Who Are Your Female Role Models?
A Man Exploring Questions of Sex and Gender
I was eating dinner with a group of deep thinking women, at an Olive Garden of all places, when we started discussing female role models. I think the whole conversation was sparked (or should I say twerked?) by Miley Cyrus. The nine women at the table (yes I was the only male) represented nearly every generation that could legally sample the wine (it wasn’t terrible).
Some of the older women mentioned a TV character that I didn’t recognize, who was the stereotypical American housewife who always had her husband’s meals hot and ready when he came home from work and underwear ironed when he awoke in the morning. Another woman said Marilyn Monroe was a popular role model in her youth, but another woman said Monroe should have been shot. Chaos ensued and spaghetti flew. I personally think that was a bit extreme, since the culture will project what it wants and what it’s afraid of on a pop icon whether or not they are willing to be projected upon, but it did raise the question: Who are my generation’s female role models?
I asked the cosmopolitan, 23-year old Houstonian who grew up for some time in Côte d’Ivoire, some time traveling around Asia, and silence settled uncomfortably around the table. She didn’t have an answer. She supposed that in the postmodern world where everyone is free to follow their bliss and determine for themselves what’s right or wrong, it would be hard for our generation to agree on one.
True. And the younger generations have a much more nuanced understanding of sexuality and what “woman” even means. We recognize that it’s not a simple binary switch to everyone. But we put certain well-known women on the cover of magazines and share stories about them on Facebook while we let others remain out of the spotlight. So I must ask: are we doing this consciously? Who would you put in the limelight, to encourage women growing up to evolve into what you think a women should be, at her best?
I have no answers either. One woman suggested Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose story I hadn’t heard before (why not?) but is well worth checking out. I brought up Oprah, and thought about all the women on the GOOD 100 list for making a difference in 2013. It is really great that there are so many options now—there are female heads of state the world over, and we have more access to history, biographies, and stories of the incredible women of the past.
I support highlighting these women even more than we do, although I do not necessarily know how to do that. I support bringing these stories forth for men as well, so we can all better appreciate a feminine style of leadership and learn to embody that regardless of our biology.
How do our role models affect our happiness? Is it different for women and men? Would we as a society be more inspired or more peaceful if we were more conscious of who we looked up to? Who we put in the news? Who we venerated in our movies and TV shows?
Finally, who are our generation’s male role models? What does it mean to be “a man” these days, and what does that say about our happiness?