There seems to be a lot of talk at the moment about how to ensure a moral upbringing for the current generation of children, and a growing number of commentators are starting to notice how parents seem to be left out of this discussion.
Among all the discussion over internet censorship, Charles Arthur was one of the first to pen an utterly compelling argument as to why giving ISPs the power to switch off ‘adult’ content would be both pointless and would be placing the responsibility on the wrong person, essentially making the point that it is parents who should be responsible for what their children see online.
Granted, it is not always that simple but it is surprising that so many initiatives for children seem to assume parents have no and can have no responsibility. Maybe it’s chicken and egg. Did parents get lazy so the government had to step in, or did the government step in which led parents to get lazy. (I shall not expand that to its wider political implications!).
A recent study from Girl Guiding UK called Girls Attitudes Explored… Role Models found that 55 per cent of girls felt there aren’t enough female role models. What I found sad however was that they said this despite also saying that mums were their top role model. I just wonder at what point we stopped finding our mothers (and aunties, and sisters etc) adequate role models.
Some girls just don’t have those people in the first place. Rachel Ward Lilley who runs Girls Out Loud, a social enterprise for raising the aspirations of teenage girls, says “All girls need role models. Some of us are lucky enough to get these informally with support from family and friends but many don’t.”
But even for those who do, sometimes it is just a case of wanting to know what else is out there, says Rachel.
“We often find when we are with the girls that they have very little knowledge about careers and certainly not in detail – sterotypes are frequently the norm – for example lawyers are all like the ones on TV, predominantly male, old and wear gowns. When we had some young cool and trendy lawyers involved in a Discovery Day programme in Leeds last year the girls initially found it difficult to believe they were what they said, but once they did they all decided they wanted to be like them – we had a room full of would be lawyers.”
There are certain types of role models such as actors, journalists and writers who are more naturally in the spotlight for girls to look up to. But there seems to be a desperate need to expose these girls to a far wider range of life and career choices that aren’t so obviously visible. As Rachel points out “I believe in the saying that ‘it is difficult to be what you can’t see’.”
Thumbnail image: Nandadevieast on Flickr
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.
Pretend like you’re back in Jane Austen’s England and take this personality quiz to see which of the Sense & Sensibility Dashwood sisters you would most be like!
I originally created this quiz for a magazine version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, a PDF of which can be found on the ‘In Print‘ tab (or read through it below) but I wanted to update it so everyone could take the quiz online. It’s a bit of fun for Austen lovers, but also maybe a good resource for getting teens into reading her novels?
Take the Sense & Sensibility quiz on Quibblo here.
Unfortunately at this time of year, we are forced to acknowledge February 14th (all those cut out hearts that have replaced the Christmas lights in shop windows don’t really give you much choice now do they…). Whether you are single or loved up, doesn’t it all seem just a bit of a faff? If you are single you just do not care, or you care too much that it hurts. If you are happily involved, you will hopefully be declaring your love for each other far more often than once a year.
In fact, what Valentine’s Day is probably most effective at is sending you into a blind panic about your relationship, or lack thereof. Thanks Clintons.
What I propose this Valentines is to forget for a moment about sex and a desperate need for cuddles and think for once about that often forgotten relationship- the one you have with yourself. By now you have probably failed spectacularly once more at keeping any kind of New Year’s resolution, and have been reminded again that fad diets and giving stuff up just does not work. You want to be that better person but you always seem to lose track. And what is probably the number one thing that distracts you? Relationships. Love, sex and insecurities can rule this time in our lives, which is crazy considering it is also the time when we make some of our biggest decisions for the future.
Here’s the thing. Amidst the heartache of your latest breakup, or even the bliss of being in the best relationship you’ve ever had, the one factor that will remain the constant for the rest of your life- is you. Boys (and girls; forgive me, I am a heterosexual female and so am writing from my perspective!) will move in and out of your life, and maybe a really lucky one will get to stay for a very long time, but they will not fix the things that aren’t right about you. You have to do that for yourself.
Think about those times you have sat heartbroken and wondering how he could have got bored, how he could have chosen someone else, why he ‘just needed space’ ; now think back to a few days earlier when you were stressing about how lazy and unhealthy you are feeling at the moment, how unfocused you are, how little motivation you have. These are extremes I know, but why on earth are you expecting someone else to love you when you don’t love you?? Now, everyone has good and bad days, and of course the decent people out there will always stick by you through the bad times, but if you are stressing about your life then focus on sorting out that life. Don’t waste time and energy trying to impress someone else with a you that you don’t even want to be. Get happy on your own and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to find someone who wants to be a part of that happy world.
I am a serial monogamist and I am not ashamed, but the two big break ups in my life so far were perhaps some of my fondest memories (after the initial fuck-my-life-is-over phase, of course). I got to reassess and look at myself as just me, not me including him, and they were probably the times I changed the most and got my life back on track in the direction I wanted to be going. I try and keep doing that now, even though I’m happily loved up. If you keep making sure that your life, just on its own, is how you want it to be, you will find that if and when prince charming comes along, he will just be the rather spectacular cherry on an already impressive cake.
So on Sunday, if you are going to wish anyone a Happy Valentine’s Day, wish yourself one, because you are pretty damn ace.
Written for my university newspaper.