They crash into the photo studio like cutlery falling from a drawer. Jangly, spangly, sharp-edged and sparring. This is the future and the future is female.
Later this month, nine young women will take the stage for a Silo Theatre production of The Wolves. It's a play about a teenage girls' football team - insiders, outsiders, high achievers and burn-outs. It's a play about life, love, politics and orange slices at half-time. But today, in the New Zealand Herald's Auckland office, the cast (aged between 16 and 21) have put down their scripts to talk real-life women's business. They're here to answer a very big question: If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?
TATUM WARREN-NGATA, 20: Every time I clean my house or take the trash out, it disgusts me how much one person can consume. Then remembering there are seven billion people? I feel so powerless. No matter what I do, I know that it will help that very, very little bit, but in the grand scheme of things . . .
AKINEHI MUNROE, 18: Whose fault is it? Us. Humans. There's no other answer. If we weren't here, it wouldn't exist.
QUEENIE SAMUEL, 16: Older generations say to me 'I'm not going to be around when that happens' and it's like yeah, but your kids will.
TATUM: It's selfish.
AISLING BAKER, 18: 'Oh, you're just kids, what would you know, you haven't experienced the real world yet . . .'
MIRIANA MCGECHIE, 18: But we're growing up in it. Climate change has been a part of our lexicon for as long as we've really been alive. We essentially have no other option but to take action against it.
AKINEHI: I recently saw on the news that there's a company that produces more than 2000 bottles a minute and they're plastic. Like, f***, nothing's changing. S*** is still happening. How are we supposed to f***ing save the world if people are making plastic bottles every two minutes?
QUEENIE: It's that feeling, like when you leave all your homework till the last minute but this time, if you don't finish your homework, everyone will DIE. If you drop a plate, which piece do you pick up first? Is it the plastic bottles? Is it the meat and dairy industry with the terrible CO2 emissions? Is it boycotting the Chinese coal company which creates, I think it's like 14.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, each year? You know, which do you do first? Which piece do you pick up? And I've only got two hands, right.
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MAIA: I hate humans. I hate the human race so much, they are f***ing everything up for literally every single other living being on this planet. There are a lot of things I want to change, but from a very young age, I've always been very conscious about the environment. Every single house we've lived, in it's been like solar panels, don't waste the water, turn off the lights.
TATUM: Woman of the earth!
MAIA: Recycling, composting, worm farming. I could go on, but in school I have met people who didn't know what recycling was.
MENTAL HEALTH AND HEALTHY MINDS
ALEX: Mental health needs to be at the forefront of conversations, especially for young children who are growing up where their parents might not think it's okay to speak to them about it. They've been growing up in families that don't talk to each other and don't lean on each other for advice - you can't go to dad, 'cos dad's always angry or you can't go to mum, 'cos she's always busy. If I could change that, I'd do it in a heartbeat. My dad's Mike King and people ask me 'well, is that just your dad's passion?' No, because I've grown up where we never used to have the relationship that we have now. To see my dad who was a very 'toughen up or let it go person' to someone now crying in front of me . . .
MAIA: It's difficult to work into a room of youth and find someone who isn't struggling with some form of mental health issue.
MIRIANA: There is so much unseen pressure. There is a lot going on in the world and in the lives of young people. Social media, school, everything. We're not the same as the baby boomer generation, where you leave school at 15 and then by 18 you're married and you're off. Just the way we interact with the world and move within it is so incredibly different now, and there are so many people struggling and suffering - the ones who don't know how to ask for help or reach out, they're not being taught that it's okay to do that, that it's not shameful . . . I was also going to talk about mental health. Having been in this mental health system both as someone who was under 18 and now as someone who is over 18, it just really breaks my heart when I talk to people who have been in really dangerous situations and really, really awful spaces . . . I think a lot of people don't know how to interact around mental health. They think that telling someone to stay positive, that there is hope, is going to change someone's mindset. There's a difference between when you lose a job or a loved one or you have a break-up, or something really heartbreaking happens and you fall into a big sadness. That's awful and it's horrible, but a lot of people see that as the only thing to do with depression, they don't see a lot of young people . . . who, like myself, have struggled with it for nearly 10 years now and generalised anxiety since I was really little. I want more open communication . . . I would like to change the way we interact with each other. It's really easy to snap at someone, super, super fast, but if there isn't any kind of open communication about how you're feeling, or what's been happening in your life recently . . .
