That was a stirring sermon on the death of the ‘ideal real woman’ you presented in MW’s July issue. Not quite sure whether it’s the demise of the ideal woman or the real woman that you’re mourning. The two, as you know, are as different as Jessica Alba and TA, the biologist girlfriend you mentioned. Be that as it may, you’ve certainly earned our condolences.
Must confess, though, making Cliché Bradshaw, err, sorry, Carrie Bradshaw a role model is like asking her to step out in a pair of baggy overalls or getting her to bake cupcakes. Preposterous. Even though I grew up in the 1990s, with Ms. Bradshaw shimmying and sexing up the telly four times a week, not a single woman from my generation, let alone the millennium brood, considers C. B. remotely aspirational. Entertaining, yes. Did we want to clonk her on the head and steal the keys to her wardrobe? Hell, yes. But, did we think it was cool to engage in nocturnal documentation of facetious tripe in our lingerie (or out of it), pigeonhole our supposed BFFs into labels such as slut, prude and bitch, trivialise human relationships and glorify retail therapy? And, the stupidest of them all, trudge down the length of Fifth Avenue in five-inch Monolos? Nuh uh. There are kinder ways to kill yourself.
Carrie was nothing but a cardboard cutout, a Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton with a self-aggrandised facility for words. And, confirming our suspicion about stereotypes, men seemed to gobble her up. But, we’re delighted as all that’s in the past now. Finally, we have in you a man who is looking for ‘women with unimpeachable morals, integrity and intelligence’. Hallelujah.
Take heart, sir. Women have never been truer to themselves than they are today. They have never been sharper, smarter and more successful either. So, rest assured, your niece will be just fine, as long as her uncle doesn’t beat her on the head with the choices she decides to make. They are her choices, and you can do nothing better for her as a loving uncle than to respect them, even applaud them. They may seem wrong from your perspective. Perhaps, if you could crawl into her Uggs, you may see why a 12-year-old girl on the brink of adolescence in circa 2014 may find Katniss an inspiration.
Coming back to the crux of your lament, here’s the thing. Women, today, aren’t really looking for role models. We may have outgrown them. We admire women such as Sheryl Sandberg who have done what it takes to become successful. We love women such as Tina Fey for constantly trying to create a more nuanced view of women, Madonna for her rejuvenating powers, professionally, personally and spiritually. Even women such as Katniss Aberdeen for her breakaway from the nurturing stereotype, for her grit, her will to stay alive against the most staggering odds (can’t imagine how that can be inferred as a ‘flaw’ in her character, Monsieur Lafont. It takes considerable grit for a woman to succeed in the still fairly gender-skewed world out there.) Contrary to what you say, Katniss does have love inside her. It’s called love for self, the absence of which results in myriad teenage issues, from binge eating to anorexia to nymphomania to shopaholism, all of which culminate in deep unhappiness and spiralling therapy bills.
The point is, just because we admire these wonderful characters doesn’t necessarily mean we want to be, or grow up and be, these women. These ladies have made choices that work for them in the contexts of their lives, admirably. They may not be the appropriate or preferred calls for the rest of us, or some of us. Maybe we borrow a bit from all the people we admire and create our own personal hybrids to emulate. Or, maybe we just prefer to wing it within our own respective realities, the best we can. What we don’t do any more is want to be like X,Y or Z.
The whole concept of a role model, flawed or otherwise, appears to have run its course and become obsolete. And, this isn’t about lacking ambition or eluding benchmarks. It’s about being astute enough to know what works for us and what doesn’t; being confident enough to set our own benchmarks instead of blindly following; making mistakes and learning from them without self-flagellation; being assertive enough to shrug off stereotypes; and finally, motivated enough to avoid settling for less than what we think we deserve, emotionally, physically or professionally.
Does that mean we will never be, as you say, ‘hurt, resentful and sad’ like Bradshaw at the end of every episode? That’s unrealistic. Bam, that’s another fabulous new characteristic of the millennium woman: realism. it spares us all the heartache of impossible expectations from and of partners, relationships, careers, even ourselves.
For the longest time, we’ve set ourselves up for disappointment by applying generic universal formulae to individual situations and issues. The world we live in today is defined by acute personalisation; bespoke is the buzzword. There is no place here for public idols, cultural, professional or any other. In truth, most of us are self-motivated creatures, fired from within. We each have our very own North Stars shining brightly within us.
For those of us who could still use a little navigational help, there’s the incredible phenomenon called GPS. The beautiful bright Polaris (your Katnisses, Rowlings and Sandbergs) is simply a green signal to go right ahead and follow our own paths. And, if you look carefully, you’ll be sure to spot an assortment of males, mostly the alpha variety, wilting, withering and simmering as we pass and then breaking into a dirge about womanhood being on the brink of a crisis.
Priya Mirchandani is an independent writer and editor