What are girls made of? Unhappiness, it seems, and can anyone claim surprise?

The annual state of the nation survey for Girlguiding UK details distressing figures on how girls and young women feel about themselves and their lives, showing levels of unhappiness at their highest for 15 years.

Fears about climate change loom distressingly large, as does the cost of living and the effect on their aspirations for the future.

These are relatively new concerns but the real punch in the guts are the long-held and unimproved issues: body image and sexual harassment.

Two-thirds of 11 to 21-year-olds “feel ashamed of the way I look” because they don’t feel they measure up to images of women in the media. 

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Some 44% said they have been harassed by men on the way to and from school. Only 17% aged seven to 21 feel very happy, a drop from 40% in 2009. 

In the Barbie movie, the actress America Ferrera’s character makes a barnstorming speech about womanhood and its multiple hurdles and painful contradictions. 

“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You have to be thin,” she says, “But not too thin. You have to have money but you can never ask for money, because that’s crass.” And on and on.

I thought, who needs to hear this? Don’t we already know this? Hasn’t this been talked about to the death? 

Of course, how stupid. This generation of girls needs to hear this. This is old for us, but new for them. We are caught in a loop of repetition because things improve but never as much as they should; incremental successes are never enough.

Imagine yourself to be a young woman and take a sweeping glance over one day’s headlines. 

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You might make it through university and launch yourself into a career as a surgeon. The skill, the graft, the prestige - a surgeon. 

And, as we have heard this week, you will be undermined, objectified and even physically assaulted, sometimes even in the operating theatre.

Older colleagues will read your testimony and, instead of reacting in disgust at the actions of their male peers, they will write to the Times in indignation at your petty softness. "Sir," they will complain, "These girls with their A* exam results are equipped for nothing." And the "nothing" he will mean is the pliancy to endure sexism and misogyny without complaint. 

Maybe you become a TV news reporter and, live on camera, a man approaches to sexually assault you. The incident you’re reporting on - your job of work - becomes secondary; the primary focus is this man’s hands on you, that’s the story now. 

Perhaps you are a talented footballer and you win the most prestigious trophy in your field. And as your country congratulates you, the man in charge behaves inappropriately, kissing you forcefully on the mouth.

Now, what should be the primary focus - your dazzling success - becomes secondary to public analysis of this man’s behaviour. 

You’ve got powers, girl, and men won’t let you have them. 

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What else? Headlines that could be a repeat of any number of stories from recent years. Results of a survey conducted for the charity Wellbeing for Women found millions of women and girls never seek medical help for debilitating periods and, those who do, say their symptoms are dismissed and not taken seriously.  

In recent years, in the hot and intemperate debate on the overlap of trans and women’s rights, and the ongoing discourse on what, exactly, is a woman, the focus has, by necessity, been squarely on the negative.

Women, in the defence of the need for same-sex spaces - not that anyone can agree on what same-sex even means - have emphasised their troubles and trauma in order to make the case that what had previously been fought for should be maintained. 

And so, what do we tell girls and young women? We tell them generations of women before them fought to ensure they could have it all: family and career, career or family; that they would be equal in the eyes of male peers; that they would be safe to move through the world without harassment or objectification; that they would be equally paid for equal work; that they could do and be anything, freely. 

But we also tell them the reality: that they can work hard at school, excel in whatever success looks like to them, achieve a career they love, travel, find love, anything. And they will be paid less than their male peers. In offices they will still be expected to pick up the undervalued additional tasks that create social cohesion - buying leaving presents, organising Christmas nights out, making the tea. Yet they will be paid less than their male peers. 

If they work for a local authority and are paid less, chronically, over many years, and they fight successfully for equal pay, they will be blamed for creating a financial headache for their city. 

At home they will take on the bulk of the housework, still. They will do the bulk of the childcare. School will still call mum in the event of illness or emergency, as is habit and tradition. You will be judged as a mother in the way a father is not judged. 

There will be sexual double standards. In every arena of your life, no matter your success or rank, you will be vulnerable to harassment and assault. 

You will have learned as a young girl how to reject unwanted male attention while still flattering the man, because you have a sense of when things might turn unmanageably sour. This will be a skill necessary and deployed a hundred times or more through the course of your life. 

At least the straightforwardly bad guys are easy to spot. The good guys are worse. We’ll tell you about them later. 

Against all of this, girls now have an additional burden: they are not allowed the space to think only of themselves but must always be inclusive of others, they are lumbered with being welcoming and kind. 

We encourage girls - and young men, but this is a column about girls - to talk frankly about their mental health but we have little to offer them in return when support services face cuts, CAMHS waiting lists are endless and the easiest thing to do is to turn to TikTok for advice.

Ah, social media. TikTok opens up the opportunity to form supportive tribes with other girls and young women and gives access to important, useful information perhaps not found at home or in school.

So, benefits. But these tribes must also be exhausting. Don’t make me explain to you the concept of the hot girl summer - look it up. Ditto sloth girls, salted granola girls, rat girls. The gym girlies are growing their glutes. The corporate girlies are showing off their 5-9 before their 9-5. 

They’re all eating their #GirlDinners. 

Can girls merely be themselves without aspiring to be part of a carefully curated, hyper-consumerist tribe? 

Young people usually want to be part of a gang, of course, but these new groups all seem like such hard, hard work.

We see rising numbers of girls and young women opting out of womanhood by identifying as boys or as non-binary and we are too squeamish to closely examine the reasons for this because questioning identity comes with risk. As feminists, as mothers, as sisters, as women, we fail young women if we fail to ask these questions.

Girls and young women are unhappy and the fact of repeatedly explaining why leaves us less time to discuss solutions. 

I want to talk about all the positives of womanhood but look, there isn’t any space.