Reading time: 6min.

by Mariah Feria

Is anybody out there?

When I was younger, like most little girls, I wanted to be a princess. Cinderella, Snow White, Belle; take your pick, I could be them all. It wasn’t until I was much older that I started to understand the problems with Disney and it’s representation of women, causing me to look for role-models and aspiring female figures elsewhere. However, it was even further still until I finally managed to find some. The media really doesn’t make it easy for young girls to realise their potential, and I shouldn’t need to go to university to learn about the likes of Maya Angelou, Charlotte Perkins-Gilman, and Virginia Woolf.

The problem isn’t that there aren’t any women to look up to. In fact, history is riddled with Emmeline Pankhurst’s, women who are individual and fight for what they believe in. No, the problem is that our news-feeds, timelines, stories, whatever you use, are full of figures who do little for our young girl’s self-esteem, body-image, and general aspirations. Instead of the female revolutionaries that helped shaped the world’s history, girls instead are experts in which foundation Kim K. uses, or how Khloe managed to get her stomach so flat.

Going back even further, and the Disney Princesses range that at some point took over every young girl’s life is still full of problems. Whilst the group has unarguably diversified to include a Princess of nearly every skin colour, the overall message is still there. In fact, possibly the largest film to make a release in recent years is Frozen, which resonated with both adults and children alike. Despite being labelled as ‘feminist’ and Disney showing its more ‘modern side’, it only takes a quick analysis of the film to learn just how problematic and Disney-esque the feature still is. This article further clarifies just what I’m getting at here (and rather brilliantly). Young girls are still shown a rather one-sided, one-dimensional version of themselves, despite claims that such industries are trying to modernise.

So, what happens when a young girl eventually does outgrow the Disney phase, and explore her options for later life? Who can she look up to? What if she begins to show an interest in business and politics, who are her role-models here?

Many female politicians have been criticised for being out of touch with the young girls of today. Modern women also feel like they can’t relate to them; they come across too harsh, firm, and perhaps promoting a political ideology that they do not believe in. Just look at the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Hilary Clinton, and Theresa May. Clinton especially stands out – she failed to topple outright misogynist Trump, and we now know that many women too voted for the Donald. Again though, there are noteworthy female politicians and businesswomen out there. They just don’t make the headlines. To be taken seriously in a field like politics, you have be firm, stone-faced and even less feminised. For many women, this isn’t something they aspire to be.

Furthermore, Histohistory has actually taught us to approach these stern women with caution. I remember being in school, learning about the Suffragettes and the Suffragists; one was ‘violent’ one was not, and it was pretty much expected that of course we favoured the more peaceful of the two. Recently though, I read Emmeline Pankhurst’s autobiography, and was shocked to learn just how ‘violent’ the Suffragettes had been…they hadn’t. The worst they did was to themselves, in the form of hunger and even thirst strikes. Other ‘violent’ acts were simply an acceptable form of protest that has been around for centuries, yet had only previously been exercised by men. Why were we taught at school about the importance of their violence, and the emphasis on the division of the two groups? Whilst there was division, it was mainly because of political reasons, rather than between peaceful/violent protests.

The impact of education on highlighting female role-models is huge, especially in places where school is primarily where young girls will learn most of what they need to know. Coming from a relatively working-class background and with poor school systems (I am the first in my family to go to university), I understand this importance first-hand. My degree and my exposure at university allowed me to explore just what it means to be feminist, and the other feminists throughout history and today, but I should have been made aware of this many years ago. I remember sitting in the common room discussing celebrities like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry. Whilst I don’t doubt that each of these women are feminists in their own right, how important have they really been in the fight for female recognition? Are they really using their huge media presence to the best of their feminist ability?

Thankfully, the world does seem to be waking up. Women like Emma Watson and Michelle Obama have emerged, and are promoting their ideology across multiple platforms in a way that is memorable and impactful. They are proving themselves as positive role models for young girls of today. Children’s books highlighting the importance of females throughout history are also emerging – in the Amazon bestseller list is Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls, a joy to read for both children and adults alike. Nasty Women was also recently published, bringing together the frustrated and relatable voices of the Brexit/Trump society.

Most importantly though, is the rise in women who are simply encouraging one another. Last year’s events taught us that our greatest enemies are ourselves; perhaps if we start to become each other’s role models, the world might get that little bit better for us.