Teenage Girls Reflect on the Reality of Sexism and Gender Inequality


Maggie Dougherty

Freshman Violet Sheehan said that sexism has “become something that society is so used to.”

Carlie Weigel, Editor in Chief

After Women’s History Month was designated a national celebration for the first time in 1987, March has since become a time to recognize and appreciate the contributions women have made in bending the arc of American history.

However, although women have triumphed in filling the roles that only men once held and rallied for equal rights under the law, in the eyes of many girls at La Salle, sexism is still an issue rooted in the nucleus of society, as they remain targets for harassment, continue to experience sexualization, and have potential that is often deemed incompetent. 

In a survey that was conducted by the Pew Research Center last year, 64% of women reported feeling as if the United States had not yet accomplished enough in terms of granting women true equality.

“Men and women are equal on the legal level — we can vote and we have all the same rights,” senior Grace Winningham said. “But there’s still a social kind of stigma that needs to be evened out… There’s still so much violence against women and discrimination against women in the workplace or even at school, and it’s all these little kind of social things that add up to have a big impact.”

Those The Falconer spoke with think that sexism is apparent in everyday life, as they have experienced disadvantages that don’t always concern the opposite sex. 

Sophomore Ava Engelhard enjoys playing video games and considers herself a member of the “nerd community,” but because she is interested in a hobby that is usually dominated by men, she feels as if she’s often a victim of discrimination, especially when she enters a gaming store. 

“The first thing that I’m asked by a sales associate is, ‘Are you looking for something for your boyfriend?’” she said. “They treat me like I’m stupid because I’m a girl, and because I’m a girl, they think that I know less about this male-dominated platform.” 

Winningham said that she notices sexism in the fact that fewer women participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) classes, and she even believes this is true for the elective courses at La Salle.

“It’s not a fluke,” she said. “I’ve read studies about women [wanting] or girls [wanting] to go into STEM courses, but they’re not doing it because [of] how male concentrated it is and they don’t feel like they’re comfortable or able to work in that environment.”

For junior Grace Lee and freshman Violet Sheehan, certain remarks have led them to question the prospect of gender equality, too.

Lee recognizes this in athletics, as boys are “seen as having more strength than women,” and within the dress code, as the way a girl dresses is perceived as something that is distracting for boys, she said. 

Sheehan said that she has seen sexual discrimination in school. 

“Whenever a teacher would say, ‘Can a strong boy help me come move the boxes?’, I was always the girl that was like, ‘No, I can do it, I’m stronger than him,’” she said. 

Although many girls have experienced some form of sexist favoritism, those interviewed for this article acknowledge that sexism goes both ways in that it impacts men as well.

“They don’t want to cry because they’re taught [that] men shouldn’t cry and men should be tough or that men can’t wear skirts,” Engelhard said. “I think it’s rooted inside of you that you shouldn’t, which is bad that society is deeming that.”

Sheehan feels that this gender stereotyping comes down to a concept as simple as the colors pink and blue, as it’s “something that’s just become so normalized,” she said. 

But even though men have to manage sexism in some ways, many women still consider their lives to be more difficult. 

“Everyone faces struggles,” senior Anneliese Stahly-Dronkowski said. “If we’re talking about gender specifically, I think women do face more barriers when it comes to law in society than men do, and I think that makes it more difficult. I can say that my life has never been difficult on account for my race, [but] it has been difficult on account for my gender.”

For instance, Stahly-Dronkowski feels confident that her gender doesn’t interfere with her ability to accomplish anything, but it does make the processes leading up to a specific achievement more demanding. 

“There’s nothing that I feel like that I cannot do,” she said. “I think it’s more that I’m going to have a lot more challenges doing it… If I want to be a CEO one day, I would have to compete with other men and I would have unfair disadvantages placed upon me with my image or just facing different things that men don’t have to face while climbing the ladder.”

Winningham feels similarly in that there is a sense of difficulty present in the realm of school and work, especially because of the existing male concentration in fields like entrepreneurship and business. 

“I know I could become a computer scientist, but I also know that would mean being one of the only girls in my classes,” she said. “It’s hard to work and get educated when you’re in an environment that you don’t necessarily feel comfortable in or if there are all these teenage boys.”

Engelhard emphasized that these thought processes are ones that men likely don’t have to go through. 

