What are teenage girls afraid of? Sex, male violence, drugs and pollution

From Sunday's The Province:
by Shelly Easton - Staff Reporter

What are teenage girls afraid of? Sex, male violence, drugs and pollution

"To sing a cappella is to carry a tune without instrumental accompaniment. It's a high-risk musical style; you can lose your way without a strong rhythm section to keep you on track. Young women in Canada today are living a cappella, and for the most part their song is not being heard." ---- from A Cappella, 1990
Teenage girls are singing a song of fear, but few people are listening.

A national study shows girls fear a world where boys get the breaks while girls cope with violence, sexual aggression, complex family problems and finding careers.

The girls say they're terrified of a future filled with poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, and a dying environment.

But their biggest worry is that no one -- except close friends or mothers -- listens. Or cares.

"The grownups think we're young and inexperienced so we don't know anything," said Jeannie Wong, 17, a Grade 12 tourism and hospitality student at Britannia high school in Vancouver.

Students from across the country echoed that view in a national study called "A Cappella: A Report on the Realities, Concerns, Expectations and Barriers Experienced by Adolescent Women in Canada."

Released by the Canadian Teachers Federation, the report is based on the observations of 1,000 girls aged 11 to 19. They met with teachers in 138 cities -- eight in B.C. -- last June.

Study co-ordinator Heather-Jane Robertson said the picture that emerged was one where "girls' interests aren't served as often as boys'."

Robertson said the inequity between the lives of boys and girls was a striking theme in girls' anonymous letters and discussion groups.

"It was quite sad how resentful the girls were of boys," she said.

"They saw the boys as real jerks, but were still dying for their approval. The girls saw them as having all the breaks and the power. The message was, `girls worry about their careers and futures, while boys think about sex.'"

The teens' comments revealed they worry about the environment and earthquakes, they laugh and they get depressed.

Some work at part-time jobs, while others throw all their energy into studying. Most have a career clearly in sight.

Sex is a topic they whisper about with friends. They fear AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases but have high hopes they won't have to deal with them.

On sex, for instance, one girl said: "There are double standards for guys and girls regarding sex. Guys are cool while girls are sluts."

On sexual violence, another said: "Who can you trust these days? I can't be sure it won't happen to me. Guys force you to do things you don't want to do -- they presume you'll say yes. I'm scared to walk down the road at night. Rape really scares me."

Almost 79 per cent pf respondents said pollution and the treat of nuclear war were robbing them of a future. Fifty per cent said they were concerned about parents using drugs and alcohol, and 68 per cent said substance abuse among teens was a problem.

Students from Britannia high school didn't take part in the $15,000 study, but eight Grade 12 students interviewed last week mirrored the opinions expressed in it.

There was universal agreement among the lively group that boys have it better than they do.

"They don't have to do dishes," complained Theresa Thai, 18.

"They have later curfews," chimed in Tracey Sue, 17.

Alexandra Rutherford, 16, said: "Guys get away with a lot more. If they treat someone really bad, in their group of friends, it's considered cool."

But girls would react with "How could you do that?" said Jeannie.

Robertson said the large number of comments on date and street rape, incest and sexual abuse shows a pressing need for more education.

The Vancouver teens agreed they fear for their personal safety -- especially at night or walking alone.

While some couldn't forsee becoming victims of violence from boyfriends or husbands, others disagreed.

"What about the guy who is obsessed and you break up with him?" asked Tracey. "They'll sure turn."

The group agreed their thinking on violence changed in the wake of 14 women being gunned down in Montreal last year.

"It changed because the guy was going after all those women," said Joyce Jones, 17. "He didn't care about men. I thought `Is there somebody else out there?' I never thought of anybody being so mad about something like that. It was like, wow, what has happened to society?"

Alexandra said for her, the killings had one ominous message: "It signifies no matter where you are, nothing is safe."

Although the young women worried aobut violence, they expressed confidence about starting careers as travel agents or flight attendants and furthering their education.

The problem, said Robertson, is convincing teens they can achieve the goals.

"The girls have career goals and plans but they tend to feel quite hopeless about their achievement," she said.

They also sent a strong message they were concerned aobut body image, appearance and losing weight.

Teachers who took part in the study said they learned valuable lessons about their students.

"It made me more aware that I have to listen," said Comox teacher B.J. Lewis.

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