My British Girlhood: growing up in the best and worst places in the UK
Two writers talk about their experiences at in the best and worst places to grow up as a girl
In September charity Plan UK released a list of the 10 best and 10 worst places in the UK to grow up as a girl. Two writers talk about growing up at opposite ends of the list.
Saskia Murphy on being a girl in Blackpool, Lancashire
“Girls where I lived seemed to grow up fast. From an early age, we were exposed to stag parties brawling in the street and intoxicated women staggering barefoot down the promenade. Drunken fun on a seaside resort doesn’t sound too sinister, but when people visit Blackpool they leave their morals and inhibitions on the M55.
A lot of people visit Blackpool because they want to drink themselves into oblivion and have sex with a stranger. Men and women crowd the streets, scanning the bars for potential, someone who looks half decent after a few Jägerbombs. Their behaviour is their business, but the way people act when they visit Blackpool for the weekend has a knock-on effect for those who live there.
At the age of 16, I started going out in local bars and nightclubs. The door policy in most places was lax, and I’d be in a group with friends from school. It never took long for an inebriated middle-aged man to stumble over and slur some sort of compliment. But the younger generation didn’t even pretend to be chivalrous. Groups of young men go out in Blackpool because they think the girls are easy. It’s perfectly normal to approach a girl and grab her bum or tell her she has nice boobs, or just cut to the chase and ask if she wants to have sex in an alleyway. I didn’t realise how wrong this sort of behaviour was until I started studying feminism in my late teens, and the next time a man grabbed me in a Blackpool nightclub I asked him why. “Fat slag!” was his response.
By the time I left school in 2007, five girls in my year already had babies. When I was 15, one friend told me she had stopped taking contraception in an attempt to get pregnant. Although she was incredibly witty and intelligent, the only future she saw for herself, at the age of 15, was as a mother.
Career aspirations were never a topic of conversation for my school friends. We knew we lived in an area with low employment opportunities. None of our parents were high earners. From most of my peers’ experience, work was just something people did to live.
Girls in my year looked up to Katie Price and the England WAGS of 2006. Breast implants, tiny waists, fake tan and hair extensions were the ultimate goal, and a lot of girls were reduced to tears when the teachers made them remove their makeup at school.
Blackpool produces some of the country’s worst statistics on unemployment, depression, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, alcohol-related deaths and suicide. Girls who grow up in Blackpool are forced to witness and confront a catalogue of social issues from an early age. It takes a toll.”
Georgina Rodgers on being a girl in Amersham, the Chilterns, Buckinghamshire
“It was the autumn of 1995. The soundtrack of Oasis’s Wonderwall played through everyone’s Walkmans, Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy and his dripping T-shirt had just burst onto the TV and my friends and I surreptitiously carried copies of Just Seventeen around, to read the problem pages.
I attended a very academic girls’ school and our teachers said we could be anything we wanted. We believed them. We had just started our GCSEs and were told that success at this level would dictate our futures; we needed As or A*s – it wasn’t up for debate. We all wanted to be someone, crash through a glass ceiling somewhere and our sex was irrelevant; my friends and I was on the same steep upward trajectory as my brother and his gang at the nearby boys’ school. The opportunities were endless and even the less academic types found something that made them tick.
Outside of school one of the highlights of my week was our local Sunday night Youth Club. Friends from different schools congregated for two hours but far from hanging about with illicit booze and fags, Youth Club was all about making giant human pyramids and laughing until our sides hurt, learning random stuff and listening to talks about self-esteem, teamwork and the dangers of drugs. We jokingly refer to Youth Club as ‘saliva club’ because we all swapped boyfriends pretty frequently.
Of course, on Fridays and Saturdays we did our fair share of drinking White Lightening in the park and puking in the bushes. Everyone moved from first base pretty rapidly, but I never heard of a single underage pregnancy, sexual harassment or serious bullying. There was no doubt it was an affluent area filled with wealthy, nuclear families but it seemed that even the less well-off families or single parents were there for the outstanding schools, bubble of optimism and security and the sense of anything being possible.
Fast forward 21 years and all my local friends have had career success. Almost everyone I knew attended university; I studied English and fulfilled my dream of becoming a writer, others work in the City and many are academics, doctors and creatives. Amersham is close to London, so some of us decamped home after University and trundled along the leafy Metropolitan Line to work, meaning we could build our careers before forking out for London rents.
When I had my first child in 2012, it seemed the obvious choice to leave our miniscule London home and come full circle, eventually moving half a mile from my childhood home. I now have two girls and hope that as they grow up, they can enjoy the same ambition, freedom and enterprise that I did.”