“I don’t think men have to think about, ‘Am I not going to get this job because I’m a man or am I going to be judged a certain way because I’m a man?” she said. “Women do experience that.”

Additionally, Engelhard said that it’s difficult to gauge in what ways she should present herself when it comes down to job interviews in particular. 

“Do I dress more masculine or more feminine?” Engelhard said. “If I dress more feminine, are they going to think that I’m too prissy for this job? But if I dress too masculine, are they going to think I’m not serious enough to do the job?”

As many women already feel challenged by the effects of a patriarchal society, several at La Salle also witness direct actions and comments that not only make them feel upset and frustrated, but also uncomfortable. 

Sheehan said that “there are a million things” that kindle these emotions and that they instill in her a feeling of invisibility.

“It’s like you’re there, but nobody really seems to care about you or pay attention to you,” she said. “It just makes me also really mad and I want to scream and I want to say, ‘Do you realize what you’re doing?’”

A major annoyance for Sheehan stems from the social media hashtag #notallmen, which is a response many have used to deter discussion centering around sexism. 

“If you’re a good guy,” Sheehan said, “you don’t need to say, ‘I’m a good guy’ to be a guy.”

However, Sheehan believes that “anything that a girl says that she likes, someone is going to argue with.” 

“If you say you like Barbies, people are going to think that makes you so superficial, but if you say you like Legos, that just means that she’s trying too hard to be different or like all the boys,” she said. “If you wear short dresses or short shorts, people are going to judge you because you’re showing too much skin, but if you wear long pants or if you wear usually something modest, then you’re being a prude… There’s nothing really that you can do that doesn’t get judged.”

Stahly-Dronkowski is bothered when men take the lead in telling her what to do and how to do it. Mansplaining “kind of put me off science,” she said, “because I was in group projects with guys that were like, ‘No, this is how you do it’ or they [are condescending to] me.”

She also feels that “it’s just weird” when boys sexualize girls for the way they look, as she’s overheard conversations in which they comment on women’s bodies.

In parallel with Stahly-Dronkowski’s thoughts, Engelhard has noticed that boys make hurtful comments that “they don’t really make the effort to keep to themselves.”

“We pass [a boy] by and they’re like, ‘Man, look at her thighs — she got some thick thighs,’” she said. “And then, of course, his friend is always like, ‘Yeah, but she’s flat as hell — she doesn’t have any titties…’ It’s always about how I look or how I’m dressing or how my hair looks. It’s never a ‘Hi, you seem like your personality is really nice.’”

And alongside being made to feel uncomfortable at times, each girl The Falconer spoke with has been catcalled — one of the many forms of discrimination that qualify as sexual harassment, which, according to a survey from Pew Research Center, 82% of women believe is a hurdle in acheiving gender equality.

“I’ve been lucky enough to not have experienced anything super traumatic, but it’s definitely not an experience you want to have ever,” Winningham said. “I think there are a lot of people of different demographics that experience this on a daily basis… It makes me sad — it’s so heartbreaking that some people have to go through this every day.”

Stahly-Dronkowski echoed Winningham’s thoughts, as being catcalled is “just super uncomfortable and kind of a degrading experience.”

“For me personally, it just makes me kind of angry that, because I’m a woman, people think that they have the right to say those things to me,” she said. “You don’t even know me — I’m just walking on the street and you think that you can have an opinion on me, whereas I know, for men, they don’t have that happen to them… I also do feel sad that we live in a world that accepts this.”

When Engelhard leaves her home, she usually chooses to wear “a lot of alternative makeup — so very bold eyeliner and black eye makeup.” 

For doing so, Engelhard said that she feels objectified and that it’s her own fault for styling herself the way she pleases, as if she is being asked, “how dare I be a tease and how dare I be out there and how dare I wear a skirt.”

“It makes me feel more like less of an actual person,” she said. “The times I have been catcalled, it’s like they’re not seeing me for me, they’re just seeing what I’m wearing or what I look like.”

At the times in which Lee has been catcalled, she said that this is often accompanied by racial slurs, “which is just completely unfair,” and has prompted nervousness when she walks alone at night. 

For each girl, these confrontations with harassment have acted as a catalyst for their feelings of unease and lack of  safety. 

When Stahly-Dronkowski is on her own while it’s dark outside or walking towards her car after a late night of babysitting, she said that she’s hyperaware and always questions whether anyone suspicious might approach her. 

