So, another topic which has been whirling around in this head of mine for weeks and I felt it was about time to get it out there! Prompted mainly by my continued frustration at the lack of female role models for the girls in my class, as well as the continuing cultural belief that looks really are all that matters, I decided to pose a question: intelligence vs looks – a no-brainer, right?
How many times have you noticed the media’s insistence that women need to have it all – a perfect body, great hair, the career, a fabulous husband & 2.4 beautiful children. This is the ultimate package, isn’t it? Never mind the fact that 99% of the pictures of such women are airbrushed within an inch of their lives and divorce is at its highest rate. Female role models all have one thing in common – they’re beautiful. The girls in my class ONLY look up to pop-stars. Female singers (?) who parade on screen with terrifying sexuality on display, or as models in the background of male pop-stars who simultaneously sing about sex and smack their arses with a wink. OK, so I’m talking about extremes here – but this is the media most children & young adults are exposed to. Even the curriculum lacks a place for female role models. None of us are allowed to celebrate our only female Prime Minister for fear of being branded a nasty Tory. Yeah, Florence Nightingale will be mentioned now and again, but only really in a “Ah, what a lovely nurse she was” kind of way.
So, I set to thinking about INTELLIGENT women who are prominent in the media and could be considered role models for others…………..and I thought………….and I thought………and finally: CAROL VORDERMAN! She’s clever! Carol Vorderman – Cambridge Engineering graduate, maths mastermind, education department advisor, winner of rear of the year 2011…… Ah. Carol Vorderman, who looks younger now than she did in the 80s and who, when you google her name, comes up with “Carol Vorderman hot”.
Did anyone talk about Carol Vorderman when she was that normal looking woman on Countdown who was only allowed to speak when the contestants couldn’t work out the calculation for the target number? The number I can’t calculate is actually how old Carol Vorderman is now? She seems to be regressing in years before our very eyes.
There are clues everywhere about these ingrained expectations on women. How many times has a “less than perfect” woman appeared on your TV screen to hear male counterparts (and women) comment on how ugly they are, how fat they are, what a hideous top/skirt/dress they are wearing? Is the same dished out to men? I certainly don’t hear as many complaints about how “old” Jeremy Vine’s looking lately or how David Attenborough’s “put on a bit of weight”.
I might be over-demonising men here. This isn’t about men, it’s about society. All of us fear not looking quite the way we should. Insidious, persistent whispers of messages feed our self-loathing every day through every advert, programme and magazine image we see. And it’s not getting any better, ladies. In fact, I fear it’s getting worse. Fewer and fewer young women are being celebrated for talent or intelligence. Save the recent Olympians (who are fantastic role models but have since all but completely disappeared from our screens) who can we actually name as moral guides for young people to aspire to? There are many reasons I fear for the future generations, but this is my biggest.
Despite girls outperforming boys consistently in all areas of education, female graduates STILL suffer from a pay gap upon securing a job. (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-21698522) On the bright side, female undergraduates outnumber male counterparts in the UK, so we must be doing something right! But is this enough? Do we do enough to consistently reinforce the message that an education and career is more important than how we are perceived by others. An insistence that being happy WITH ourselves is more important than being happy BECAUSE of ourselves must be eradicated. Let’s just hope a sea-change comes soon and sees some REAL female role models celebrated by all.
As always, comments MOST welcome x