When I was younger, I had a rotating list of female role models who I wanted to either be, or be like (or be friends with actually). These included Nancy Drew – ginger detective, Elizabeth Wakefield (the brainy twin from the Sweet Valley High books), Judy Garland, My Mum and in later years, Shirley Manson from Garbage. None of these (apart from my Mum) were particularly remarkable in any way, and certainly none came from the political, educational or charitable fields, but looking up to these women, real or not, gave me a sense of self-belief and confidence that I could achieve anything I wanted to. These were kick-ass ladies – not afraid of who they were or of achieving their dreams.
Are younger generations only growing up with certain types of women in their consciousness, which leads us to believe that that stereotype or even caricature is what is normal and should be reflected in their own self? I think yes. Young women and girls are in serious need of some good role models – what they get instead, from the media and beyond are a bunch of heiresses, sex objects, surgery addicts and emotional car-wrecks.
When I was at University, I wrote my final year dissertation on mental health policy in the legal field, and how popular culture through time had sought to change how we dealt with mental health issues in both a medical with valium and legal way. In some circumstances this could be seen as a great thing, which can really move the cause on – look at Catherine Zeta Jones, and her now public battle with depression. Or how about The Thick of it actress Rebecca Front, who tweeted the following last year: “Hey well known Twitterers. Fancy taking the stigma out of mental illness? I’ll start: I’m Rebecca Front & I’ve had panic attacks.#whatstigma“, which led to a huge hashtag campaign around mental illness.
But what struck me in my research was firstly how the “rehab” culture of many a z-lister or otherwise (I’m looking at you Paris Hilton and Lindsey Lohan) had shaped what was acceptable and normal in society, and how actually the words “depression” and “breakdown” were being bandied about like the next super cool accessory. The impact this had, and continues to have on young girls and women growing up in this celebrity obsessed society is huge, and yet these are the stories and the role models the media is forcing on us.
Don’t get me started on the obsession we have about women acting as wives and girlfriends – or the delightful phrase “WAGS” that the media gave us. The fact that many young girls simply see this as a viable life option these days makes me shudder. What happened to “girl power” eh? And it doesn’t just happen in sport either. During the general election of 2010 there was little coverage of the truly fantastic women MPs and their campaigning, such as Jo Swinson and Sarah Tether (and Sarah’s resultant leap into the role of Junior Minister), and extentsive coverage of which MPs wife was wearing what and when – and whether they were accompanying their powerful man to their powerful meetings.
Is anyone else fed up with children’s storybooks portraying females as either the dutiful wife, the princess that needs rescuing, or the lady waiting for her prince to come? Firstly, lets have a bit of reality for our young ladies here. And secondly, what about the kick-ass females who do not need a man to define them? At least Jane Austen had it right, although wouldn’t Pride & Prejudice have been a little more realistic if Lizzie had told Mr Darcy that she was in fact a sassy, high class independent woman who didn’t need him?
Where am I going with this? I guess I just feel that women who have achieved in something other than celebdom or popstrelness should be celebrated and held aloft for their brilliance. Can you name any high achieving female scientists? Philosophers? Politicians that haven’t smothered themselves in scandal? Charity workers? I thought not. And that is truly wrong. In a male dominated culture, same-sex role models for women are increasingly important, if not vital for the next generation of high achieving, strong and confident ladies. In almost every part of society it is so easy to point to a man who has got there, or has done that, or has been involved in something great. Where does that leave our young women? Wondering what the hell to do with their life and where they can meet the next striker for Manchester United? I really hope not.
I don’t think I am too old to have role models, and on my list right now are Jo Swinson – Liberal Democrat MP, Martha Lane-Fox – the government digital champion and entrpreneur, Karen Brady – West Ham Boss and TV businesswoman and Shami Chakrabarti – human rights campaigner and Director of Liberty. And of course my Mum.
This isn’t just a girl thing – strong, accomplished confident female role models have an impact on all ages and on all sexes. What better than to teach young boys respect for the opposite sex than to show them that females are high achieving in their own right too.
Who was your role model growing up?
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