As a result of this, Stahly-Dronkowski never wears headphones outside “because I have to be aware of footsteps behind me,” tries her best to keep under the streetlights “so people can see me,” and she keeps her keys in between her fingers until she gets in her car and locks the doors immediately.

Engelhard said that whenever she is alone, she thinks to herself, “‘What are they looking at — what are they trying to achieve?” And to calm this constant fear, she travels with a pocket knife, which she keeps in either her boot or her bag. Sometimes, she is prepared to threaten others with the idea that her 70-pound Mastiff is not afraid to attack. 

“I always think about, if I go down this alleyway, who can follow me and corner me,” she said, “and most of that is because you just look at the numbers of how the statistics of men versus women sexual assault is.”

To avoid threatening situations and uncertainty, Lee avoids walking around by herself, and instead, chooses to do so with someone else or her dog, like Engelhard. However, mace and a pocket knife serve as an additional layer of comfort, “just so I can feel secure in a way,” she said. 

For Winningham, she views this common fear among most women as an issue that doesn’t impact the lives of white men in particular, which she feels is where discrepancies come into play. 

“If I were a white cisgender man walking home in the dark, I wouldn’t have any fears or worries,” she said. “But because I’m a teenage girl, there is a lot to be thinking about and be worrying about when I’m alone… People shouldn’t have to worry about being hurt or catcalled or abused or discriminated against in any way, ever.”

And Winningham thinks that this sexual discrimination manifests in the fact that “women are constantly feeling uncomfortable and unsafe,” which she said signifies the work that is left to be done to succesfully embrace gender equality. 

“For the most part, obviously women are on board — we want rights and we want equality and we want not to be harmed and abused — but what the movement needs is male support,” she said. “Stopping sexism and discrimination is not going to happen unless we get the entire population on board, not just one side of the story.”

Sheehan said that sexism is built into the foundation of society and that to curb it from continuing will require many years of work.

“Men are the ones in charge — they are the patriarch of the family,” she said. “We have to dismantle everything and rebuild it, and we’re definitely trying to, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem that can be solved in one or two generations… Women have always wanted to change this.”

For Stahly-Dronkowski, championing for respect and appreciation towards women starts with advocacy that is intersectional and welcomes everyone.

“I think there’s been a lot of progress for white women specifically, but if we look at women of color, trans women, [or] fat women, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done because they’ve been left out of the conversation,” she said. “Moving forward, we have to be more inclusive and we also have to make strides for women other than ourselves if we want to overcome it.”

Several others also feel that this work is only possible if men step in to help, as they have previously swept this topic of discussion under the rug.

“The feminist movement is kind of dismissed,” Winningham said. “It can be misinterpreted and I think what it’s really about is just having equality for women and men… Politics get mixed into things and people take sides, and sometimes feminism is considered something else than just equality…. I think there’s conversation, but I think sometimes it’s pushed to the side or ignored.”

Similarly, Stahly-Dronkowski has been confronted by boys in her classes who question the purpose of women’s liberation.

“I’ve had boys in my class say, ‘Why do we need feminism anyway — men and women are equal?’” she said. “I think that’s a perception a lot of people get wrong… that women are just trying to solve this on their own, and honestly, we can’t do it on our own because there’s half the population that is also responsible.”

Eneglhard thinks that these ideas are sometimes shut down because boys are simply uninformed. 

“I don’t think that everyone is aware that it still goes on,” Engelhard said. “I’ve talked to a handful of people, and they’re just like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s not the 1950s anymore. We don’t have nuclear family households with sexism.’”

To address this, Winningham said that individuals must start learning about sexism at a young age, particularly in schools, as educators should be “teaching about consent and teaching about equality beyond legal matters and teaching how to respect women and how to be in a relationship or just how to be a healthy friend to a woman.”

For Sheehan, it’s a matter of stepping into the shoes of a woman.

“Just try to make little small accommodations, because women are constantly having to make accommodations because they don’t have the same rights that men do,” she said. “I think that men should slowly start to focus on ways that they can help make women feel more safe and secure.”

Stahly-Dronkowski said that those who desire to make changes in their lives to overcome personal biases and harmful actions towards women should begin with self reflection by asking themselves how they can contribute to progress.

“What can I do?” Stahly-Dronkowski said. “What role can I play in making this change?”