Girl power! (Part one…)

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and it had me thinking about the incredible women in my life. I have been blessed with guidance from several very strong female role models. There are the women in my family first and foremost who have shaped me from my childhood. Of course, there are also many other women who inspire me–some are real people and some are fictional characters that feel real to me–and I want to share my role models with you. They deserve to be written about and praised. Their strength of character resonates so loudly that it cannot be silenced and I feel so strongly about them that I cannot be silenced. Be warned now–this is going to be a long-winded post. I can’t help it.

I’ll start with the fictional characters. They come from books, movies, and TV shows and they are as real to me as friends.

Belle, maybe one of my first fictional role models, is the female protagonist from Beauty and the Beast. I’ve seen the Disney movie a million times of course, but I’ve also read the various fairy tales coming from different adaptations and translations of an original French tale I believe. Belle is a French adjective (and sometimes it’s a noun) and translates to the word beauty, or beautiful, so once we know that it is her name, we know she is possessed of so much gorgeousness that it caused her parents to christen her thusly. However, she is usually described as having such traits as make her shine with an inner beauty and maybe that is why she is so pretty physically. She is kind, unselfish, and humble. In the Disney adaptation, she is loyal and dreams of seeing new places. She is brave and strong, with an open heart and an open mind. And she loves to read. She doesn’t need to be rescued by a strapping man, but rather she saves a prince from his own self-destruction with the power of love. She is my favourite of the Disney Princess lineup and I feel she is the most admirable of the lot. As a young child, I loved to read and sing and so I really identified with Belle and wanted to be just like her. I hope I am as brave and true as an adult.

There is also a wonderful heroine to be found in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I was introduced to her through my mother’s love of this book. It is possible that I may have seen the BBC miniseries before reading the book, but they’re both intrinsically ingrained in me now. Elizabeth Bennett is strong and clever and witty, but importantly, she is fallible and needs to learn from her mistakes. We find ourselves growing with her through the tale. We want to trust her judgment and so we end up learning the same lessons she does when she makes errors. She is willing to put aside her opinions and dislike when she learns truth and it is for this reason she is one of the best loved literary heroines ever written. She learns difficult lessons with grace and we should all strive to be that way. Opinions aren’t facts. We should be open to a change of heart if we find we’ve made a judgement error and refrain from holding onto our pride. It is embarrassing to admit when we’re wrong but we shouldn’t be afraid of it. This may be the thing I’m worst at if I’m honest. I like to be correct and smart but I hope I’ve learned to stop holding that over people’s heads. Admitting my mistakes can sometimes be hard to do, but if I want to be like Lizzy Bennett, I should gracefully accept them and move on in the hope that I won’t make them again.

Recently, there has been a superhero trend in Hollywood, in movies and on TV. Captain America has especially become my favourite but his love interest, Agent Peggy Carter, almost eclipses him in my esteem. The TV show, called Agent Carter, is set right after World War II, and Peggy is the only female agent. There are other women that work in the same building as the SSR (Strategic Scientific Reserve, a made up agency sort of like the FBI or CIA) but they are phone switchboard operators or secretaries. These were commonly accepted jobs for women at the time. Now that the war was over, it was expected that women would return to their “rightful” place, the home. Peggy Carter was a woman in a man’s world and the men in her office often ignored her or expected her to do nothing more than get their lunch orders. It must have taken a spine of steel for Peggy to put up with their often rude treatment of her. I feel that she is the most kickass female character to come on TV these days. She is not a superhero and that might be part of her draw. Peggy is clever and strong but believable and modest. She does not need to flash her body at us to be attractive and she is aware that she is an asset. She was just as clever as the cleverest of them. She was brave and loyal and strong. Towards the end, the menfolk start to really perceive her worth, but that was something she knew the whole time and she believed that her hard work would make them see it too. She was constantly being tested by her male coworkers and so she was ready with her defense to prove her worthiness, but she never stooped to picking fights or being jealous. She handled her mistreatment with a great deal of poise. I think she is a shining example of what a role model should be for girls. It is a big responsibility, knowing that girls look up to you. If more women chose to emulate Peggy Carter a bit more, we’d be better off I believe.

My last fictional heroine is Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter world. I discovered these books when I was eleven or twelve years old I suppose, and they were not quite the worldwide phenomenon they became. JK Rowling was still in the drafting stages of most of the books and I awaited all of their releases anxiously each time. Harry and Ron and the rest of the incredible characters were great, but Hermione was my favourite. (Fun fact: I had no idea how to pronounce her name for YEARS because I had never heard it spoken before.) Hermione was someone I could really relate to. Not only did we share a physical resemblance, with our frizzy brown hair being the most prominent physical trait we have but we also shared a feeling of not belonging. I was relatively new to the area and school I was in, so I sometimes felt like I was in a new world. Hermione was the smartest in her class and in the beginning, she was a bit of a show off. I knew exactly how she felt. I was always a good student and when I was younger, I think because we moved around a lot, I frequently had trouble making good friends. I was shy and constantly the “new girl” so I used my knowledge to show off and gain attention, especially when I first started at a new school. I was nervous meeting new people, so I hid behind my confidence in my intelligence. I didn’t know any better for a while, but this alienated my classmates. There is nothing worse than feeling stupid in a room full of smart and it took me a while to realize that my classmates didn’t like it when I was too boastful. I needed to learn how to be a good friend if I ever wanted to build meaningful relationships and Hermione was an ideal teacher. Hermione showed me that you can be highly intelligent and hard-working without being arrogant and disdainful of others. She was fiercely loyal to her friends and incredibly focused when there was a job (or schoolwork) that needed to be done. She was not perfect though and I learned as much from her faults as I did from her strengths. She could be rather tactless and narrow-minded, but she never pretended to be less than who she was. Her deepest fear is failure and so her drive and dedication are boundless, and I have the same fear, but I also know the value of education.

These women are all pieces of someone else’s imaginations that have had a major impact on my upbringing. They are not the only strong fictional female characters I can name, but they are the first ones that came to me when I was brainstorming for this blog post. They are the ones that feel like my “best friends” so to speak and I feel like they have taught me the most.

It is important to me that I write this post about my role models because I want to be a good role model myself. I spend a lot of time thinking about the kind of woman I want to be. Society will put a lot of different pressures on a girl to be a certain way. There can be a lot of confusion and uncertainty in a girl’s life, so good role models are essential. It can make all the difference for a girl to grow up into a strong, respectful, graceful, intelligent, responsible adult and one who is…none of those things.

I should also mention the women who are models of things I never want to become: conceited, malevolent, vain, weak, ditzy, unreliable, etc. We all know women who embody one or some or all of these traits, and often, we see them take centre stage in movies and TV shows and such. There is no need to call them out by name. It is one thing to have moments where we become our worst selves. It happens because we are human, but we don’t have to let those moments define who we are.

“Girl Power! (Part two…)” will likely be a much longer post because it is the one that’ll talk about my real-life role models. I may split that up into two parts itself: the famous women who inspire me, and the people I actually know.

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