Northern Ireland news

Girls have to choose to be ‘pretty or clever' says teachers' leader

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary, said everyday sexism is part of life for women

YOUNG women are being forced to choose between being pretty and popular or clever, a teachers' leader has claimed.

Avril Hall Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said sexism and inequality are still huge factors in shaping women's lives.

She was speaking in response to recent media coverage of British home secretary Theresa May.

During reports on George Osborne's budget announcement, some newspapers focused on Ms May's appearance, claiming the public was "distracted" by her "cleavage enhancing" outfits.

The group Everyday Sexism said the reporting was "depressing, disrespectful and downright misogynistic".

Ms Hall Callaghan said many women face a Hobson's choice of being perceived as pretty or clever, but not both.

"Everyday sexism is part of life for women. There is much talk of gender equality but the reality is that sexism and inequality are still huge issues for girls and women in today's society," she said.

"There is a sense that girls have to choose to be pretty or clever - they can't be both. What is more dangerously insidious is that sexism appears to be morphing into something that some would claim to be ironic or empowering."

She added that school pupils are living in a culture where pornographic images are widely available, cosmetic surgery is being advertised and there is a fixation with staying slim.

"All this can undermine young women's self-confidence and contribute to problems such as eating disorders and anxiety about their appearance - not to mention disrupting their school work and their social life," she said.

"As teachers we must have the backing to ensure we are there for our young women to support them and help navigate them through the sexist straits which are sadly still so prevalent in 2016."

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