Tuesday 28 January 2020

Girls could run the world - if they'd only just take the risk

With many females afraid of failing, a new campaign is aiming to empower young women, writes Elle Gordon

Louise O'Neill. Photo: David Conachy
Louise O'Neill. Photo: David Conachy

Bestselling author Louise O’Neill vividly recalls coming home from New York having just turned 27, to find herself living with her parents with just €50 in her bank account and no job.

“I remember feeling a little bit embarrassed, like everything I had been working towards had sort of disintegrated. I had no concept of what step I would take next.”

For Louise, everything falling apart made her take a hard look at her life and took away the fear of failure.

“I had nothing to lose,” she says. “I want young girls to know that it is fear of failure that is debilitating. It’s the fear that can keep people from reaching their full potential.”

Her personal road to Damascus — of beating lack of confidence and self-belief — is why she is such a passionate advocate in her role as a member of the #LikeAGirl squad in the Always #LikeAGirl campaign.

The Always #LikeAGirl movement is changing the phrase ‘like a girl’ to mean positive things and build girls’ confidence, encouraging them to embrace failure.

When it comes to sport, Always launched their #LikeAGirl—Keep Playing initiative. Louise says: “I think we are getting to a better place with terms like, ‘run like a girl’ or ‘hit like a girl’. Using female pronouns in a negative manner subconsciously sends out the message to young boys and girls that being a girl is less than. I have noticed a really interesting shift in the dynamic, where people are asking ‘well, what’s wrong with being a girl?’ and I think that is really promising. People are thinking about the language that they use.”

Some 89pc of females agree that if girls felt failing was okay during puberty, they would take on more challenges. Some 71pc of females most often experience a paralysing fear of failure when they are still at school. What can we do to instil some confidence back into our young women? Why are they so afraid to fail?

As well as Louise O’Neill, Alesha Dixon (of Britain’s Got Talent and Mis-teeq fame) and digital influencer Leanne Woodfull are championing their #LikeAGirl mission to change how females perceive setbacks.

Louise wants to change how girls and young women view failure. She says: “I think for me, I had a huge feeling of failure when I was a teenager. I was so afraid of trying and failing that it was easier for me to sit back and say ‘okay, well I’m not going to [do it].

“It was only when I decided I would rather try and fail than living my life regretting that missed opportunity, my life completely changed.”

Recent critical male commentary on women’s rugby clearly rankles.

“Well, for sporty women, I think it is so important to break out of those narrow boxes that they are being told they are supposed to fit into,” says Louise. “People should just be whoever they want to be. That goes for both men and women.”

She recalls when Katie Taylor won her gold medal for lightweight boxing in the 2012 Olympics. “I was crying and feeling so proud that Irish women were doing this in a sport that has been traditionally dominated by men. I remember people saying, ‘Is boxing a proper sport for women?’

“This kind of comment is really attached to this idea that it’s not ladylike to play those kinds of sports in the male domain. That kind of language and rhetoric is designed to keep women in their place.”

Louise cites her sister, who is involved in sport, and the confidence it has given her. “She will say things like, ‘I am less concerned with how my body looks and more concerned about what it can do’, and I think that is an incredible way to look at your body.”

Louise adds: “When your eyes are opened to [an issue] it is very difficult to unsee it. I feel a sense of responsibility to be that person who can never let it go. We are social beings; we learn from the world around us and absorb all these messages.

“It’s really important that young girls feel supported and feel they can achieve their dreams and not let fear of failure get in the way. Anything that is worth doing, you have to risk failure and learn from the mistakes you make

For information on #LikeAGirl, go to www.always.com

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