We spent a lot of time talking/thinking about role models. An irrational amount of time. I have. We talk about people in our lives or people in the public eye who we look up to and who we want to emulate. Too often we look for perfection and are disappointed when it’s not found. Or we find out the role model is merely human (unless of course yours is Lassie the Dog, in which case you probably knew she wasn’t human, or at least I hope you did, otherwise I dread to think what it was you were emulating…)
The disappointment exists because, well with my amateur psychology, I guess we enjoy a false sense of security and if someone is perfection it gives us something to aspire to and looking at them gives us a sense of achievement for choosing right (like an emotional pat on the back). It also makes us feel safe when people match the mould we have for them in our heads. But this is rarely the case. I like to blame the Daily Mail. Not just in the case, generally, for most things. Even for the fact that I have acne and I’m a grown up. Yes, that too is the Daily Mail’s fault. I figure, if they can blame everything on everyone else (unless you are male, white and straight), I can blame my blemish prone skin on them. But the concept of what a role model should be, is actually really personal and to be honest – whatever the hell you want. It’s the Daily Mail (and, actually, a whole host of areas of society) that tell us what a role model should be:
- Kind hearted
- Doesn’t get drunk
- Doesn’t take drugs
- Doesn’t swear
- Doesn’t start a brawl
- Preaches good vales to children
- Makes you yawn…?
Now unless we all want Mary Poppins to be our role models (side note; she actually was a badass, was a bit obnoxious and had an affair with a chimney sweep – Disney missed that bit out but you could feel the sexual chemistry between them) most people don’t fit this category, especially celebrities. So the minute someone calls you a role model, you are destined to fail. The above list has a few unfair additions for women; an expectation of having a career, being a loving mother or wanting children and dressing appropriately (whatever that means).
I’ve been reading a lot of feminist literature of late and have been unsettled by how often role models were mentioned. Yes, there was discussion of how the traditional role model of women is unfair and stereotypes our lives and choices, of course I agree. But within the same sentence would follow sheer hypocrisy. Whilst I am told to abandon all traditional roles I am told to assume a new role; one that doesn’t marry or if she does keeps her maiden name, uses Ms instead of Miss, should dismiss monogomy and high heels (this is really just from the Greer school of thought), should feel bad for working in a female orientated profession. Bugger off. Surely this doesn’t help the cause. This is what alienates it. It’s MY feminism – back off.
However, unfortunately Ive realised that I’ve been doing the same thing for years. I’ve been on the search for a feminist role model since I was about 16. One that fits all my ideals and I can be like. I never found her. I looked to my Mum and sisters and was bitterly disappointed. (Not their fault, I was a very stroppy teenager/adult/current person…).
Recently, I met a woman who doesn’t even know the word feminist nor does she know that such a movement has existed for decades. She lives in a village in a developing country. She was widowed last year and has no education – she did what she was expected to and became a wife and mother. She had no sons and after the death of her husband, was expected to give back the land she now owned to the community – being a woman she couldn’t look after it herself. She refused. She instead, took the issue to the city court. In a place where women aren’t allowed to leave the house without a head scarf, aren’t allowed to drive cars or have jobs, she took the matter to court and won. She’s a bit awesome. To the point where she was like a celebrity to me and I just stared at her (she quickly asked me to stop). I asked her what gave her the strength for all this and she said simply ‘because it’s mine and I can take care of it just like my husband did’. At this point I thought I’d found her, The One – the role model I needed to point me in the right direction. But then she said; ‘I need the land to make money so my daughter can be married, I need to pay for her dowry’. My heart sank as she didn’t fit the mould; Strong, fighting society, fighting patriarchal tradition, having a voice and shouting with it.
After closer inspection and spending time with her, I soon changed my mind. You see, she doesn’t need to fit my mould or anyone’s, I can take the bits I like. I realised that I was doing to her exactly what the Daily Mail does to every female politician or public figure or what the books I had been reading do to fellow feminists, just with a different set of criteria. So she’s The One, but so are several other women in my life. If we relaxed the criteria a bit, especially for women, we’d all find a few diamonds in the rough among us and maybe a few more recruits to the cause…