I started the conversation about gender and gender identity

Rebecca, 16, used our Let's Talk about Gender and Gender Identity resource to have an open conversation with the other girls in her Senior Section unit

It was really positive to see the other girls in my unit challenging their assumptions and expanding their knowledge about gender.

I used the Let's Talk about Gender and Gender Identity resource with my Senior Section group, for girls aged 14 to 25. Personally, I think it's important to discuss gender identity, as many teenagers not only have questions about their own gender but also need guidance on how to discuss gender with others.

We did the resource as a peer group, without our Leader, as we thought it might help us talk more openly and in depth.

What does it mean to be a girl?

The first activity we tried involved drawing a 'girl' on an A3 sheet of paper. Inside it, we wrote words that defined being a girl and, outside it, the factors that influenced the words on the inside. We had a mix of words that reflected both stereotypes of what 'girl' can mean and lots of other more varied things girls can be.

We chose to fill the inside with words and phrases such as pink, emotional, art and drama, make-up, can't drive, polite, mother, housewife and weak. The outside words included history, tradition, religion, school, culture, society, the media, men's opinions and peers.

When the different groups were asked to feed back, this quickly turned into a debate on feminism, as most discussions usually do in our unit! However, when I used the guidance questions - for example, 'Would she still be a girl if she had short hair or wore trousers?'- to bring the conversation back on topic, the girls had to think quite carefully about their answers.

Defining sex, gender and sexual orientation

Next, I pinned up the words 'sex', 'gender' and 'sexual orientation' around the room. I asked the girls to volunteer their own definitions without telling them if they were right or wrong.

I then gave each girl three post-it notes and asked them to jot down the first word or phrase that came into their head when they heard each word and stick it around the appropriate sign. They defined sex as 'biological' and 'something you're born with', annotated sexual orientation with 'spectrum', 'LGBTQ+' and 'not upbringing' and labelled gender as 'whatever you identify with' and 'spectrum'.

I then gave the girls three definitions and asked a volunteer to match them up correctly with help from the others. Making sure that the girls didn't know who had written what, I asked if there were any labels that they wanted to move. One requested that we remove 'choice' from sexual orientation, and another wanted to remove 'male or female' from gender once we had discussed the true definition. It was really positive to see the girls challenging their assumptions and expanding their knowledge.

What can you tell from a photo?

For our final activity, I had prepared a 'celebrity wall', where I stuck pictures of 20 celebrities. I asked girls one at a time to choose a celebrity. The girls found it funny as I asked questions such as 'What is the last film that this person watched?' or 'What are they having for tea tonight?' because they saw clearly that it was impossible to tell.

It was then interesting to turn the tables and explain that we can't tell anything from a picture, let alone gender identity.

I would definitely recommend the resource

It is vital to have open and honest conversations about topics like this, even if they were once considered taboo subjects, and I think it is something that my generation wants to talk about.

The pack is very supportive, even if a Leader has limited knowledge of a topic. Often the girls didn't know how to word their questions. My unit were worried about being offensive and this is why we found the Trans Media Watch Style Guide, which the pack recommends, a very useful resource.

Answer questions honestly

My top piece of advice would be to listen, encourage them to rethink their wording and help them understand why appropriate wording is necessary, and then answer the question honestly as best as you can. Girls shouldn't be reprimanded for asking questions, even if they are unsure of how to ask them.

Start the conversation in your unit

Let's Talk about Gender and Gender Identity is the latest in our series of Let's Talk resources, which are designed to help Leaders have conversations with girls about the things that matter to them. Download the resource.