The Death of the Ideal Real Woman
Who is the right role model for women?
Just when we’re finally beginning to see a world where gender equality can rightfully become a norm, the notion of womanhood is again on the brink of a crisis. And this one is far more insidious: the death of the ideal real woman. At the behest of my biologist girlfriend TA, I recently read The Hunger Games series. Once I finished, TA asked what I thought of its heroine, Katniss. I said, “She’s probably the most narrowly selfish, morally opportunistic, disingenuous, and dishonestly self-centered protagonist I’ve ever encountered in a mainstream cultural work.” TA jumped up, exclaiming, “Isn’t she?! She’s unbelievable!” It’s not the first time my attention has been caught by a truly detrimental female protagonist in pop culture. Sex And The City’s Carrie Bradshaw is another one. A character who put herself up on a pedestal of sex and glamour, and then spent six seasons and two feature films complaining about the disadvantages of being on that pedestal. The problem with Carrie and Katniss, in terms of their impact on popular culture, is that they are idolised by women, when they are not people who should be idolised. As heroic examples to be looked up to and emulated, these are two of the worst, and their fictional lives and decisions should serve as cautionary tales. The reality of the problem is this: my twelve year old niece read The Hunger Games and now believes Katniss to be the greatest heroine ever. That is to say, she idolises a woman with no great desire or ambition, who spends her whole time in the books only reacting, albeit with a high degree of survival skill. A woman who actually has no love in her, not even for the sister she claims to love, a woman who settles for the bigger loser of two men she never loved. This is not about the book. This is about the very real fact that my niece is basing her current model on this book character. If my niece’s life and choices are going to be influenced by a fictional woman of questionable character, something is rather off in the world. Where are the outstanding female role models of today? The real women of unimpeachable morals, integrity and intelligence? The ones who also make themselves as beautiful in looks as in personality? There are many more examples according to stereotype. Housewife, career woman, fashion model, media woman, artist: women who wilfully give up their independence, or their beauty, or their charisma, or their intelligence, or their professional ambition, just because it doesn’t suit the type they’re trying to be. Women can be more than that, and should be more than that. Not as a feminist argument, but as a human one because a person can be more than that, and should be more than that. Carrie’s ego is fulfilled by the image of being a successful career woman writing about sex, who smokes and drinks, who’s independent and speaks her mind. But Carrie spends most of her episodes desperate, angry, resentful, hurt, and very, very sad. The irony of it is that, as modern and liberated as she wants to be seen, Carrie is visibly desperate for a traditional man-woman equation. The most pertinent question to ask is this: why are Katniss and Carrie so popular to women that they have become cultural icons? The answer seems to be, disturbingly, that women actually want an obviously flawed heroine. Why? Because instead of trying to grow to match a successful real woman, it’s easier to aspire to a flawed, unsuccessful character.Katniss and Carrie speak to the self-destructive laziness of low ambition. To come back to my niece, she shouldn’t be idolising Carrie or Katniss. They’re not successful women even in their own contexts. She needs a successful role model, or maybe several role models, one for each particular aspect of life. Off the top of my head: JK Rowling for her professional and financial success, and Jennifer Lopez for naturally optimising her individual beauty. And yes, preferably a real person in the real world