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Thursday 18 August 2011

More pictures like this, please.

ANOTHER A-level results day, another slew of pictures of photogenic young girls in not many summer clothes jumping around looking happy.

You don't see the ones who didn't get the grades they wanted. Tearful teens are in newspapers only when there's a school killing spree, generally. You also don't see the fat girls, the speccy ones, or the plain ones, who may be celebrating just as much but a picture of whom won't sell a single newspaper.

You don't see teenage boys either, although you can smell them a mile away: either they don't wash at all or drown themselves in Lynx. Spotty oiks don't take much of a picture, and anyway girls get better exam results. They also express emotion in photographs and boys, with the best will in the world, just don't.

It all adds up to a lot of well-intentioned people grumbling about sexist and slightly-pervy newspapers - tabloid and snoresheet - photographing barely-legal young women.

How dreadful of us. How appalling that millions of extra people will look at our websites today and buy the papers tomorrow to see those same pictures, keeping our struggling businesses afloat while telling themselves how bad it is that they are being forced to look at pretty girls in tiny shorts and my, what long hair they have!

But to be frank, it doesn't matter a damn.

Firstly because A-levels are like popularity - important when you're 18, and for the rest of your life you couldn't care less. And secondly because the sight of a happy teenage girl with a whole life of possibilities in front of her is one of the most magical things you'll ever see.

There aren't many countries where that happens. Europe, North America, Australasia, Japan. Those girls you'll see in the pictures are smiling because they can be anything they want to be. The right exam result means you can get into the right university, get the right degree, land a dream job.

In India if you're a girl you're lucky to survive to 18. In most of Africa school is an expensive luxury that comes a long way down a parent's list. In China a girl will probably be aborted if her parents can afford it, and dumped after she is born if they can't. In fact, while we're busy bewailing pictures of successful young kids in the newspapers covering our tiny, self-important part of the planet, there are 100million women in the rest of the world who have simply disappeared.

Let me say that again, because you skimmed over it a little quickly. One hundred million. The equivalent, if you're into comparisons, of the Holocaust sixteen times over. Or 66,000 Titanics sinking. Remember the Norway massacre a few weeks ago? Sixty-nine young people slaughtered. Well, imagine that happening every day for 3,835 years. Yeah. That many.

Boys outnumber girls, very slightly, when they're born. If they get a good diet and are lucky enough to live in a wealthy country like yours and mine - you're among the 30 per cent of the world with the internet, so you're ahead of the game - women will outlive men, for simple biological reasons. They are more resistant to disease, deal better with the sniffles, and are generally nails.

Except there are many parts of the world where males significantly outnumber women. These are in the parts where diet and disease would, naturally, mean things should be the other way around. But in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, girls who should have been born are missing. In these places they are more likely to die at every stage of their lives; they are more likely to be aborted, abandoned, to be denied medical care, to be abused, neglected, beaten and murdered.

In China alone there are 50million women who ought to be there, but just aren't.

Even if they survive in most of the world girls are seen as less deserving of education, first aid, gynaecology, property, a driving licence, or the protection of the law. And before you stop and think how glad you are your country isn't like that, here in the UK and in most of the developed world women are less likely to earn the same as men for the same job, to be elected to Parliament or to become CEO of a company. If one of us is raped, a jury will be asked to consider whether we were "asking for it". In Britain there are 1.05m women on the dole, the highest for 25 years, because the recession is hitting them harder than men - women are more likely to work in the public sector which is being cut, more likely to work part-time, and are generally seen as more expendable by bosses.

It's not quite as bad as the Congo, of course, but all our science and technology hasn't moved us quite as far as it could. And imagine what we could do in the Congo, if only it had oil.

So, do you know what? Shake your head ruefully at the exam results photos, at the fact those kids don't realise this is the thinnest and most carefree they'll ever be, that they feel so positive and thrilled about a life which is going to kick them in the chops every chance it gets. But don't get het up about pictures of young girls who are happy, who by and large and with a following wind will be able to have long and fulfilled lives in which they can do (almost) whatever they want.

Just be angry there aren't more of them.