D sent me this interesting link from Jim Keenan’s blog, “A Sales Guy.” Keenan talks about how his daughters look up to ski champion Lindsey Vonn, and the dearth of similar female role models in our society. He writes:
Lindsey is a great role model for my girls, not because she is pretty or because she has this squeaky clean image, but because she excels as a women [sic]. She is great at something that isn’t associated with sex or looks, or clothes, or a man. She is a stand out athlete at a cool, fast, dangerous, sport and that is good for little girls.
These few lines were very interesting to me. The thing is, Lindsey Vonn is very pretty, and that fact isn’t irrelevant, as much as Keenan or I may want it to be. He easily dismisses looks and image (good for him), but others don’t readily do so. Boys are encouraged to look up to politicians and businessmen regardless of their appearance or personal history, but for girls, it always has to be the whole package: pretty and chaste in addition to talent.
Additionally, take a look at the framing: “cool, fast, dangerous.” Given the choice of assigning those traits as male or female, which would most choose? I think the answer is obvious. It’s another example of women getting praise when they embrace what is considered masculine. Not that I think Keenan should be out trying to find role models that fit typically “feminine” characteristics – I’m just sick of so many behaviors, hobbies, emotions, etc. being so gender-loaded. He also writes:
We don’t produce enough women role models that deliver on those traits. Even more disappointing, we don’t celebrate more women who accomplish great things without their looks. Too often we celebrate the Kardashian’s [sic], the bimbo’s [sic] from Heff’s manion [sic], or Paris Hilton. If we keep parading these types of women around as role models, our girls are screwed before they’re 18.
I don’t think these women are being “celebrated” or presented as role models. Yes, they get lots of air-time and money for that air-time, but the broader narrative is “Look how silly and frivolous women are, doing silly woman things all day.” Are there really lots of parents out there who tell their daughters “Hey, spend enough money on your looks and you too can go live in the Playboy mansion…” ? I sure hope not.
In any case, I think Keenan’s heart is in the right place and he also links back to a very good piece he wrote on Pottery Barn’s marketing to girls versus boys. In closing, he writes:
When [my daughters] were on the girls side they observed. When they were on the boys side, they interacted. The message being sent was sad to me.
Our little girls deserve more from our society. They are more than butterflies, phones, kitchen stoves and jewelry boxes. They are little scientists, Dr’s, entrepreneur’s [sic], computer programmers, accountants, and professional skiers. If we keep from telling them this until they are older, it’ll be too late and they won’t believe it.
Nice. Thanks, Jim Keenan.