LAST year was hailed as the “year of girl culture appreciation”. 2024 needs to become the “year of taking girls’ issues seriously, and taking action”.

In 2023, the spotlight was very firmly on girl culture.

Barbie’s record-breaking success in the cinemas. Taylor Swift’s showstopping Eras Tour. Girl dinner. Tube girl. Hot girl walks. “Teenage girls in their twenties” passionately belting out lyrics from Olivia Rodrigo’s acclaimed sophomore album, Guts. The list of examples I could give you of this pink, coquette-bowed cultural phenomenon seems endless.

With girl culture has come a sense of collective joy – from Swifties exchanging friendship bracelets (inspired by the lyrics of the song You’re On Your Own, Kid from Swift’s 2022 album, Midnights), to cinemagoers, adorned in their finest pink attire, greeting each other with a cheerful “Hi, Barbie!”. This joy has been infectious, and it’s delightful. In a patriarchal society that often celebrates traditionally masculine qualities while deriding feminine ones, embracing hyper-femininity can become a powerful means for many girls and women to empower themselves and their peers. By doing so, they can confront internalised misogyny and reclaim “girly” aesthetics, challenging societal norms and fostering a sense of strength and solidarity.

The National: Taylor SwiftTaylor Swift

Amid this joy, however, it is crucial not to lose sight of what truly matters – striving for societal gender equality. Consumerism – a realm to which girl culture, like any other trend, is not immune – won’t get us far. Brands exploiting this unifying moment to push unnecessary girly pink products so that shoppers can (fleetingly) define themselves through such purchases serves only to enrich the predominantly male leaders of corporations dictating our consumer choices.

We must not squander the potential for genuine progress. What we need is not mindless consumerism, but rather taking women’s issues seriously.

Girlguiding’s 2023 Girls’ Attitudes Survey revealed a stark decline in girls’ happiness levels over the past 15 years. Only 17% of girls aged 7-21 now report that they feel very happy, compared to 40% in 2009. The reasons for this, explored in the report findings, are upsetting – but, for many girls and women, far from surprising.

Here are a few snapshots:

  • 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 worry about sexual harassment, with reports of toxic comments and feelings of unsafety at school. At school, 69% of girls said boys have made comments about girls and women that they would describe as “toxic”.

  • 62% of girls and young women aged 7-21 report being criticised or have had mean things said about how they look, compared to 49% in 2016. Many have expressed a desire to lose weight, or have turned to dieting or skipping meals.

  • 81% of girls and young women aged 11-21 have experienced some form of threatening or upsetting behaviour online, compared to 65% in 2018 – this includes unwanted sexual images, bullying and sexist comments. The survey also found that girls as young as seven have experienced harm online.

Navigating the experience of girlhood has never been simple; in fact, it is becoming more challenging by the day. Although this may not be as fun to discuss as girl dinners or hot girl walks, this is a conversation that needs societal attention.

Girlguiding supports girls and young women to have a platform to have their voices heard. In 2023, Girlguiding Scotland launched the “Own Our Zone” campaign. Created by the Speak Out Champions (Girlguiding Scotland’s young spokespeople), Own Our Zone advocated for making public spaces safer for girls and young women. Part of the week of action was a “#PictureProtest” – this entailed finding public spaces in one’s local area that need to be made safer and sharing a photo on social media, using the #PictureProtest and #OwnOurZone hashtags and tagging local MSPs and councillors.

Society needs to listen to girls and women when they speak up about issues affecting them. Gloria’s monologue in Barbie, where she articulates the challenges encountered by women, was a cathartic experience for many, hearing their struggles vocalised on the big screen. It also served as a wake-up call for audience members who may not have dedicated much thought to feminist issues before.

I remember feeling conflicted after watching Barbie. Part of me thought that the feminism presented in the movie was, frankly, quite basic and superficial. I couldn’t shake the notion that in 2023, we ought to have moved past such elementary messaging. However, another part of me recognised that the movie was undoubtedly an accessible introduction to feminist ideas, especially for those in the audience who might not have been exposed to feminist thought before.

The National: America Ferrera plays a human called Gloria in the Barbie movie (Harper’s Bazaar UK/The Masons/PA)

America Ferrera (above), who played the character Gloria, has expressed a similar viewpoint: “We can know things and still need to hear them out loud. It can still be cathartic. There are a lot of people who need Feminism 101, whole generations of girls who are just coming up now and who don’t have words for the culture that they’re being raised in. Also, boys and men who may have never spent any time thinking about feminist theory. If you are well-versed in feminism, then it might seem like an oversimplification, but there are entire countries that banned this film for a reason. To say that something that is maybe foundational, or, in some people’s view, basic feminism isn’t needed is an oversimplification.”

Barbie achieved greater awareness of feminism. This is good. But now that audiences are awake to feminist issues, we need to harness this momentum. We cannot allow ourselves to get stuck in the same conversations, without much real progress. Especially since Jo Koy’s misogynistic “jokes” about Barbie and Taylor Swift at the 2024 Golden Globes this month demonstrated that many men are still far too comfortable in their casual misogyny. We have a lot of work to do to make sustained changes to our culture, which remains ever-rooted in patriarchy.

We must shift towards solutions and support policy-focused approaches such as Girlguiding Scotland’s #OwnOurZone campaign which is calling for the systemic barriers that hinder girls' and young women’s safety in public spaces to be addressed and education surrounding violence against women to be promoted.

As individuals, we must actively confront instances of everyday sexism and address seemingly harmless “banter” before it escalates into something more sinister. While engaging in these conversations may be challenging, they are necessary. This responsibility falls upon everyone in society, not solely on the shoulders of girls and women.

All feminist approaches also need to recognise the diversity of womanhood – something which wasn’t explicitly addressed in Barbie. Women who experience multiple and compounding inequalities (this is known as intersectionality) are more marginalised than their more privileged counterparts, yet the mainstream version of femininity typically only reflects the white, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, middle-class woman.

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A very compelling infographic produced by the Empowering Women Panel (pictured above) exemplifies how marginalised women in Scotland have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing cost of living crisis, demonstrating how necessary it is for all feminist approaches to consider the needs of all women, especially the most marginalised.

In 2023, the spotlight was very firmly on girl culture. Let’s make 2024 (and beyond) the years of taking girls’ issues seriously, and taking action.

You can find more information about the National Advisory Council on Women and Girls (NACWG) and its work with the Scottish Government's on the cost of living crisis's impact on women and girls by visiting