Challenging Essex Girl stereotypes through the power of poetry

  • Date

    Mon 6 Mar 23

The Essex Girl stereotype is set to be challenged by a ground-breaking new research project exploring what it means to be a teenage girl growing up in the county.

East 15 Acting School is teaming up with Westcliff High School for Girls to put forward an alternative view of young females in Essex, compared to stereotypes driven by reality TV shows.

Lead researcher Dr Tara McAllister-Viel is organising a series of poetry workshops with English students at the school, who will all be tasked with writing and then performing their work.

The pupils taking part will be asked to explore their own places and roles in society through poetry, while challenging their own understanding of accent and its socio-cultural links.

It is hoped the project will allow the participants to consider their own sense of self, rather than seeing themselves through the lens of the Essex Girl stereotype.

Dr McAllister-Viel said: “The Essex Girl has been unfairly portrayed as someone who is uncultured, and unintelligent, largely because of how they have been characterised in reality TV shows.

“I hope that through the power of creative writing and voice, these girls can showcase their intersectional identities and demonstrate just how brilliant they are.”

The project, which is being supported by Write2Speak, will see the students take part in a series of workshops where they will be given a platform to write creatively about their experiences of being a girl in Essex.

After writing their poems, they will be given voice coaching to help them perform their work, with emphasis on retaining and celebrating their natural accents.

Some performances will be recorded at East 15’s state-of-the-art voice studio and then uploaded to East 15’s website where they will be used as a tool to challenge perceptions.

The project builds upon existing research and work done to challenge the Essex Girl stereotype, including the Snapping the Stiletto campaign and the removal of the phrase from the Oxford Dictionary in 2020.

Dr McAllister-Viel added: “There has been so much incredible work done to challenge the perception of adult woman in Essex, but actually very little research into the impact stereotypes have on girls growing up here.

“I want to explore what it means to them to be a girl living in Essex and hope this will give them a platform to understand how they fit into society.”

If successful, the pilot project could be rolled out in other schools, as well as help to develop an education packet of materials for schools for curriculum development and pastoral care strategies.

Emma Matthews, Headteacher at Westcliff High School for Girls, said: “The portrayal of Essex girls and women that so called ‘reality TV shows’ seem intent on perpetuating couldn’t be further from the actuality that I have the privilege of witnessing every single day at Westcliff High School for Girls. 

“I am excited that our students will have the opportunity to work with the East 15 Acting School on the Write2Speak project. 

“We couldn’t be more proud of our inspirational, articulate, and ambitious young women who will no doubt relish every opportunity to set the record straight once and for all.”