Harassment, poverty and low ambitions: Girls have it worse in the North
In Bradford, the reality of life for many girls equates to teenage pregnancy and benefits
Being from the North is one of those things that just follows you round. It’s like a little badge that constantly draws attention. Within the first few sentences of a conversation someone will question my accent or where I’m from, usually curious as to why I don’t sound like I’m from Guildford. I’ve even been told that talking to me is like talking to someone from another world, which, I guess when you compare Bradford to the home county towns, isn’t too far from the truth.
A recent study found that there are massive discrepancies in the quality of life for girls based on where they live. Supposedly for girls growing up in the North and midlands sexual harassment, cyber bullying and body worries are more prevalent than those growing up in the pastoral idyll of the South, and that they’re being “failed” by their environment.
Of the top 10 worst places for girls’ prospects, nine were in the North or Midlands, including Blackpool, Manchester, Nottingham and Liverpool, while most of the 10 best were in the South, including Chiltern in Buckinghamshire, Wokingham, in Berkshire and Mole Valley, Elmbridge, Epsom and Ewell, all also in Surrey.
It wasn’t exactly shocking to me to find out that you’re far better off living in Waverley, Surrey, than in Middlesbrough and other northern cities. After all, everyone I’ve spoken to who grew up in the South don’t see teenage pregnancy, low exam grades and sexual harassment as the norm.
Growing up in the North has given me a completely different perspective on reality. The North has some of the worst teen pregnancy rates and in Bradford it’s not unusual to have a child before the age of 18. Almost 30 people from my school year, aged 21, are already parents with a pretty big proportion of that number on their second child.
This isn’t because these girls aren’t intelligent or hardworking, it’s because there’s just not much encouragement of aspiration up here – we’re not taught in school to work for bigger and better. In Bradford, the reality of life for many girls equates to teenage pregnancy and benefits.
After all, what else are we to expect when the boys in our year regularly got away with sexual harassment, making girls feel like less? The level of sexual harassment in the North was another factor flagged by the report and yet again I was hardly surprised. I specifically remember the boy I was sitting next to in science, aged 13, routinely exposing himself to me. After telling the teacher I was told to stop ‘distracting’ the boy, as though that was why he asked me to touch him. At least five other girls in my class had the same experience. It wasn’t until the boy set someone’s hair on fire that the teacher actually disciplined him.
It’s even worse if you ever venture into the city centre. A girls’ night out in Bradford will begin like any other: hair, makeup, cocktails. But then it will end with a 50 year old grabbing your bum, becoming aggressive when you turn down his advances. It’s usually better to just not bother. My worst experience was being cornered in a lift by a gang of men as they told me to ‘get on my knees’ and ‘be a proper girl’.
I would never feel safe in the city centre alone on an evening.
As men get away time and time again with harassment, as we’re desensitised to teenage pregnancy, we’re also often faced with schools that hinder us. The study also commented on the achievements of girls in examinations, with the North coming dead last yet again.
At my school the odds were stacked against students, with my friend advised to take BTECs because A-levels would be ‘too difficult’ for her. Classes were regularly cancelled and misbehaving students from lower years given priority over sixth formers. After all of this, she missed her Durham offer by one grade.
We’re being told that it’s normal to become pregnant as a teenager, to be sexually harassed and to achieve lower grades than girls in the South. With controversial figure Chloe Khan – not in herself a negative role model – becoming the most recent publicised figure to come out of the North, we lack in diversity and exposure of female role models in the media too.
The reality in the North is that, despite having pride in where we come from, girls Up North are being failed, and they’re coming dead last.