Posted on 13th June 2012
Who is your role model? Do you have one or do you wish your children had a good role model to look up to?
I’d never really given the idea of ‘role models’ much thought until the parent of one my students mentioned that she was happy that her daughter could have an academic role model. I felt hugely honoured, and suddenly remembered how I had looked up to my babysitters and tutors when I was younger, admiring the ‘big girls’ who seemed so grown up and confident.
Role models can be absolutely brilliant and I think it’s lovely to be able to look up to someone to admire and be inspired by. However, there are arguably both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ role models and a recent study of teenage girls revealed that there are very few positive role models for young women today.
Girlguiding UK carried out a survey on the way girls and women view role models and a hefty 55% said that they didn’t think that there are enough strong women in the public eye to look up to. Moreover, many of girls’ role models today have a “glitzy champagne lifestyle” which is unrealistic and not the sort of thing that we should encourage teenagers to admire, according to Tracey Murray’s comments to the BBC.
Murray told the BBC that, “the type of role models that they were talking to us about tended to come from the world of TV and rich and famous celebrities, rather than the broader range of role models, like women who work in business, sport and other walks of life…We want to hear that girls are exposed to a broad range of women, so that they can have aspirations and interests, and are encouraged to make the right choices for them in future”.
Scripted reality shows on television, such as Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex are extremely popular with young women, and are leading them to wanting to live similar lifestyles to the stars of the show. Karren Brady, who is an extremely successful businesswoman, believes that girls should instead have role models “at home and in the local community” that will show them “that [young women] are capable of achieving great things”.
Girls are particularly susceptible to being put off professions if there are no obvious women in the certain industries. For example, lots of girls are daunted by engineering and jobs in science and technology because there don’t seem to be many women working in those industries. Ruth Wilson, who works for the equality group The UKRC and Wise has admitted that “there aren’t many visible role models who can explain how rewarding and exciting these careers are.”
What is clearly evident is that we need to find ways to make strong female role models more visible and accessible to young women today so that they can be encouraged to follow ambitious, exciting career paths, rather than yearning after a life just filled with fashion and champagne.