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OPINION: There's nothing wrong with smart, powerful female role models

Posted by Alex Pearlman  April 11, 2012 08:53 AM

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superwoman.jpgBy Megan Riesz

Everyone has a tic. My roommate bites his nails. My mom talks to herself when she’s angry. The Westboro Baptist Church likes to make fluorescent signs.

As for me, I constantly obsess over and talk about powerful female figures. I don’t mean the Selena Gomezes and Angelina Jolies of the world. I'm referring to the Sigourney Weavers and Hillary Clintons, sprinkled with the Ellen Burstyns and Sharon Stones -- women who’ve smashed glass ceilings or captivated audiences with something other than a mechanical pop song or relationship drama. (Admittedly, Sharon Stone isn’t exactly powerful or relevant, but I’m willing to admit my inconsistency there.)

In the age of shrieking Justin Bieber fans and women pinning Victoria’s Secret models to their fridges as “inspiration,” this tic is decidedly abnormal. The name Ellen Burstyn means nothing to most 20-something women; neither do the names Bea Arthur, Bette Davis, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Frida Kahlo. But I've always searched for or sporadically found female role models of a unique variety.

Throughout middle and high school, I gravitated toward female teachers with big personalities and whose careers weren’t limited to education. I asked them for advice and guidance, perhaps going a bit too far in hoping their success would rub off on me. On the flip side, female authority figures who didn’t meet my expectations of what a successful woman should be -- commanding, witty, professional, or, at the very least, intellectual -- earned my outright insolence.

I was an anomaly in a sea of kids who were more concerned with who they wanted to be with than who they wanted to be. The question “Who is your role model?” made my mind spin; my classmates often listed off the usual responses -- “my mom,” “my aunt,” “my older sister" -- and while my mom was always first on my list, too, second place had more than a few contenders. Some I was close to, others I could never even dream of knowing.

I have always loved and admired women -- not romantically, just personally (and, yes, distantly). As the product of a second-wave feminist, this trait isn’t surprising. But sadly, most young girls, teens, and even grown women aren’t taught to love or empower each other. Instead, women like myself are flagged as “weirdos” who should be concentrating on bagging boyfriends and snapping at the heels of other women in the process.

Apparently it’s unnatural for people of the same gender to devote attention to other people of the same sex, especially in this heteronormative country. As a result, women are turning to vapid advertisements of women to learn how to act rather than flesh-and-blood personalities with real philanthropic ideas and the gall to make bold political statements. Who could choose Megan Fox over Sigourney Weaver, who everyone thought would die in Alien because she was a woman, who is a fervent environmentalist, and who hasn’t gone near a Botox syringe?

Well, the vast majority, unfortunately. Older celebrities and icons are virtually irrelevant to today’s generation. The mantra “older, better, wiser” has evaporated from the English language as the Kim Karshadians of the world vigorously promote youth, beauty, and relationships. As a result, women no longer revere other women; instead, they talk them down and pick them apart. It’s no wonder that others give me baffled looks upon realizing that my laptop background is Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones, rather than one of the show’s male heartthrobs.

But to me, this characteristic is nothing short of normal. Revering women by reading their biographies and taping their pictures to my walls has only made me more assured of what I want to be and become. But apparently I’m the exception to a rule that seems destined to tear women apart with time.

Which powerful women do you admire, and why?

Photo by hansvandenberg30 (Flickr)

About Megan -- Megan Riesz is a junior at Boston University studying news-editorial journalism and women's studies. Her passions are women's and social issues, as well as U.S. politics. On the weekends, you can find her re-watching "Game of Thrones" episodes or playing the latest installment of "Assassin's Creed." Or enjoying a nice brew.

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