In a recent article a woman lamented that the lack of female role models caused women to strive to be too perfect. She argued that not having enough women to look up to, makes us have an unrealistic view of what successful women should look like. It makes us think we need to be perfect in all aspects.
But I wonder. Maybe the causality is actually the other way around?
I thought back to my own post about female role models. In which I also complained a female colleague was the wrong example. Ashamed I ask myself: isn’t that the reason why we are so hard on ourselves? Because we criticize all other women, and know they do the same to us?
As a teenager, I was asked who my role model was. My answer, Madonna, brought about grins and raised eyebrows. Years later, when during an application I was asked again, I changed it safely to Mahatma Gandhi. Because I didn’t want people to think I admired a woman who was considered superficial, too outspoken, too ambitious, selfish.
But the truth is, I still admire her. She broke through so many barriers and taboos. She decided on what she wanted and worked really hard to get there. She reinvented herself a couple of times successfully. I love how she always dared to take risks. How she refused to be stopped by fear of failing publicly, or of harsh criticism. She is incredibly brave, creative, energetic and determined. Why would we care about her relationships, or her tough diets.
With male role models, we allow them to be great in one aspect. We downplay their shortcomings, their quirks. We see Steve Jobs as incredibly smart and creative, and just accept he had a rude and harsh leadership style. We revere Mahatma Gandhi’s gentleness, purity and achievements in making the world a better place, but we hardly hear about how unforgiving and authoritative he was to people close to him. Or, that his raw food life style was more extreme than Madonna’s…
With female role models, we expect them to be great in everything. And if they’re not, we point out their flaws, much more than we focus on their brilliance. If we would look at male role models in the same critical way as we look at female role models, we would hardly have role models left.
So let’s admire the female managers or business owners we know. The creative stars we read about. The female politicians or queens ruling our countries. Let us graciously accept their failures. Let us allow them to look fat, or old, or grumpy, whether it’s their off-day or not. Let us acknowledge they aren’t perfect mothers (as nobody is).
Let’s focus on what they’re great at. On why they got so far. Let’s revel in their qualities. And see them as a great example, a role model to admire. Once we start doing that, we will suddenly have a lot more female role models to learn from.