15 percent.

After her lecture, Sally Armstrong told Gwendolyn Allen: 'I really, really admire you." The acclaimed journalist jumped at the chance to come support the Grade 7 student as she delivered her presentation on gender inequality. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

True equality is standing together

The only way forward is unified action, Allen declared.  

"To truly have equality, females and males need to stand together."

Before ending her presentation, she urged students to spread the word, to use the internet and social media platforms to talk about how sexism plays out in the world, to call out stereotypes and to tell their brothers and sisters how equality benefits us all.

"This is what I think about inequality, and this is why we need to change it. Thank you."

Gwendolyn Allen says she feels confident on how her presentation went and was happy to see her peers listen, asking insightful questions. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

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