On International Women’s Day, Kate Beddow looks at the female role models who are influencing our little girls.
The universe has been prodding me to discuss girls’ role models all week so this is the perfect opportunity. As a parent the people and characters my children are in contact with is always a concern because children learn what they see. I will discuss role models for boys in a future post but today I’m going to focus on girls and the images and people who influence them.
My children have been watching Wonderwoman recently. Daniel is really into superheroes and I wanted him to see that women could be “super” too, but more importantly I wanted Laura to have a feisty, powerful, super role model. It was all going well until Daniel’s teacher informed me he has drawn a picture of Wonderwoman and she was concerned because he had told her she was naked! As a child of the 70’s I never even thought about the hot pants and strapless top look, but to my 5 year old boy she is in her underwear! Not exactly the perfect role model (despite her compassion, energy healing, super strength…).
So which other women are in my daughters life as role models. Well she LOVES Katy Perry. Another physically beautiful woman, who is determined, feisty and sings empowering wonderful songs (Roar and Firework to name just a couple). But when I went searching for images look what I found.
Grrrr! Another woman who is giving all the right messages but still feels the need to wear skimpy clothes and use her body.
So, are there any role models for girls who don’t flash the flesh to get people’s attention? The answer is, not many. From Princess Leia (who wears a white turtle neck most of the time, but if you ask any man and they don’t remember those scenes, all they remember is the famous gold bikini), to Kylie (who I adore but who wears very skimpy clothes on stage) and Xena (in her brass and leather bras) so many obvious role models for girls use their sexuality to appeal to a male audience, and often this results in them having more of an impact on their male audience than on the women and girls.
The less exposed female role models for girls, you would hope, are women like Anita Roddick, Oprah, Mother Theresa, Marie Curie, Helen Keller… just don’t appeal to young girls. These empowering women don’t appear on your radar as a woman until you are much older.
At this point I would like to thank Disney, who have done a wonderful job of keeping our girls role models relevant throughout the last century. From Cinderella and Snow White who were domesticated and whose dream depended upon their prince rescuing them to Merida (Brave) who refuses to marry someone she doesn’t love, and Elsa and Anna (Frozen) who don’t need men to make them happy, the sisters save each other. Well done Disney.
On a personal note I would like to mention that my greatest role model throughout my life is my Gran. She is strong and beautiful, independent and feisty and at 92 she is still living in her own home. She has taught me that communication is the most important thing, whether in romantic relationships or with our children, parents and friends. She encouraged me to follow my dreams and be independent and her love for others is a true inspiration. When I think of the events in her life, the changes she has seen, the war she lived through, the living conditions she accepted, how she cared for her own ageing mother and so much more I am grateful every day to have her in my life.
It is the “real life” role models which often have the greatest impact so the pressure is on ladies. Whether it is your daughter, niece, granddaughter, neighbour… be the best woman you can be. Look after yourself, go after your dreams, fight for the things you believe in and show the next generation that anything is possible.
On a final note, just to throw the cat among the pigeons, I would like to add one final argument in for good luck. A woman’s femininity is one of her biggest strengths and throughout history women have used their brains and bodies to defeat men, because most don’t have Wonderwoman and Xena’s strength to protect themselves. What do you think? Is a woman using her sexuality to her advantage inevitable or should we be teaching our girls that it is your intellect and compassion that will help you triumph over adversity? I would love to hear your thoughts.