Real living: Young girls go for it

Barely a day goes by without politicians debating the lives and morals of teenage girls. Here three young women tell it like it really is

Momtaz Degum-Hussain, 18, lives in Enfield, north London, with her parents, who are retired, and her three sisters.

IN ASIAN homes when parents are bringing up their kids, they'll always teach the girls how to cook and to do housework, and they never teach the boys. That's how Asian boys grow up - always having a mother figure doing it for them. I think that's why, when they're older, they just presume that the woman does the work so why should they start now?

I respect my parents because they've made so many compromises for me, though sometimes it is difficult for me to talk to them and explain my point of view. They don't understand that I need some of my own space, like going out clubbing and stuff. It's like that with most parents but I think Asian parents are particularly obsessed with caring too much about their kids. It comes from having such close family bonding.

I'm not against arranged marriages. They sound prehistoric and irrelevant to most people but I don't mind if I have one. My only concern is that I know my parents have bad taste in men! But they will let me find my own husband. The only thing they're concerned about is religion. They don't care about his colour as such, they just want him to be the same religion.

I went to a girls' school, but I opted for a mixed sixth-form college because I wanted to get a different outlook on life. When I got to college, I found it easy to make male friends. It's fine, it's just normal. I expect the same of my male friends as I do of my female friends. They have to be there for you.

Some of my Asian friends wear traditional clothes - the hijab (modest Islamic dress) and cover their hair. Others are obsessed with designer labels. Being an Asian girl is particularly handy because you have the excuse to wear the loudest, brightest and most garish colours. Asian girls are taught to take pride in their appearance from a young age. I got my ears pierced when I was a toddler and was wearing eyeliner when I was five.

Feminism has a reputation for being a power trip for women which I think is negative. But I think if it's going to be something positive it should just be about women being happy with who they are, being proud to be female. I don't think Girl Power and feminism are the same thing, because Girl Power is just some kind of marketing ploy and feminism has been going strong for generations.

I think women are going to get a lot stronger and achieve a lot more things. There will be women in a lot more jobs. There hasn't even been a female commissioner for the police force yet. I can see women getting roles like that over the next 30 years. And in the home, you see things changing. My next-door neighbour, for example. A couple of years ago his wife was working and he was at home looking after the kid. And I thought that was quite good. He actually brought the child up and taught him everything.

My ambition is to be a film director. When I leave school, I want to go to university, and then do various jobs and work my way up until finally I have my own film company. There are female film directors around, but it is predominantly a male profession. Women who make films are often labelled "feminist film-makers", making films for women. But I don't intend to do that. All I want to do is make ordinary films.

The opportunities I've had are different from my mum. But at my age my mum emigrated to a different country, had to adjust, and had a new family. My mum has experienced a journey I never will and I admire her for that.

Caroline Abomeli, 16, lives in Tottenham, north London. She has two brothers and two sisters. Her father is retired and her mother is a machinist.

MY PARENTS have been together 32 years, and I'm the youngest of five. My parents encourage me to go out and pursue my career and don't let the fact that I'm black, or that I'm a woman, get in my way. If you know any Nigerian or Ghanaian families it's normally "I want you to be a doctor, or an accountant" whether you're a boy or a girl. When it comes to careers Nigerian families now see women as equal.

My opportunities are much better than my mother's. My mother went to school, but that's it. I think that's because my mother was expected to stay at home and do all the housework and prepare to be a wife more than anything, and I think that's now changed.

As for my grandmother - I don't really know much about her but that she was one of many wives. It just shows that it was a very male-dominated society and she probably had to be there in the kitchen, taking care of the kids, so in contrast, yeah, I've got better opportunities.

To me, feminism means being independent, not being thought of as inferior. I wouldn't usually call myself a feminist, because if I were to go out and say "I'm a feminist", people would think, "Yeah, dyke". That's the bad image that some people associate with being a feminist. But by my own definition, I'm a feminist.

Men are still competing against women and vice versa. The boys in my school, they're so sexist. I don't know whether they're doing it just to wind us up or if they're serious. You get these jokes like: What happens if your washing machine breaks down? Slap the bitch! There is a battle. We have to stick up for our own.

There is a need for feminism now. There's still a lot women need to achieve. Although we've got a lot of laws in place, they're not always being enforced. Women still aren't getting the top jobs.

I want to be a journalist when I'm older. If I was to go into a woman's magazine I'm sure there'd be no problem, but a couple of months ago I went into the Guardian newsaper and there were a few women, but all the editors, the environmental editor and the science editor were all older men and I remember feeling pretty intimidated by it.

To me, a good life is being able to buy what you want and what you need without having problems. I especially feel sorry for single mothers sometimes, because I was watching a programme where a single mother said she would get more money from being on the dole than she would from working. I think they should introduce a minimum wage now, because I think it's just terrible. For example I used to work in a bakery - I know I'm only 15 and I haven't got a family to feed - but they only paid pounds 2.36 an hour. I've never known one man to work there.

I want to get married because I think it's secure, not just in the money sense. It's the best environment to bring up children. And as a Catholic woman I think it's pretty important. About pre-marital sex and living together, I personally don't really mind, although the Church does. Though I do think people are trying to grow up too quickly nowadays. Three of my friends in my year have dropped out of school because they're having babies.

I'm optimistic about the way things are going now. We're coming to a new century and everyone's optimistic about what that will bring. In years to come, it will be interesting to compare what I think now to what my children and grandchildren's lives are like. I think I'll look back and see that things have really changed - for the better.

Julia Press, 18, lives in Southgate, north London, with her mother who is a headteacher and her mother's partner, a psychotherapist.

MY FAMILY is me and my mum. My parents are divorced. My dad was sort of a semi-househusband because he still had his office at home. But he looked after the house as well as cooking and so on, because my mum was working.

Now my mum and I are more like flatmates than mother and daughter. My father used to do everything around the house while my mother was studying for her master's degree. That influenced me. I've always felt that men and women should be equal in the house, and that proved to me that it can happen.

I'm a Reform Jew, and in Reform, men and women sit together in the synagogue, but in the synagogue where my mum works they're a cross between Reform and Orthodox. The men and women sit together but women don't wear tallith (prayer shawl) and kipar (skull-cap). When my mum prays at that synagogue she makes a point of wearing tallith and kipar because that's what she does. There is such a stigma about it; the women will look at you and the men will look at you like, what in hell are you doing? I can't understand it. Nothing in the Bible or the Torah (book of law) says that women can't do it. In Orthodox Judaism women are so much lower than men. The men lead the prayer, they're the rabbis.

I've always felt that my career is important to me. I've always had ideas about what I wanted to do - I used to want to be an engineer, and at one stage I wanted to be a rabbi - and they were often stereotypically male jobs. But that didn't bother me.

I've always cared about my appearance. I was really fat when I was little and I wanted to be thin so that I could be like all my friends, or the people who were bullying me. I was in primary school at the time and they used to call me names and I once got beaten up after school. I used to hide and I ended up hitting a teacher. I was suspended for it and the teachers wouldn't admit that there was a problem and it went on for years.

I remember my mother talking to me about feminism, and I gradually developed my own ideas too; I've been doing sociology A-level, and learning about different types of feminism. I really want equality. But I don't think we have to have things like a Minister for Women. I don't like separatism. If women really want things to happen, they will happen. You know, if you're persistent about something, something will happen. If the younger generation feels it's important, we'll make the change. I know I will.

Taken from `On the Move: Feminism for a New Generation', edited by Natasha Walter and published 11 February, price pounds 9.99.

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