In relation to an ongoing Girls project here at Hello Future, we are looking at how women are affected by certain issues in their careers and professional development with things like confidence, stereotyping, discrimination, etc. One aspect of this project is to reflect and discuss the idea of female role models, both on professional and personal levels. One sector to look at is role models within education.
I feel on a personal level that the concept of role models can transcend the sexes; it does not necessarily need to be male-to-male role models or female-to-female. There are, of course, scenarios and circumstances where a sex-specific role model may be applicable to something that’s somewhat exclusive, but generally speaking any person can be anyone’s role model.
It is hard to ignore that a lot of people’s journeys in life are not immune to external influences; be it parents, friends, teachers, siblings, media personalities, etc. Everyone takes their own path, but they are inspired and intrigued by the journeys of those around them. I would argue a clearly monumental influence on people’s future is their experience in school. For me, I had a wonderful sequence of English teachers who nurtured such a comfortable environment. On the flip side, I had maths teachers who were quite frankly, horrible people who would at best inspire anxiety and resentment rather than enthusiasm and engagement for the subject they taught. Teachers like the latter are, to be blunt, failures in their pretence of a vocation. So my circumstance of having amazing English teachers are part of the reason I pursued it into higher education because I aspired to be like them. Ultimately, that experience is a direct example of how role models can manifest in people’s lives quite easily.
Pursuing English & History at university, I’ve been fascinated to learn about the history of feminism and its impact on the modern world. Studying English at Uni, several of my lecturers highlighted the significance of feminist writers into their curriculum, and it opened my eyes to a wealth of feminist history wrought with tragedy, hope, determination, injustices, etc. Notable works from authors such as Katherine Mansfield, Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, the Bronte Sisters – the list is almost endless. Learning about the movements of the suffragist and suffragette movements of the 20th century proved to the world how important it is for women to have never been treated as second-class chattel. While some would condemn the suffragette’s tactics of arson and radical public protest; a determination for socio-political liberty and equality can never, and should never, be a crime in a world that considers itself developed and democratic.
Without this representation in modern curricula, there would be a myriad of seismically important writers missing throughout history. The inclusion and celebration of these great historical figures can thank the efforts of the first to fourth wave feminism movements that have determined to make the world more aware and conscious of the contributions and efforts of women around the world and in history.
While it’s a great thing to be able to reflect on the feminist-related things I learned about while at university, it is equally important to reflect on the fact that I would not have been made aware of this knowledge if I was not inspired to pursue my favourite subject by those role models who taught me for several years at school. It also dissipates the notion that women can only be role models for girls and men for boys; they can be interwoven. When more people come to that realisation, the more we can all collectively inspire each other to do great things in our lives.