AKINEHI: I want to say something. For men it's really hard and it's especially in Maori and PI families . . . men, who are all abused as children and because they are abused as children . . . it was a generational thing. And I think it definitely started from when we moved into the city in the '70s. Like, we were oppressed. From the moment that we had to be brought into the city . . . I just wanted to acknowledge that's a really big thing.
AISLING: One thing that I would love to just not be a thing, is pressures. Pressures on who you are and how you have to be because of who you are. Like, as a woman I'm supposed to be pure, but if I haven't done anything that means I'm a prude. And for guys, they have to be buff, but not too buff, it's just like EVERYTHING. Females are always seen as over-dramatic, right? So as soon as you start crying it's like 'oooh, she's an angry woman, stay away'.
GROUP: PMS! She's on her period! Get her chocolate!
AISLING: Exactly! And it's so hard to just do what you want to do and be who you want to be with all these things. Guys don't cry, guys don't show emotion and for girls it's the opposite, if they cry, they're weak and that's not the truth, no-one's weak for crying and being upset and so it pains me that that is even a thing.
MAIA: My main thing that I want to change is the way we perceive each other and what's going on in the world. I feel like there's so much negative stuff happening at the moment but there's also so many positive things. We're only shining a light on the negative stuff. Someone can achieve so many great things, they can be an amazing person - they make one mistake and that's the only thing people focus on. I feel like we just need to be kind to each other.
MIRIANA: It's that real cancel culture, eh?
AISLING: I don't like it.
MIRIANA: Especially on Twitter and Instagram, when old stuff comes out or someone does something . . .
AISLING: And it spreads so quickly.
MIRIANA: And immediately the whole community goes 'right, they're canceled!' Without even letting them have a chance to grow and change and realise what they've done wrong and say sorry and fix it for themselves.
AKIHENA:Yeah, there's a big pressure to be like 'oh I'm sorry, sorry, sorry'.
MIRIANA: And to be perfect.
MAIA: And that's the thing everyone focuses on so much.
MIRIANA: I think a lot of people think that young people just like to put blame on everyone, but we all fully accept that there are so many things that we have done to push forward really toxic behaviours and cultures and mindsets. What we're all trying to do now, because we realise it, is we're trying to take it back and we're trying to fix it and we're trying to essentially create a better environment for all of us to grow up in.
TATUM: I think humans are amazing, we're creators and we are inventors, we're explorers, we're so many beautiful, amazing things, but we're equally destructive and cause pain and inflict pain on other things . . . The audience is just as relevant as the influencer, because they drive and determine the success of the influencer. Let's not act like there's just toxicity within the influencers, when the audience are really the driving force.
THEO KEAN, 17: So. Alabama. Yeah, okay, alright, here's my Ted talk. So basically what the one thing I really don't like about Alabama [where a male majority senate has voted to make it illegal to perform abortions] is the fact that it's men who are deciding what is going to happen to women. They don't know everything that we, as women, experience with periods and stuff, or the pregnancy scares . . .
ALEX: Or having a penis shoved into your vagina without it being safe . . .
MIRIANA: Or the trouble of going in the first place to get birth control . . .
THEO: It's that kind of stuff that just makes me want to change the world. 'Cos that's also a reflection on how women are not being put in a place of power, where we can actually contribute our opinions and how we feel and what we want for ourselves and our gender.
QUEENIE: In New Zealand, you have to see two doctors to get an abortion. I saw someone put it as 'you do have to jump through hoops - they're just not on fire'. It's a very tricky situation because if you are on the younger side, like 10 or 11, and you want and needed an abortion for whatever reason, part of that is a pelvic exam and normally during examinations it is custom for a parent or legal guardian to be present with you - so even though we kind of boast like 'total confidentiality' people do have to get involved. Could you imagine that 10 or 11-year-old who cannot tell her family, who cannot tell anyone, but is kind of forced to?
AKINEHI: Who is not listening to that?
MIRIANA: We're definitely living with the remnants of a bygone era.
ALEX KING, 21: I saw this thing that someone had written that said that if you are pro-life, against having abortions, does that mean when that child is born into a family that can't afford it, that can't feed it, that's going to go into state care, that's going to be malnutritioned, not loved, not cared for - are you still pro-life then? Or are you just pro-life for an embryo with a heart beat?
