Needed: Female Role Models

This is a simple fact: we try to emulate our heroes. Musicians draw on the artists they love for inspiration. Political science students all have their favorite leaders they’ve studied, looking for a path worth following. Kids look up to their parents and pick up some of their personalities. So there’s no denying it: the people we idolize make a difference in who we try to become.

That’s why I want to pose this question to my readers: who do you admire? Who are your rock stars? Who do you try to emulate? You can take that as a rhetorical question, or you can email me your responses so we can keep this conversation going…because I think there is something to be said for having strong, positive role models.

When I published my post about women in foreign policy, one of the things that was noted was the lack of women in the upper levels of the policy-making apparatus, women who could inspire other women to follow in their footsteps…but also that where there WERE strong, successful women, other women did follow. Too often, though, women see that the majority of their heroes, the majority of role models available to them, may well be men, and this incentivizes women to alter their mannerisms in an attempt to emulate men.

This weekend, at Columbia University in New York City, the American Parliamentary Debate Association hosted its Women’s Initiative Kickoff, the start of a series of events meant to keep the women in the debate community connected to each other, and to inspire younger female debaters to stay with the activity and to introduce them to potential role models. And while I am sure that not all of the attendees took this seriously, the fact is that American Parliamentary Debate is a male-dominated activity, and there is something to be said for encouraging girls to stay with it and to try to get ahead.

This is just one example of an organization trying to work at the lack of female role models available to young women in given situations. Big Brothers Big Sisters also works to provide strong role models for kids who need them. There are mentorship programs in many places that match young women with successful older counterparts to get them inspired. But until we start talking about who we admire, and highlighting the accomplishments of women across the board, we may continue to see a lack of visible female role models for young women, who may in turn look to men as their role models. And while there is nothing wrong with male role models, I think it can easily be argued that if women are going to be able to succeed as women in the long run, they ought not have to emulate men to do so.

~~This post is dedicated to Eunice B., who has taught me more about making “good choices” than I could have hoped, Nicole D., who helped me get back on my feet every time I had them knocked out from under me last semester, and Steph C., who has taught me not only what kind of debater I want to become, but what kind of mentor I want to be myself; it is also dedicated to Ms. Kerry Schaefer of MacArthur High School and Professor Michelle Newton-Francis of American University, whose advice and inspiration have been invaluable to me~~

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~ by Randi Saunders on September 25, 2011.

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