One of my first blog posts was a list of women I wished I was. The list included Amy Poehler, Grace Dent, Sali Hughes, Lena Dunham. Women who seem confident, strong and happy in their skin – something I was seeking to find in myself. I’ve definitely made improvements to my own confidence since writing that post a few months ago, and have learnt something about myself and my idols along the way.
What I’ve learned about role models.
We do funny things to our role models. God knows Lena Dunham has her moments, and she regularly seems to speak, or tweet, without fully considering what she’s saying first. Oh what, you mean she said something without drafting it out, revising and submitting it for public consumption? Like we all do , all the time? I know Dunham , and others like her, Amy Schumer for example, are in positions of extreme privilege and would do well to remember this , but we do have a tendency to do something awful to our role models. Which is to deify them and not allow them to make any errors. Expect them to be everything to everyone. Similar to the Hillary Clinton phenomenon, successful women represent ALL women, not just themselves. Sometimes people say or do the wrong thing, we’re all learning. And if you’re not still learning, you should be.
My second epiphany is this: you can admire a person, and not agree with everything they say. This came as a huge shock to me, I have to tell you. I am so suggestible that I find myself being swayed by the words of the impressive and intellectual with great ease. At last I have realised that I can still find someone admirable, but not need to agree with everything they say. Poehler and Dunham have both written books I have enjoyed and admired – but there are occasions in both books where I don’t 100% agree with what they are saying. The privilege on display in both is remarkable, as one example. I wouldn’t have admitted this a year ago – that sounds absolutely bonkers but it’s true. It’s amazing how at the age of 37 you can still be a work in progress. The things I have learned this year, since I lifted my head up and out of the fog of new motherhood, and started looking around me. Looking further than the confines of my own everyday struggles, I am learning and I am trying.
Who wants to be a role model anyway?
On the one hand we have Lena Dunham, proud feminist, eager, trying – shot down on regular occasions. On the other, we have Sarah Jessica Parker who lets us down when she tells us she isn’t a feminist.
“I am not a feminist,” she told Marie Claire. “I don’t think I qualify. I believe in women and I believe in equality, but I think there is so much that needs to be done that I don’t even want to separate it anymore. I’m so tired of separation. I just want people to be treated equally.”
I admit I felt disappointed when I read this. Not least because I can’t even make head or tail of it. But why was I disappointed ? What did I think she owed me ? I like her. She comes across as a capable woman, confident in making her choices, handles her insane level of fame with grace, speaks honestly about the difficulties of a long term marriage. Does being a successful, confident woman make you a feminist ? Or a feminist role model?
How about Kim Kardashian ? A successful, confident woman, yes. Feminist role model ? Ermmm…. She might be making her own choices and taking home the pay cheque but she is essentially reinforcing the sexist agenda and sending out a not always healthy message to young women and girls. ( I am talking about role models, here so that is relevant. I’m not concerned what Kardashian chooses to do for herself) Is she empowered ? Possibly. Is she empowering? No.
As Caitlin Moran wrote in How To Be A Woman about Katie Price,
Women who, in a sexist world, pander to sexism to make their fortune are Vichy France with tits…(they are) doing business with a decadent and corrupt regime. Calling that a feminist icon is like giving an arms dealer the Nobel Peace Prize.
How To Choose a Role Model.
- Widen the net – Pick better role models. My initial selection of Women I Wish I Was is a bit ‘Role Models 101’.
- Remember role models are whole people and are a work in progress as much as you are. Don’t follow them so blindly that you forget your own opinions.
- Just because someone has an amplified voice, it doesn’t make them right. (Unless that person is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.)
- You do You. You can’t be exactly like someone else, no matter how much you might admire them, so you might as well be true to your own ideals, taking tips from your role models, rather than trying to wear their identity like a cloak. Hiding yourself.