AISLING: And are people acting like abortion is something people enjoy? Like no-one goes to an abortion clinic for fun.
MAIA BAILLIE, 17: I know loads of people that are pro-choice, I don't know anyone who is like 'yes, abortions are a great thing'.
QUEENIE: That opens up the topic of women's health and how women are treated in general . . . Chronic illness, things like endometriosis, vulvodynia, vaginosis, those things are so often not diagnosed until far later and women are so often not believed and it's really terrifying . . . you feel like an inconvenience when you're asking for more. You know, 'can I just have, like, basic autonomy over my body' and they're like 'UUUUGH'.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND SELF WORTH
AKINEHI: So mine is social media. Like how easy it is for children under the age of 10 to get hold of a phone and social media. A big one is instagram. You're able to lie about your age, there's so much pornography and sexual stuff that is glamorised through celebrities, for instance the Kardashians - it's always tits and ass, and kids are seeing that. And the other thing is how celebrities use social media in a real bad way. It's very easy for teenagers to be on social media, to look at something and go 'I don't look like that - there's something wrong with me'.
TATUM: Especially in the fashion industry.
AKINEHI: But it's also like the whole scandalous thing of photoshopping, like over-photoshopping. And that tea that they brought out, saying you can drink this tea and it gets rid of all the bad stuff in your body but also it helps you lose weight.
MIRIANA: It just makes you s***.
AKINEHI: And then there's celebrities out there who are are drinking this s*** and promoting it to people and there's like kids from the age 10, who are looking up to these celebrities. As a child, what are you supposed to do, other than just be like okay, this looks fun, that's what they look like, this is what I want to look like.
TATUM: There's this greed for capitalising on people's flaws which, in reality aren't actually flaws, like for example if it empowers you to shave your entire body, then 100 per cent do it, but when somebody else tells you that it is a flaw and that women should have completely bare bodies - Oh. My. God. Oh my god, you do not have the right to say that to somebody else and oppress somebody else with your fascinations!
AISLING: I remember, this is before I went to high school, so I was literally like 10, and looking up online - I can't remember the name of it - it's like a weight supplement? I looked them up all the time because I wanted to lose weight.
TATUM: I got them.
TATUM: Being a 15-year-old girl . . .
AISLING: It's so upsetting seeing people that young women look up to like the Kardashians, and Instagram models and seeing them promote these laxatives. You know Jameela Jamil? [Actor, model and activist]. She calls out everyone. I think every young girl should follow her and her Instagram page 'I weigh', where she says you don't just weigh the number, you weigh your intelligence, people you love, what you enjoy doing . . .
TATUM: Your personality . . .
AISLING: Stuff like that is so important for girls to be exposed to, to balance out all of the bad.
AKINEHI: When I was younger, I grew up, like loving myself, basically, and then it got to a point where it was like, f***, I hate it. Social media was brought in, and I was like 'I don't look like that' and then you start to hate yourself . . . you almost get traumatised from social media. Who do I go to? Who do I ask?
MIRIANA: I go M.I.A on social media constantly. I will literally just disappear off Instagram or Messenger or Facebook for days at a time because I want a break from it. I don't feel that i'm so enthralled that I need to delete it, but often there are too many times when i'm idolising images that are on there and then getting into a real negative headspace.
QUEENIE: How do you learn to love yourself? I hate to use this word, but that is a journey. That is a process and it takes a long f***ing time, it takes ages . . . I kind of want to put the message out there that it is okay to not love yourself 100 per cent every day, because that's a horse of another colour - there's a pressure to constantly love yourself and to constantly feel ok and any time you walk into a room you should own it and all of that. And like, while all of that is great on paper, there are days where I don't want to look in the mirror, there are days where I just don't like what I look like, and I feel bad, I feel guilty about that and that doesn't solve the problem any more than anything else does. What does solve the problem is me kind of sitting in my feelings and letting me work through them, because just shouting at yourself in your head that you shouldn't feel this way and that you should never feel this way, is not a solution.
AKINEHI: That's what I hate about it. People put out this image, that they're all happy . . . and with some people it's a lie. Everyone is using the platforms just to lie.
AISLING: There's this singer I really like and he says he uses social media for 'this what I do'. A lot of young people use Instagram for 'this is who i am'. That really stuck with me, I go on instagram and I physically tense up at how stressed it makes me feel. If I don't post this photo and I don't look this way or I don't look this thin, it almost feels like my life's going to end. And it's so hard to explain to somebody who hasn't grown up with that because, you know, it's just a photo . . .
