Why female role models are important*

January 18, 2012

This morning I heard a quick snippet on morning radio about the first NZ female commander of a Navy ship and something clicked in my head and I thought to myself:

I could have done that.

But before I heard this report I had never thought of becoming a Navy ship commander. Not that I plan to drop my life and join the Navy, but maybe if I had heard this report 20 years ago, I would’ve.

My point is that as a girl, growing up, in a world full of male role-models my imagination was limited by what I was exposed to in the media, in society and in literature.

If I didn’t see female role-models I had to consciously create those visual images, but most of the time, I didn’t even do that. But when I am presented with role-models I can just say; ‘yes, I could do that (and more).’

Surprise surprise, women relate to images of women more than images of men. So when we’re not presented with the wide range of possible professions and roles in society that women could occupy, we may believe that we are only able to move into the limited roles we do see occupied by women. (These of course tend to be traditional roles of helping/caring/serving/smiling).

When the default is white/male/able-bodies/etc those of us who don’t fit that mold are invisible.

And sometimes, it makes me feel like I don’t actually exist.

 

*This (obvious) also applies to people of colour and other minority groups, queer people and more.

 

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