Talking it out

The guys have their say

Working with London schools and colleges is one way to appreciate this city’s diversity.

While preparing Exposure’s latest podcast on gender and feminism, participants talked about their family lives, and inevitably got onto discussing how culture and upbringing affects your views of a woman’s role in the world.

It made for an interesting debate: we had one young person who’d grown up in Iraq and Sweden, another raised in Zambia by his grandmother, two with an Asian parent, one Jamaica-born Christian, one daughter of a Rastafarian, another whose dad was Algerian. Several said they’d been raised in a single-parent family, which had influenced their perspective of feminism; some of those who lived with both parents mentioned differing views from mum vs dad on appropriate career paths or behaviour for a girl/boy.

As someone who grew up in the Northern Irish countryside – not exactly renowned for diversity back in the 1980s/90s – I found the mix fascinating.

Most unexpected, though, was the feedback from some of the participants afterwards. For them, producing the podcast wasn’t just about ticking off a school project requirement (though it was, of course, also about that). They also seemed to appreciate the time and space to just talk.

One of the girls told me:

“A lot of the time I think you only hear similar opinions, so it was good to hear other people’s experiences too… I feel like there used to be loads of youth activities that bring people together, where they could share their opinions. But nowadays, especially with social media and technology, it’s usually over the internet that that discussion happens. So to sit down and do it face to face, that’s a change.”

And one of the boys said he enjoyed “learning about other people’s cultures, personal stories… It taught me not to just assume everyone is the same. You listen to someone’s views and think, how can you think like that?? But when you hear their background you sometimes understand.”

Creating something from scratch with a bunch of young people is never a quick process. They have exams and deadlines and last-minute school trips; they have part-time jobs. Some change their minds and drop out; others don’t read any emails and turn up on the wrong day. They forget their notes. They need a lot of reminders and often some encouragement.

But when they do all get into a room together, they are usually more than ready to share (certainly more than my generation did as teens), and to listen, and to challenge. If those discussions generate a bit more open-mindedness in this country, then all the reminding and herding is well worth it.

Listen to more Exposure podcasts here.