MIRIANA: It's the same as if you were stepping out on a television show that was live. Everybody's looking at you, they're looking at what you're wearing, how you hold yourself, what you're saying, how you present.
SIANA: I've just realised I haven't really said anything! Going back to the body image . . . When I went into high school that's when I started to get better and accept my body the way it was, and like now, I love my body, I love all the curves. It's hard, but just try not to care about what anyone else thinks. I try and keep in my mind no, it's okay to be the way you are right now. That's probably the best advice I can give.
AISLING: In Year 8, I'd sit in front of the mirror to see what my legs would look like if I had a thigh gap. I remember I was at a social, and this is when everyone wore the same Dotti dress. It was strapless, it had like a little heart thing, and it was all lace and this 13-year-old boy came up to me and asked me to dance.
QUEENIE: A Cinderella story . . .
AISLING: Get ready! We were doing the 'five foot for Jesus', the normal questions, how old are you, what school do you go to? There's strobe lights, and Just the Way You Are was playing, and so the strobe light had flashed on me for a second and he goes - excuse my language - 'oh f***, you're ugly'. And walked off. I'm fine, that was Year 8! But, like that proper stuck with me in Year 8. I felt so embarrassed. Something like that hurts, you know? I think a lot of girls put their self-worth in what a guy thinks of their body - and don't do that.
EDUCATION AND PARENTING
QUEENIE: I thought about a kind of magic wand scenario. I would make it so that everyone would grow up in an environment that valued learning . . . not in an oppressive way, but in a wonderful way. I was taught that whatever I wanted to learn about, that whatever I wanted to know . . . my grandmother is a Quaker, which means that everything is answered with the full and honest truth. I got brought up in an environment where anything that I wanted to learn about was okay and was wonderful and it wasn't about getting great grades in school and it wasn't always about being the smartest, but it was about having a passion to learn and educate yourself. My parents really did praise that in me and I love them for it . . . I realised that really does shape the way a person is.
MIRIANA: And not everybody has that. That should be the complete norm. Oh my God - parents!
QUEENIE: But where does that come from? It comes from the generation before.
AKINEHI: That's what you have to remember, eh? I'm thankful that my mum let me make my own mistakes and she saw me learning from them.
MIRIANA: Adults, in general, expect children to know what to do. Like when they're little - 'use your words, communicate', but you have to really, fully teach your child. If you don't teach your child how to live and how to be, and if you don't teach them to walk through the world with kindness and openness and with a sense of being, and with a little bit of humour in there too . . .
SIANA VAGANA: Another thing that I kind of wanted to change in the world was gratitude. A lot of teenagers aren't really grateful for what they have. Last Christmas, we went to Samoa. I'm Samoan, I've been to Samoa plenty of times, but I've never stayed in the village where all my cousins were from. That whole month I was doing basically what all my cousins were doing - the feau, which is chores. We would wake up early in the morning, the rooster would be like crowing, and we'd tie our lavalavas together, and sweep outside, pick up all the rubbish and then we'd have to make breakfast at seven and all the elderly were still in bed and we were busy in the back. It's not even a kitchen, it's literally like an open space made with tree poles and basically a flax roof, and we had to light our own fire. I just feel like in New Zealand, there's just so many people that don't realise how lucky we are to have what we have.
MIRIANA: And we take it for granted.
AISLING: It's so easy to forget your privilege.
THE LAST WORD
QUEENIE: When you're a young female everything quite quickly becomes a competition, regardless of what it is, if you're a young female working alongside another young female, immediately you are pitted against each other because they don't want young women to succeed. That's really hard, because then you have to confront your own biases within yourself. Growing up, the more that I learned and saw, the more that I realised young women are my friends and they're here for me and I should be here for them as well. It's such a cliche - but to divide and conquer, that is how they keep us down, that is how they hold us back. We all have to be for and with each other. We're in this together there's no-one that's exempt from the prejudices and being looked down on that we face as young women. We have to help each other.
The Wolves, written by Sarah DeLappe, directed for Silo Theatre by Sophie Roberts. Q Theatre-Loft, Auckland, June 20-July 13.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
• KIDSLINE : 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
• SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
• WHATSUP : 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• YOUTHLINE : 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.