Who is your role model? I mean really? I don’t mean the person you tell people when they ask – Mother Theresa, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Thatcher… and a host of other generic examples. I mean, when you’re not sure who you are or want to be, who is the person you secretly picture and think ‘that’s what I want to be like’.
I ask because I have only just admitted to myself who my real role models are. And they’re not necessarily who I’d want them to be, or people I’d want to admit. But I know and have to concede that they are the people who have driven me to be who I am.
They are television characters. Yes I’m that lame. And it’s not that I aspired to be these people, it’s just that growing up there happened to be two strong female (brunette) characters who everyone seemed to like and for better or worse they were the most well formed images I had to follow.
This comes up now because I have just had a meeting with Girls Out Loud, the charity I’m working with to inspire young girls. One of their main aims is to provide girls with better role models. When I thought about it, I realised it’s sad because those semi-decent television role models don’t exist any more. I was luck that Joey Potter and Rory Gilmore were both quiet, bookish, hard workers. Girls today don’t have anything like that, it’s all bad-ass street kids, murderers and rich kids. I remember the tag line for The OC when it first started was along the lines of “It’s going to make Dawson’s Creek look like kindergarten”. I think it went downhill from there.
When thinking of a title for this piece, ‘Anxiety of Influence’ flew into my head without me really remembering much about it except that it stirred some strong feeling somewhere in the back of my gut. As it turns out, it has relevance here.
The Anxiety of Influence is a book written by Harold Bloom that I read in my undergraduate Literature degree. It’s a theory of poetry (stay with me) that talks about poets struggling to escape from influences on their work from poets who have gone before them. They need to be original in order to not be forgotten themselves but they can’t help being influenced by the past.
Girls Out Loud recognise that you cannot help being influenced by the people around you; that it is natural to copy and imitate and follow. But you have a far greater chance of finding an original and satisfying path for yourself if you have a far wider range of influences. Because of that our aim with mentoring programmes and discovery days is to put women from all sorts of careers in front of young girls, who they might otherwise never have met. Jane Kenyon, one of the founders of Girls Out Loud mentioned one discovery day where 3 newly trained lawyers came along to talk to the girls. By the end of the session the girls were all going round casually saying ‘Yeah I think I’ll be a lawyer me’.
I remember the trouble I had with Bloom’s theory was the fact that he felt it was a categorically negative thing to feel the power of influence. I could never quite buy the overbearing downside to building on something that has gone before and adapting it through your own voice and time. Maybe its a male thing? All I know is that I can’t be ashamed of being influenced by TV characters since they helped me become the person I want to be. And again, maybe its a woman thing, but we women/ girls desperately need influence and role models because we’ve only been doing this equality thing for a few decades so the great examples of happy womanhood are few and far between.
And in conclusion, if you could possibly be that positive influence (criteria: you are a woman) to another woman or girl, then please PLEASE reach out to the women around you and if you feel you can give that extra bit… come and join Girls Out Loud.